Is Killinochchi worth
taking in a hurry?
week was undoubtedly one of the bloodiest for the Security Forces, as
they made some headway against impressive ditch cum bund defence line of
the LTTE, on the approaches to the Killinochchi town.
Though Tiger websites like the Tamilnet crowed much about army
casualties, without even a hum about their own, the artillery exchanges
and air strikes that took place alone, would have ensured far more
damage to enemy ranks.
The tactic was to overwhelm the enemy by launching simultaneous assaults
all along this front beginning from early Monday morning. To keep the
enemy extra busy, the Army also activated the Jaffna front at Muhamalai
and Kilali, where earlier on November 20 it had already taken the
Tigers’ First Defence Line after bitter fighting
The Killinochchi defence line is no simple one, as it stretches for
miles from Jaffna lagoon in the north to as far south as Iranamadu.
Unfortunately for our brave forces, while they had to launch this
assault in sometimes hip deep water in an open country, due to floods
resulting from heavy rains, for the enemy sitting in machine gun mounted
bunkers on the high bund, they were easy picking. Tigers who managed to
save their lives due to the heavy rains, were struck down by bullets or
were felled by heavy artillery and mortar fire which the enemy rained on
them, as they advanced.
Where the brave forces breached the Defence line after surmounting all
these difficulties, they were yet at a disadvantage in holding it,
especially in areas close to Killinochchi, as such locations had already
been well marked by the enemy, who simply rained mortars and artillery
fire on them. Close armour support too was almost non existent in most
places due to the terrains being badly water logged.
In addition to this Defence line, the LTTE has built enough concrete
bunkers in Killinochchi and on the Jaffna front to hide its hardcore
fighters. These bunkers can easily withstand artillery fire or even air
strikes. That is why, according to military observers, they can surface
waves of attackers after a heavy pounding on these positions by
artillery and air strikes.
This writer can reveal that when we visited Kilinochchi just days prior
to the signing of the infamous Ceasefire Agreement in February 2002 in
the company of a western journalist, and were the guests of the superb
hospitality accorded to visitors by the LTTE at the time, we found that
even then there were concrete bunkers built into some of the buildings
surrounding its so-called Peace Secretariat. Not that we were given
guided tours of those bunkers; in fact we were told not to wander around
beyond areas escorted by them. Our driver, who was quite fluent in Tamil
however, did some wandering on his own as he was all alone, while we
were meeting Tiger leaders like late Tamilselvan, or having meals fit
for a king at their famed guest house, and later pointed out the bunkers
to us as we were moving past those buildings. Most probably even its
two-storeyed Peace Secretariat too, would have had its own reinforced
concrete bunkers beneath it.
As to why we said that they provided meals fit for a king was that for
example, for lunch or dinner we were provided prawns and cuttle fish
cooked in three different ways each (fried, devilled and curried). So
one can imagine how delicious the food was. Even our rooms were stocked
with the best of international toiletries, which would put to shame any
five star hotel even today. This was all part of their ‘charm
offensive’, and our then leaders certainly fell for it hook, line and
They would have built many more reinforced concrete bunkers during this
one sided ceasefire that lasted till January this year, when unlimited
stocks of cement, steel and other building materials were allowed to be
transported to areas held by them. This has been proven by several
runways they have built in Wanni. Already two of them have fallen into
the hands of advancing Security Forces
Probably the best Army Commander we have had so far, Lt. Gen Sarath
Fonseka, who has taken the fight to the Tiger lair, will now think of a
better way to skin this cat. It might now be a case of smashing the LTTE
in all other areas before coming to take Killinochchi last.
The massive assault involving four fighting divisions, began with troops
of the 57 Division under the command of Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias tasked to
take the LTTE defence line from Iranamadu Tank to Akkarayankulam via
Adampan and Brig. Shavendra Silva commanded 58 Division assigned the
stretch from Adampan to Jaffna lagoon. The Brig. Prasanna de Silva led
55 Division began its advance from north of the A-9 Highway, while 53
Division advanced from the South of this Highway. For the latter two
divisions the task before them was to break down the Tiger second
defence line in Jaffna. All four Divisions began their silent march on
Monday night, and all out fighting flared around Kilinochchi defences at
6:00 am on Tuesday lighting up the skies amidst deafening noise.
To repel the massive assault the LTTE this time called in their most
battle hardened units, and even others who came to back them were fully
geared in helmets and body armour. Among the senior leaders who led
their counter measures were Theepan, Banu, Jerry and Muhudan.
“They knew very well that if their defence line collapsed we would be in
Killinochchci. So they threw everything into the battle to thwart us”, a
senior army officer in the front said.
The advancing troops also had to contend with at least 11 waves of LTTE
assaults to breakthrough forces’ lines at various points. Intercepted
enemy radio communications revealed that on Tuesday alone 70 LTTE cadres
were killed and 150 others were injured.
The three brigades of the 58 Division had the task of assaulting the six
mile stretch of Tiger defences from Jaffna lagoon to Adampan across
Pooneryn – Paranthan (B-69) Road. The stretch north of
Pooneryn-Paranthan Road being marshy and its southern stretch being open
paddy country coupled with heavy rains experienced in the region, made
movements very difficult.
Towards Jaffna lagoon the Ninth Gemunu and the Tenth Gajaba Regiments
captured 1.3 kilometre stretch of the Tiger defence line The Ninth
Gemunu was commanded by Lt. Col. Lal Chandrasiri, while the Tenth Gajaba
was led by Maj. Janaka Udowita.
Having repelled seven waves of counter attacks on their newly captured
positions by the Tigers, by the following day 400 more metres from the
enemy defence line was captured by the Tenth Gajaba and 12th Gemunu
commanded by Lt. Col. Nandana Dunuwila.
The six mile onslaught launched by the 58 Division also included the
Second Commando Regiment led by Lt. Col Jayantha Balasuriya, the Eighth
Gemunu led by Lt. Col. Vajira Welagedera, Eighth Sinha headed by Lt.
Col. Priyantha Jayawardena and the Fifth Armoured Corp commanded by Lt.
Col. Nihal Samarakoon.
Amidst such unfavourable weather the Fifth Armoured Corp however did all
it could to support the troops, by continuously firing at LTTE targets
non stop from 6:00am to 9:00pm on Tuesday. It not only blasted
insurmountable Tiger bunkers, but also helped to beat back Tiger attacks
into the following day.
As the 58 Division was successful in taking 1.3 kilometres of the Tiger
northern defence line, the enemy dispatched Sea Tiger boats to engage
the troops from the Jaffna lagoon, but this attempt was beaten back by
Mi-24 helicopter gun ships of the air force.
Taking note of the new development, the National Security Council, which
met on Wednesday (17), decided to deploy Navy’s Special Boat Squadron
for the security of the Jaffna lagoon.
Seventeen soldiers of the 58 Division were killed in action on Tuesday,
while ten others were listed as missing in action.
By Friday troops of the 58 Division had advanced more than a kilometer
beyond the breached Tiger defenses, resulting in fresh heavy fighting.
Tigers also resorted to attacking these troops from boats in the Jaffna
lagoon. Troops repulsed these attacks from the lagoon with artillery
fire. The Second Commando Regiment and the Ninth Gemunu advanced further
while repelling attacks from the lagoon.
In this sector the LTTE is said to have lost four of its attacking
groups due to intense fighting. As any further advances in this sector
threatens not only Paranthan, but even their hold on Elephant Pass,
Tigers are doing their best to halt the army drive.
Meanwhile the 53 and 55 Divisions which were advancing towards the Tiger
Second Defence Line in the Jaffna front too, were in a difficult
position as much of the area was flooded due to heavy rains. The 53
Division began its advance from about 10:00pm on Monday night, while the
55 Division descended on Tiger positions around 2:00am. These two
divisions had only to advance between 600 to 800 metres to reach the
LTTE second defence line. But by 4:00am heavy fighting erupted between
these two divisions and the LTTE. Though initially both these Divisions
made breakthroughs into the enemy second defence line at several points,
the Tigers had the advantage of being in their familiar territory. In
addition the enemy which was initially directing artillery fire at the
advancing Divisions from four points also called in artillery from their
positions at Nagarkovil to the North. Due to the unceasing and deadly
accurate artillery fire in this rather narrow strip of Jaffna, both
divisions had to draw back their troops by day break.
In this short lived expedition, 13 soldiers of the 53 Division were
killed and 12 others were listed as missing. Eighty five others were
injured, most of whom were described as sustaining minor injuries. In
the 55 Division three soldiers were killed and ten others were injured.
The 57 Division under Maj.Gen. Jagath Dias which took on the
Killinochchi defences proper had the most difficult task. The 57-1
Brigade under Col. G.V. Ravipriya, the 57-2 Brigade commanded by Lt.
Col. Dhammika Jayasundera and the 57-4 Brigade led by Lt. Col. Senaka
Wijesuriya led assaults launched by the 57 Division.
Maj. Dinesh Udugama led Third Gajaba Regiment and Lt. Col. Sisira Herath
led Ninth Wijeyaba Regiment from the 57-2 Brigade successfully mounted
the Tiger defence line at two points on the southern fringes of the
Lt. Col. Ranjith Abeyratne commanded Seventh Infantry, Lt. Col. Chandana
Somaweera headed Ninth Gajaba, and Maj. Weerasinghe led 12th Sinha
Regiment assaulted the Killinochchi defence line from the Adampan
village. All three regiments completed the capture of Tiger bunkers in
their sector of the defence line by 6:05 am. With this assault literally
all hell broke loose, as the Tigers opened up with all their big guns
and the Army replied in kind.
Realising that if the defence line was breached from the Adampan
village, the Army would enter Kilinochchi from the West, the enemy drew
all available cadres to halt the Army drive here. However in the morning
hours the Ninth Gajaba and the 12th Sinha had each captured about a
kilometer from the defence bund, while the Seventh Infantry took over a
stretch of about 800 metres.
In this bitter fighting, Tigers were in no better position either and
were struggling to evacuate its wounded and dead. By noon the Ninth
Gajaba alone had killed 40 Tiger cadres. Even the Adampan area leader
identified as Neelavan had been killed in this fight, according to
intercepted enemy communications. Other than the Ninth Gajaba, the
troops of the other two regiments having been hit hard by Tiger counter
attacks, were forced to abandon the stretches of the defence line they
earlier captured by the end of the day.
And in the cause of these clashes some of the finest and experienced
fighting men were lost to the Army. Sgt. Namal Udawatte who became a
hero in the capture of the Akkarayankulam Bund few months back, when he
successfully led an eight-man team to capture three bunkers there which
earlier resisted all previous attempts to overrun them, too was killed
Sgt. Udawatte accomplished that task at Akkarayankulam by volunteering
to lead his team as a Corporal. Because of that daring achievement he
was elevated to the rank of sergeant.
Lt.Col. Senaka Wijesuriya led 57-4 Brigade’s infantry regiments managed
to capture a stretch of about 2.5 kilometres of the defence line from
the left bank of the Iranamadu Tank to Iranamadu Road. Maj. Samantha
Wickramasena led Tenth Infantry Regiment, Lt. Col. Ipshitha Dissanayake
led Eighth Infantry Regiment and Maj. Dhammika Dissanayake commanded
16th Sinha Regiment was involved in this operation.
The 57-4 Brigade’s success was a case of snatching victory from the jaws
of defeat. It too went into battle on Tuesday morning amidst heave
exchanges, but took the enemy in a more innovative manner. While the
Tenth Infantry Regiment went for the defence bund it was ably supported
by Eighth Infantry and 16th Sinha from two sides. In this fight within
the first two to three hours they were able to kill 41 Tiger, according
to intercepted enemy communications.
Despite day long Tiger mortar and artillery fire 57-4 Brigade managed to
destroy 22 Tiger bunkers and consolidated the grounds it took. Two Tiger
boats that came to attack the troops of this Brigade were sunk by them
in the Iranamadu Tank. Troops even managed to recover bodies of five
Tigers, including two leaders who directed the fight.
On Wednesday from 4:00pm to 6:00 pm the enemy mounted five waves of
attacks in a vain attempt to dislodge 57-4 Brigade from this stretch of
the bund, but all of them were beaten back killing 17 LTTE cadres. This
leaves only a gap of three kilometers to Killinochchi from Iranamadu
Overall in the bloody Tuesday’s fighting in the Killinochchi sector
about 80 soldiers were killed and another 250 were wounded.
In the Northeasterly front Troops of the 59Division under the Command of
Brig. Nandana Udawatte consolidated their hold on the Mulliyawali Town
and completed the capture of six kilometers of the A-34 Mankulam –
Mulaitivu Road. In addition it has captured a ten kilometer stretch of
the Mulliyawali – Nedunkerni Road to the south. At the same time it has
intercepted all supply routes from Odusuddan and Nedunkerni to Mulaitivu.