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Military Matters



Tigers engage in blame game

As Army prepares to fight every inch in final stretch

The Sri Lankan army is certainly not in for a walk over, as it is in the final stretch to militarily break the back of the LTTE, and will have to fight for every inch from here onwards as it is literally in Tiger’s lair. However, its strict discipline and correct leadership seen since Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka took charge of the force, can assure it of final victory

Leave aside the improvement in battlefield performance, many people have forgotten the fact that it was not too long ago that Army deserters were causing havoc in all parts of the country as hired killers, armed robbers, rapists etc, and it was not uncommon for serving soldiers to go and rob houses at gun point while on duty. But primarily because of his zero tolerance to indiscipline, such incidents by serving soldiers or deserters are almost non-existent today. Even common incidents of the past, like soldiers clashing with Police or civilians at the slightest provocation, too are now unheard of.

On Friday when the Army Commander Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka addressed officers and men at Army headquarters and summed up the situation at the end of an eventful year, he pointed out that the Army budget which stood at Rs36 billion would almost double next year and reach Rs70 billion, and all that would be utilised for the benefit of his soldiers. “Under my command not a cent was allowed to be stolen through tenders”, Gen. Fonseka proudly declared, vowing to ensure similar standards in the future as well.

He said that during the year they had even been able to recapture certain areas for the first time in this conflict, and they were now able to corner the LTTE to a much smaller area. This month too had been the best for recruitment with some 4800 new personnel joining the Force.

Thwarted

With virtually all its recent terror strikes in the rest of the country thwarted, and hardly any worthwhile battlefield successes, the LTTE, however appears to be beset with an internal blame game for continuing reversals.
According to intelligence, out of about 800 square kilometers yet to be liberated, the Tigers are now preparing an inner 300 square kilometer defensive fortification behind Iranamadu, Kalmadu, Viswamadu and Muttyankaddu tanks, and also covering Oddusudan North, Mulliyawalai north and stretching to Mulaitivu coast.

The estimated 200,000 trapped civilians still remaining in uncleared areas, many of whom are being held against their will in Viswamadu and Pudukudiyarippu areas too, come within this new fortification as a defensive shield.

As a part of this internal blame game, according to intelligence reports already Tiger Intelligence Chief Shanmugalingam Sivashanker alias Pottu Amman has been removed from his post and replaced by Ratnam Master hitherto in charge of Prabhakaran’s personal security and the head of the Tiger Special Forces, Radha Regiment and its air wing.
Pottu Amman‘s removal is said to be a direct result of his failure to organise a single spectacular strike for sometime and much of what he did launch during this period too ended in failure.

Irked

What had particularly irked Tiger Supremo is said to be the early discovery by military intelligence, of a plot to stage a massive suicide attack on Katunayake once again as in July 2001 to coincide with their Maveerar (Great Heroes) Day this year, on November 25. It had also included plans to seize aircraft. Tigers have also been puzzled by the capture of an increasing number of their suicide cadres in recent months along with some of their trained pilots.

Similarly Tiger frontline commander Bhanu too is said to be in custody. According to information gained from fleeing civilians, the organisation has accused Bhanu of taking money from well to do families in order not to recruit their children during the recent recruitment drive to gather cadres for the last fight for Wanni. He is also said to be accused of allowing such children to escape to the south.

Gains

As the end of the year neared so did the intensification of security Forces operations, and despite some of the bloodiest fighting they are continuing to make gains.
Brig. Nandana Udawatte led 59 Division made two important gains when they entered Mulliyawalai and Thanniuttu regions by Christmas Day. This resulted in day long fighting and exchange of artillery and mortar fire from morning till evening.

In the history of this conflict, this was also the first time these two towns in the Mulaitivu District have come under the dominance of the Army. The biggest LTTE war cemetery is also situated at Mulliyawalai, and it is at this war memorial that Tiger Leader Velupillai Prabhakran had his annual Maveerar Day ceremonies during the ceasefire period.

Lt. Col. Chaminda Lamahewa led Seventh Gemunu Regiment, fought their way to both towns. On the way they had to overcome three defensive bunds of the enemy. They were ably supported on a flank by 15th Infantry Regiment led by Maj. Sujeewa Hettiarachchi. It was the same 15th Infantry that first fought its way to A-34 Mulaitivu - Mankulam route from among the units of the 59 Division.

Lt. Col. Keerthi Bandara led First Sinha Regiment, which advanced along an axis south of A-34 also linked up with Seventh Gemunu.

With the Army domination of Thanniuttu, it is now only a matter of time before the much venerated Wattappalai Kovil situated in the region, where even Prabhakaran is known to worship, comes under the Security Forces. The LTTE first made its air wing public by dropping flowers over this Kovil from a helicopter during a festival.

From Mulliyawalai everything points to the 59 Division next training its guns on the biggest target in the region, the Sea Tiger main training area, the Nandikadal lagoon It was in this lagoon in July last year that Sea Tiger Leader Soosai was watching a training exercise with his five year old son, when an explosion killed the boy and his body guard. The blast also injured the Sea Tiger leader.

Maj. Gen Jagath Dias commanded 57 Division this week once again resumed assaults on the Tiger defence bund on the approaches to Kilinochchi. By Friday it began pounding the entire 12 kilometre stretch of the bund. Only about four kilometers remained on this bund that had still not been over run. In the eight kilometers or so it had overrun, troops were busy clearing mines fields, booby trapped buildings etc. After that they have yet another enemy defence line to surmount within the town limits.

Ninth Gajaba, Fourth Sinha and Ninth Wijayaba Regiments belonging to 57-1 and 57-2 Brigades broke through the bund once again this week and resumed their advance. In the previous week’s Tuesday amidst heavy rains they broke through many places in this defensive bund, but had to fall back later under heavy enemy fire, especially mortar and artillery attacks.

Special Forces veteran and Lt. Col. Harendra Ranasinghe who just assumed command of 57-1 Brigade, resumed the fight back last Sunday at 5:35 am. The Ninth Gajaba and Fourth Sinha together smashed through two kilometer stretch of the bund containing 44 bunkers. The fighting for these troops raged non stop till 6:30 pm on Christmas day. They were supported by MI-24 helicopter gunships and artillery fire.

Killed

Intercepted Tiger communications revealed that more than 50 LTTE cadres were killed in trying to hold this stretch. Troops in clearing operations later recovered bodies of three female Tiger cadres along with four weapons and a communication set.
Similarly 57-2 Brigade under the command of Lt. Col. Dhammika Jayasundera overran about 1.5 kilometre stretch of the bund.
Troops of the 57-4 Brigade under the command of Lt. Col. Senaka Wijesuriya, who successfully captured the stretch of the bund between Iranamadu tank and the Iranamadu Road last week using smart tactics, were at the receiving end of some fierce assaults on their positions this week due to Tiger fears that they would rush Kilinochchi town from the south.

Using about 400 cadres broken into 18 teams, they launched assault after assault on the positions of the troops of the 57-4 Brigade on Monday from 6:15 am to 1:00 pm, backed by a non stop rain of artillery and mortar fire. Tigers even said to have fired from a captured battle tank from a previous Eelam war, and also provided back up fire to their assault cadres from seven boats stationed in the lagoon. These Tiger units were commanded by their frontline commanders Swarnam, Theepan, and Lawrence.

Maj. Samantha Wickramasena led Tenth Infantry and Lt. Col. Ipshitha Dissanayake commanded Eighth Infantry faced the brunt of these assaults. As pinpoint enemy mortar and artillery fire became too intense, these two regiments were forced to fall back.

In this fight two of the best young officers Capt. Mahesh Kumara Narangoda and Capt. Tharanga Thelis, who have successfully taken part in many other frontline operations sacrificed their lives along with 13 other brave men.
Capt. Narangoda had bravely led his men till the very end in Monday’s battle, while Capt Thelis had played a leading role in the capture of the same bund in the previous week.

The LTTE too lost some of their best men in this fight, and it had ordered 26 coffins for those killed here. It is only their senior cadres who are accorded funerals with coffins.
Brig. Shavendra Silva led 58 Division comprising 17th Gemunu, 11th Infantry, 12th Gemunu, Tenth Gajaba and Second Commando and Ninth Gemunu Regiments has broken through Tiger defence line at Paranthan and has advanced some three kilometers. This division which is advancing beyond Sinna Paranthan has killed 156 LTTE cadres, including two Lieutenant Colonels during the last ten days, according to intercepted LTTE communications.

Military intelligence has identified the two Lieutenant Colonels killed by this Division as Sugandan and Theguswaran. In this same period 58 Division has recovered bodies of 15 Tigers along with their personal weapons. The number of Tigers injured in fighting the 58 Division, according to intercepted enemy communications.

Marksmen

A considerable number of Tiger casualties have been attributed to marksmen attached to this division. The snipers had killed as much as 65 Tiger cadres during this period. Last Tuesday (23) alone, they are said to have shot dead 28 in the open terrain in Sinna Paranthan. The following day Tigers launched a fierce assault on the troops of the 58 Division. But 17th Gemunu Regiment under Lt. Col. Keerthi Kottawatte beat back the assault successfully.

The Tiger assault was launched in waves from the right side of the Paranthan road backed by about 100 rounds of Mortars fired at troop positions. The assault that began at 6:15 am continued till 2:30 pm.

In this fight a Tiger Lt. Col. who was directing the attack was killed. He was identified by his call sign Alpha in their communications. Even their Weli Oya Leader Swarnam had attempted to retrieve his body from the battlefield without success. Unable to make any headway, Swarnam too had withdrawn from the scene by 11:00am.

The Fifth Armoured Corp under the command of Lt. Col. Nihal Samarakoon had given close support to troops of the 17th Gemunu Regiment during entirety of this attack by taking on LTTE targets. Later troops recovered what was believed to be the body of Tiger Lieutenant Colonel along with bodies of three other cadres. Their weapons too were collected by the troops.

Lt. Col. Subashana Welikala commanded 63-2 Brigade captured the main Tiger runway south of the Iranamadu Tank this week. Troops of the 20th Sinha Regiment led by Lt. Col. Dharshana Wijesekera advancing after the capture of Ampakamam area stumbled on this runway.400 metres long and 20 metres wide. It is believed that the Tiger aircraft that bombed the Kelanitissa power station in October this year had landed at this runway as it disappeared from the radar over this area.
The Tigers also have a much bigger runway about seven kilometers north of here and east of Iranamadu tank.

Mislead

It appears Tigers in a deliberate move to mislead the Forces had publicly claimed in the past that the final Eelam war would be decided in the seas. These runways reveal they were hell bent on building a big air force. Already three such runways have fallen to troops.

Troops also overran 16 Tiger mini camps spread over an area of about one kilometer. These camps were totally hidden from the sky by a heavy tree canopy. To reinforce this canopy the LTTE had even laid a net over it. In one of the camps troops had even come across a firing range. Troops also captured the memorial built by the Tigers for the architect of its air and sea wings, Shankar, who was killed by a deep penetration team of the Army led by late Lt. Col. Lalith Jayasinghe in 2000 in this area. Lt. Col. Jayasinghe was killed in a similar deep penetration operation late last month behind enemy lines.

Captured

Meanwhile Task Force IV commanded by Col. Nishantha Wanniarachchi, which entered the battlefield only on May 16 captured the Tiger stronghold of Nedunkerni last Sunday. Lt. Col Randula Hathnagoda led 64-2 Brigade led the assault on Nedunkerni. It was assisted by Maj. Priyantha Lal headed 15th Sinha, Maj. Chandra Abeykoon led 14th Sinha, Maj. Prasanna Ediriweera commanded 20th Infantry, and the 21st Sinha under the command of Maj. Rajiva Perera.

Changes

This week also saw some major changes in the army hierarchy in preparation for impending retirement of some senior officers. Jaffna Commander Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri, who has held that post for the last three years, has been brought to Headquarters with his retirement due next month. His position in Jaffna is filled by Colombo Area Operations Commander Maj. Gen. Mendaka Samarasinghe. Similarly Volunteer Force Commander Maj.Gen. Lawrence Fernando who too is due to retire next month has also been attached to headquarters from January 01. Commandant of the Kotalawala Defence Academy Maj. Gen Sumith Balasuriya will take over as Volunteer Force Commander and Maj. Gen. Milinda Peiris will succeed as Commandant of the Defence Academy. Commander of the 52 Division Brig. Mano Perera will take over as Head of Colombo Operations and Weli Oya Commander Brig. Mohan Jayawardena will succeed as 52 Division Commander. Col Raj Ranawaka has been picked to fill the Weli Oya vacancy.

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