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Military Matters


 

 Is Killinochchi worth taking in a hurry?

 

This 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.

Concrete bunkers

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 sinker.

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.

Assault

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.

Jaffna lagoon

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.

Difficult

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 Killinoichchi Town.

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.

Finest/Experienced

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 on Tuesday.
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 army positions.

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.

****