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Military Matters


 

 Bad weather halts Forces forward march

The previous two weeks saw the security forces notching up some significant victories in the capture of Pooneryn, Mankulam, Omanthai, Kumulamunai and the Muhamalai Tiger’s First Defence Line among other areas during a spell of fair weather in this monsoon season. But this week other than the capture of Olumadu area by Tuesday, east of Mankulam, the true victor was the inclement weather once again. With heavy rains lashing the operational areas almost non- stop till Thursday, troops were stuck in knee deep muddy quagmires and attempts to advance in these terrains often led to injuries due to anti–personnel mine blasts.

What was worse was the inability to evacuate casualties and even the supply of warm meals to field units became a big problem. Often soldiers had no way of changing into dry uniforms. Some containers equipped with blowers sent to frontline units to dry wet clothes, proved woefully inadequate considering the large number of fully drenched soldiers.

As a result the advance to capture Kilinochchi town from three directions, was literally stuck on its tracks, but mischievous elements in Colombo spread a story like wildfire in the last few days, that the town had been captured and the Army was withholding the information with ulterior motives. It appears that some evil elements are gleefully waiting for the Army to stumble badly.

Speculation

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara vehemently denied such speculation, and said even Task Force 1 advancing along Pooneryn–Paranthan road was yet in Nivil area, several kilometers from Paranthan Junction. Even the army’s crack eight-man teams, which have done immense damage to the Tigers, were of not much use this week.

The situation was such, that some units were literally marooned in flood waters. In one example about 200 soldiers who were surrounded by flood waters in Thanankilappu area had to wage a 13 hour battle to be saved from raging waters. On Wednesday at about 2:30 am, the soldiers of First Gajaba and Fourth Mechanised Infantry manning the defence line there, suddenly found themselves marooned in six feet of water. Their plea for rescue boats could not be immediately accommodated as there was a general flood situation in most areas of Jaffna. Finally, the first two rescue boats (both owned by civilians) arrived there around 11:00am. But each boat could carry no more than 15 at a time. Around 5:00pm four of the marooned soldiers were washed away by raging waters.

Navy rescue boats, which reached there in the evening, rescued the remaining marooned soldiers. But one sergeant and four others who had clung on to a log were picked up the following morning.

The weather gods were no easier on the Tigers either; whereever they confronted troops in these conditions they had fared even worse, especially in Olumadu and Kumulamunai areas.
Due to gale force winds and heavy downpours, in Jaffna alone, some 110,493 people belonging to 30,591 families have officially been displaced in the Peninsula this week, while 1941 houses have been completely destroyed and another 5104 damaged.

Complicated

With things getting complicated for the LTTE, it being besieged in several fronts by advancing troops, the Tigers appear to be losing their grip on the captive Tamil population it is holding against their will, including some NGO workers. As a result, the trickle of civilians who managed to escape from the LTTE held Wanni upto now has suddenly been increasing in recent days.

On Friday alone, some 93 such civilians from Kanagarayankulam reached the safety of Vavuniya. Last Sunday, two such groups sought safety at Omanthai. The first group numbering 71, comprising 43 males, 28 females arrived there around 7:45am. They were followed by a second group numbering ten people from two families who arrived around 10:00am. These two groups were from Kanagarayankulam and Sinna Adampan.
On the previous Friday and Saturday 80 other civilians reached the safety of Omanthai.

Daring

The daring operations undertaken by the Army’s Special Forces are hardly mentioned in situation reports, as they meticulously avoid seeking any publicity.But we record this week the fall of one such brave officer. It is about the death of Special Forces Brigade Commander Maj. Lalith Jayasinghe who led an eight man team some 30 kilometres inside enemy lines in the Oddusudan area.

Due to the region being heavily watched by the LTTE, with there being a large presence of civilians in specially demarcated locations and amidst most difficult weather conditions, Maj. Jayasinghe’s team after taking out one target and while preparing to take on a second target in another location, had got into a firefight with a Tiger team that suddenly descended on their location.

In the firefight he had been wounded, but his team had managed to withdraw to a safer location in order to treat their commanding officer. But their pursuers had caught up with them and had again engaged them, thus ending the life of the brave major, and injuring another soldier. But the dedication of this team had been such that the remaining six members had beaten back the attackers and managed to return to their unit with the body of the major and the injured soldier.

Bravery

Maj. Jayasinghe’s service to the Army had been such that he had been twice awarded the highest bravery medal given to a living officer, the Weera Wickreme Vibushana, while he was alive. In addition he had won a number of other fighting awards.

In order to further intensify the onslaught against the LTTE, the Army Commander has made arrangements to introduce one more attack Force to the seven already battling the Tigers. The latest fighting force to enter the battle in the coming weeks will be designated Task Force 1V. It is still not clear which part of Wanni; the Task Force 1V will be deployed.

On Thursday November 20, the Army’s Task Force 11 took Tiger held Omanthai, which had been a cash cow for the LTTE, earning hundreds of millions of rupees by taxing all those crossing into areas held by it through this check point, since the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement in February 2002.

Units

We managed to visit some units of the Task Force 11 on Monday November 17 as they were poised to take this Tiger held area.

Reaching the Task Force 11 area was made into an odyssey of sorts as some cops from whom we sought directions on the Vavuniya-Mannar Road to reach the turn off to this military contingent sent us in the opposite direction, when we were only few metres from it. Finally Sergeant Maj. R.K. Samarawickrema assigned by the Wanni Command to accompany us, found the correct entry point at Pavarasankulam after more than one and a half hours had been wasted.

On our way to the Task Force Headquarters located towards Tunukkai we had to cover a vast area already cleared by the Force, but now much of it held by Air Force ground troops. One cannot imagine from Colombo what vast areas the Forces had cleared in the Wanni amidst so many obstacles, till you arrive here personally.

Here the army engineers are seen widening stretches of this mainly jungle gravel track from Paravasankulam to Tunukkai, even putting a coating of tar, but for want of adequate resources they are doing it without any metal layer. The gravel they quarry from high ground areas and after pressing the gravel with heavy rollers, tar is applied and then sand spread over the layer of tar.

Here we first visited the 62 Division Headquarters and had a small briefing from a group of officers in the absence of its Commander Brig. Rohana Bandara, who was on leave. Here in this short stop, which served as our lunch break as well, we were really made to feel at home by the presence of Capt. Chamara Nanayakkara, who is the son of late Thusitha Nanayakkara, who was the editor of “Kreeda,” the sports weekly published by the Lake House group.

Unusual hero

Here we were also introduced to a rather unusual hero; a civilian, who had volunteered to work amidst military men. He is K.S.M.R. Priyadharshana, a young Peradeniya engineering graduate attached to the State Development and Construction Corporation, who has volunteered to oversee the construction of two Bailey Bridges in place of two bridges destroyed by withdrawing Tigers, In fact we gave him a ride to one of the bridge building sites at Nadankandal as we proceeded to 62-1 Brigade after lunch. He was not interested in waiting for official transport with back up security. Asked why he had volunteered for this risky assignment, his answer was that since there was no one else to do it, he undertook the task as the bridges had to be built.

At the 62-1 Brigade field headquarters situated about six kilometers from Omanthai, we were met by its Commander Colonel Athula Ariyaratne and his principal staff officers, who were quite upbeat about the capabilities of the units in their command, and they let it be known to us that they would capture Omanthai before we publish our next issue. True to their words they captured it from Tigers two days later.

Simplified

In fact, we came to know that Task Force 11’s small eight-man team had been dominating the terrain surrounding Omanthai for days prior to its capture. According to Col. Ariyaratne, the Army Commander has simplified things for them in that he assigns a task each week and they need only to accomplish that task, and that week their task was the taking of Omanthai. Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka makes it a point to personally contact field commanders at least twice a day to see the state of progress of each task.

Interestingly one of his unit commanders Lt. Col Priyantha Jayawardena commanding the Eighth Regiment we met earlier this year in Mannar when he as a Major, was a field Commander of the Task Force 1 in capturing the Mannar Rice Bowl.

Later as dusk was setting in, we managed to make a short visit to the field headquarters of 62-2 Brigade situated west of Mundimurippu and commanded by Col. Jayantha Seneviratne. Here we found Col Seneviratne had given a welcome break to some of his men and it certainly was a change from the usual tension of the frontlines. In an open field groups of young soldiers were either playing volleyball or cricket like any other youth.

Col Seneviratne was also holding the post as acting Commander of 62 Division in the absence of Brig. Bandara.

****


 

 

But this week other than the capture of Olumadu area by Tuesday, east of Mankulam, the true victor was the inclement weather once again. With heavy rains lashing the operational areas almost non- stop till Thursday, troops were stuck in knee deep muddy quagmires and attempts to advance in these terrains often led to injuries due to anti–personnel mine blasts.