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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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