Tigers lost sight of Pooneryn for Kilinochchi
By Rohan Abaywardena in the Wanni
For some time, the publicly stated priority goal of the government and
the Army Commander has been the capture of the LTTE administrative nerve
centre, Kilinochchi. As a result, the Tigers had marshalled much
resource in that area, while vowing to defend it at any cost and this
was one of the key reasons that facilitated the lightning capture of the
strategic Pooneryn in the early hours of last Saturday and effectively
sealed the Western Coast for Tiger arms smuggling from South India.
On Monday, we met the man who has been overseeing the bulk of the
operations against the LTTE as directed by Army Commander since the
beginning of the current offensive in the latter part of 2006, Wanni
Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya at his
headquarters in Vavuniya, just before he visited newly captured Pooneryn.
This former Royal College boxing captain of 1977, who is not easily
rattled or ruffled, told The Nation that what really facilitated their
lightning strike on this last LTTE stronghold on the Western front, as
much as the surprise factor was the favourable behaviour of weather
gods. While the weather had made most terrains in the Wanni a quagmire a
few weeks earlier, things had dried up nicely by last week for greater
use of armour. This had helped them to make a dash to Pooneryn across a
wide front, especially throughout last Friday night with the aid of
To add a footnote, Gen Jayasuriya is the youngest of four brothers, all
of whom boxed for Royal College with distinction in the 1970s and won
College boxing colours. If this writer’s memory serves him right, during
this period at least two other brothers captained the College boxing
team before him. They are Sumith (eldest) and Nimal (third), who are
both now domiciled in the United States. Sumith also served in the Sri
Lanka Navy as an officer, prior to migrating to the States.
To borrow a cliché, this professional soldier is known to be ‘as cool as
a cucumber’ in the heat of a battle, according to men who have fought
alongside him. Last July, when a Tiger suicide team infiltrated the
Wanni Command base and called in a barrage of artillery with pinpoint
accuracy using GPS instruments, his men say, Gen Jayasuriya was in the
thick of the counter measures, instead of taking cover in a bunker as
provided for in all bases for emergencies. So fortune indeed favours the
In that attack, two propeller driven aircraft from the LTTE’s
rudimentary air force also dropped at least four bombs on this base, but
all of them did not explode and one of the Tiger aircraft was destroyed
by an air force fighter jet as it was fleeing back to its base after the
Though the rumour mill has been working overtime trying to give an
exaggerated casualty toll in the Pooneryn battle, Gen Jayasuriya
concedes that they suffered casualties, not due to heavy resistance by
defenders or due to mines and booby traps, but mainly to 81mm mortar
attacks from the Paranthan side from withdrawing Tigers, which had
continued even after the capture of Pooneryn. The Tigers had laid an
elaborate defensive structure facing the Jaffna peninsula expecting a
military assault on Pooneryn from across the Kilali lagoon, but their
mistake was they had not expected an attack from the rear.
This week, we also had the opportunity of visiting two frontline areas.
Due to the vastness of the terrains recaptured and the general poor
state of jungle tracks widened for military advances, we were only able
to see parts of areas cleared by Task Force 11 operating West of A-9
Highway between Omanthai and Mankulam and some areas recaptured by 59
Division on the Mulaitivu front on Monday and Tuesday. We undertook both
journeys in Unicorn armour plated trucks built to withstand bullets and
most mine blasts, constantly accompanied by Sgt. Maj. R.K.
Samarawickrema clutching a T-56 assault rifle and often donning a heavy
flak jacket and helmet like us.
On Tuesday, we were able to view some live drama fought by the men of
11th Gemunu Watch, albeit from the safety of a few kilometres to the
rear, in the outskirts of the newly captured vast village of Kumulamunai
on the other side of the Nayaru lagoon. Although by the time we visited
the southern outskirts of the sprawling village, troops had already
advanced beyond its northern boundaries but because of enemy snipers we
were not allowed into it, considered the gateway to both Mulaitivu to
the North East and Alampil to the East, where the Sea Tigers have a
On this front we first visited 59 Division headquarters at Nelum Wewa,
Weli Oya. It was around noon when we reached there from Vavuniya Wanni
Command Headquarters, where we stayed the previous night. It took more
than three hours to cover this distance by van, mainly due to the poor
state of roads in the Weli Oya belt. It must be noted that some of the
repairs being done to those roads are more like a joke, where tar was
being applied to gravel roads without a single layer of metal beneath.
After a tasty meal at the officers’ mess, the media liaison officer of
the Division, Maj. J.M.S. Jayaweera immediately provided an amiable
officer to be our guide and we soon departed to the front with this
officer Lt. Ranjith Vitarana. After a rough ride lasting more than one
hour, on a newly cut road through thick jungle, we arrived at the field
headquarters of the 11th Gemunu Watch Regiment commanded by Lt. Col.
Here, no sooner the commanding officer greeted us; his command centre
radio began to crackle about a soldier being hit by sniper fire in the
frontlines north of Kumalamunai and a lance corporal who went to the aid
of that soldier too being hit by a sniper on one of his legs.
Immediately, the Lt. Colonel took charge of the situation on his radio
and barked orders to rescue the wounded man somehow. Knowing what had
happened, the enemy fire too intensified from all directions making it a
most difficult task. Then came urgent appeals for artillery support and
especially smoke shell fire to give cover to the rescuers.
We even heard some heated words as there was a slight delay in the
firing of smoke shells. But by the time rescuers had got to them both
were dead. The soldier had a chest wound, but Lance Corporal Chandana
Pradeep, who went to his rescue simply died of bleeding from his leg
wound as the rescuers could not reach him in time. While this entire
drama was being played out before our eyes, Lt. Col. Fernando who was
without lunch and continuously on his feet at the radio, requested us to
proceed to the southern approaches to Kumalamunai village to see the
impressive bund-cum-ditch bunker line of the LTTE that the forces had
overrun the previous week to take the village. We were not allowed to go
beyond this point because of the sniper threat.
Here we came across two bridges destroyed by the fleeing Tigers. One was
a small bridge that had been totally destroyed and now replaced with a
Bailey Bridge by army engineers and the other, a much bigger steel
bridge, put up by donors after the tsunami tragedy of Boxing Day 2004,
had been partially blasted and the army engineers were putting up a
temporary bridge over a 90 foot damaged span under the command of Capt.
Lalith de Silva of the army Engineers.
While we were at the big bridge, bodies of both dead army men were
ferried back to the rear along with another casualty in pick up trucks.
Here on the approaches to this village we also came across the mortar
support unit of the 11th Gemunu Watch, which was armed with 120 mm and
81 mm mortars. We soon found the reason for the slight delay in their
fire support. One shell was stuck in one of the 120mm guns and another
120mm gun was stuck about two feet into the ground after repeated
firing. In order to avoid misunderstandings, these rear fire support
units now also include Special Forces personnel.
Later, we returned to the field headquarters of the 11th Gemunu Watch,
and Lt. Col Fernando was yet in his command centre without lunch. Here
we had just missed a very moving ceremony, but were able to view it as
he had got his men to record it for posterity. Instead of just
despatching the bodies of two valiant men, both had been accorded a
military ceremony by their colleagues with the National flag draped over
Though not a single fighting man made any complaint to us, we must
mention here that there are many shortcomings, amidst which these men in
the frontlines are performing. First of all, it must be noted that there
are no qualified doctors to treat the wounded. At this field
headquarters the medical team was headed by male nurse Sgt. Maj. H.M.
Jayatillake and the equipment he and his team had were abysmal. The
nearest hospital is at Sampath Nuwara in Weli Oya, some 30 kilometres
away. From there, of course, all seriously injured are airlifted to
hospitals elsewhere and others are treated by qualified doctors
available there. We at once wondered what has happened to our service
clubs who are more adept at organising dinner dances.
These units definitely need things like better and adequate water
storage containers and if possible more bottled water. We are certain,
considering the situation, the Army is doing its best for the men, but
why cannot the well to do in civil society come forward to assist the
army in this difficult hour when it is battling on so many fronts for
the future of all of us. At this field headquarters, we also saw a
nearly new armour plated single cab Tata Pick up that the unit had
managed to capture from the enemy despite valiant efforts of Tigers not
to lose it.
The vehicle’s odometer indicates just 32, 906 kilometres. According to
Lt. Col. Fernando his forward spotters had first seen the double cab,
which was moving to evacuate Tiger injured, while their unit was making
moves to advance their line. He had immediately despatched a team to
take it out and Cpl. H.H.D. Tennyson and four other soldiers had gone
beyond the call of duty to halt it. When their T-56 weapons could not
pierce its armour they had managed to hit it with a LMG. The driver had
nearly got away despite the vehicles tyres being hit, but one of the LMG
bullets had hit his leg causing him to crash the vehicle.
As a reward, all five men are to be accorded field promotions and Cpl.
Tennyson had been granted 30 days leave in addition for his leading
role. The Tigers had tried their best to retrieve the vehicle, but after
a valiant effort, the men of the 11th Gemunu Watch had held on to it.
Along with the cab, troops had found in it a T-56, an LMG and a RPG
When we visited the 59 Division again in the night on our return
journey, its Commander Brig Nandana Udawatte was not there as he had
gone on leave, the acting Commander Col. N. D. Wanniarachchi was very
upbeat and hinted that before our report comes out his men could be in
Next week we will publish our account of the
tour of the Task Force 11 area visit.