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Military Matters


Rebels cornered at northern Mulaitivu

With yesterday’s lightning capture of Pooneryn, it is now clear why Presidential troubleshooter Basil Rajapaksa, during his recent visit to New Delhi, readily agreed to allow Indian fishermen to fish in our northwest waters, as a big concession to South Indians, knowing very well that, Tamil Nadu fishermen were using fishing as a guise to smuggle in military supplies to the LTTE. Now, the LTTE, driven out of the west coast completely, are in no position to take delivery of smuggled military supplies.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, earlier this week, informed the LTTE, through the Red Cross, to shift the last Tiger checkpoint at Omantai on (A9) Jaffna-Kandy Road, to Oddusudan, a good 40 km into the interior, effectively restricting the LTTE to northern portions of the Mulaitivu district for the first time.

With the security forces dominating the terrain west of A-9 between Mankulam and Omantai, Tigers are in no position to hold this major road artery and the Army is poised to take it at any time.

According to military sources, currently, there is only a five-man LTTE team manning the Omanthai checkpoint with members of the ICRC.

Reluctant Tigers

Critics may cast doubts on the Army’s assertion that, it had killed more than 8,000 LTTE cadres, since the Eelam War 1V broke out in the latter half of 2006, after repeated LTTE provocations, but, what is clear is that, the Tiger leadership has been liberally using young conscripts as cannon fodder.

As reports from the north indicate, the first to be placed on the frontlines are those who objected to conscription and since early September, it has conscripted about 9,000, by demanding as many as two children from families with three or more children. Earlier, each family had to hand in one child to the organisation, if there was more than one child.

Fortunately, three young Tiger women cadres, early this week, surrendered to troops of Task Force 1, rather than foolishly commit suicide, as one of their unit leaders had done, when surrounded by advancing troops of 12th Gemunu Regiment, in the Palavi area.

Any port in a storm

War is a terrible thing for all concerned and especially, for the infantryman. Their sacrifices, though often glossed over, have been immense. Last month alone, the Army suffered more than 1,000 casualties. For the Tigers, even though they are believed to have preserved their hardcore cadres, the situation is far worse. This is the definite reason for it suing for peace, and it is increasingly activating sympathisers in Tamil Nadu, to force the central government in India to intervene here, to save it. As a further sign of this mounting pressure, the Tamil Nadu state assembly, though usually deeply divided on political lines, came together early this week and passed a resolution, unanimously calling for a halt to fighting in Sri Lanka.

The Tigers, who challenged the Army to come to Wanni, have now become cry babes. For the Army too, retaking the rest of Wanni is not going to be a cake walk either, as gauged from recent casualties. And the fighting can get even bloodier for the forces, as they are the ones who are on the offensive, amidst increasing restrictions on the use of air power and artillery, as they get closer to civilian areas. Though the Tiger hardcore cadres are still intact, may be about 3,000 in a defensive mode, they are more like a force of 9,000, especially, in their own familiar terrain

We cannot adopt a frog in the well mentality and must be prepared for any eventuality, especially, from across the Palk Strait, with the Indian general election due next May. Indications are that, it might be held as early as next February. As former head of IPKF intelligence here Col. R. Hariharan has commented early this week, on the peace moves emanating from the Tigers: “If this calculus is in the thoughts of Sri Lanka, we might see a large scale escalation of offensive in most of the war fronts in the coming two weeks.”

So, what we can expect is for the Army to take much of the areas west of the A-9 highway as soon as possible, to restore the road link with the Jaffna peninsula after 20 years. And the Tigers, knowing the game plan they have set in motion in India, are putting up stiff resistance to halt the Army from making any further gains, which certainly points to the spike in casualties.

The uninvited guest

If the Indian central government, with an eye on the forthcoming elections there, and egged on by Tamil Nadu, does intervene here in some way once again, as it did in the 80s, it should be borne in mind that the Tigers are the cat’s paw of outside forces, who lit fires all around India in the past, to break it up by activating various separatist forces such as the LTTE of Sri Lanka, by giving them safe havens in Western capitals and elsewhere. Even the LTTE International Secretariat was in London well into this decade and long after the assassination of former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.

But, as poetic justice, the West is yet reaping much of what it had sown across the world. As a result of the changed scenario in the world, New Delhi has become the new found darling of the West, and there is not much we can do, if India does play its hand here once again, as was the case even last time.

If Indians do intervene here in some way, they must keep in mind that unlike in the past, as the National Peace Council earlier this week rightly said, they must put in place enough mechanisms to ensure that, any ceasefire does not lead to rearming and repositioning of forces for another bout of violence.

Of sterner stuff

Naturally, the type of fighting that the infantry units now encounter, to say the least, is terrible, especially, with the recent heavy rains. Several 8-man teams that had infiltrated behind enemy lines last week, escaped death by a whisker, not so much at the hands of two legged Tigers, but in crossing a crocodile infested deep rivulet, swollen by heavy rains. Though most of them lived to tell the tale, at least three commandos paid with their lives.

They met this unusual experience operating behind enemy lines, while crossing Mandakadal Aru, which flows to the sea between 9th and 10th mileposts on the A-32 Road. On that day, four 8-man teams from the Second Commando Regiment had infiltrated the northern reaches of this rivulet. Their objective was to prepare the ground for induction of more infantry units into the region. Tigers sensing something amiss had surrounded the area. When their search dogs stumbled on one 8-man team, a clash erupted. In the firefight, LCpl Ambanwala was killed and another injured. They had immediately begun withdrawing along the river bank with the body of the corporal and the wounded colleague. After covering about a kilometer, they had stopped to treat their injured colleague. But the four teams had not been able to stop for very long, as they again heard voices of LTTE cadres encircling the area.

Their only route of escape was across the crocodile infested rivulet, which, due to recent rains, was now 15 to 20 feet deep. Even attempting to swim across the river was a problem, as they had to take their wounded colleague with them. A rope one of them carried too, was not long enough, to be tied to trees on either side of the river, to facilitate their crossing. Then, they had removed their trousers and tied them together to lengthen the rope. Finally, when one of the commandos tried to swim across the river, to tie the rope to a tree on the other side, he had been nearly snatched away by a crocodile.

Overcoming all these obstacles, three teams had crossed the river, but, before the fourth could cross safely, the pursuing Tiger reinforcements had fired at them, forcing them to swim across. Four members of this team managed to swim across to safety, but two others were lost, including its leader. This is just one of many untold stories of many encounters that the galant fighting men face on a daily basis, in their endeavour to save the country from the LTTE.

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Tigers’ ‘Mendis Special’ and beer stocks uncovered in Vavuniya

In what appeared to be a strange twist to the different dimensions of the LTTE terrorist network, Wanni troops in Vavuniya Thursday (13) afternoon uncovered not a huge stock of LTTE weapons, but a consignment of “Mendis Special” arrack bottles, bound for Tiger terrorists in uncleared areas, sending shock waves among members of the Security Forces.

The consignment of 3,129 “Mendis Special” liquor bottles, 238 beer cans, 4,068 pairs of footwear, five photocopy machines, 16 photocopy toner cartridges, a stock of Rexene, polythene and trouser lengths, packed in cardboard cartons, had been apparently kept for safe-keeping in a shop in Vavuniya town, when troops made the detection, on information given by a female Tiger cadre caught earlier with a claymore mine. This woman Tiger was supposed to take charge of the consignment, once the message was intimated to her by the LTTE.

Interrogations further confirmed that, the smuggling of liquor bottles, through clandestine routes, had continued to take place for some time in the past, by terrorists, keeping Vavuniya as the transit base, it was told.

Vavuniya Police took charge of the detected items and have commenced further investigations. The woman suspect now in custody, has been extensively used by Tigers as a proxy in disguise, mingling with civilians in cleared areas, investigations have further confirmed.

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