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Military Matters


     KILINOCHCHI TRIUMPH     

“……. It is a victory over venomous separatism that sought to divide people on grounds of race and religion.”- President

WANNI OPERATIONS: UPDATE - 02 JANUARY 2008

By Rohan Abeywardena and Tissa Ravindra Perera
This must be the only country where the Opposition is ever ready to scoff at the victories of our valiant Security Forces, and Friday was no exception. When the masses were spontaneously jubilating over the capture of Tiger citadel of Kilinochchi, against the predictions of all types of local and foreign pundits, Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe, instead of congratulating the victorious Forces was mostly shedding tears over other issues.

As in any ground war, it was without any doubt the Army’s infantry regiments that bore the brunt of fighting, ably backed by all other support units. Their sacrifices were such, as Army Commander Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka recounted to the country on Friday soon after President Rajapaksa’s address to the nation, some of the troops even drowned while launching assaults on Tiger positions amidst floods and storms. In the last few days most of these brave fighting men hardly had any sleep, because of their determination to meet the enemy challenge. These fighting units also got invaluable support from air force MI-24 helicopter gunships and attack aircraft. That must be one of the reasons for the Tiger suicide cadre to strike near the Air Force headquarters sports complex entrance on Friday evening, killing two airmen and a civilian and injuring 37 others, including many civilians.

In the final analysis however, it can be said without any doubt that none of this would have been possible- if not for the single minded determination of Army Commander Fonseka and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to defeat the most ruthless terror outfit in the entire world. Both men beat death by a whisker at the hands of Tiger suicide bombers in two separate attacks in Colombo in April and December 2006.

Celebrating

Though some of Friday’s celebrations around the country had a tinge of jingoism, unfortunately with monks too being in the thick of such jubilations, overall it was a victory worth celebrating, considering the tremendous sacrifices made by our fighting men. For the LTTE and their supporters who had always openly invited the Army to come for a showdown in Killinochchi, and repeatedly declared that President Rajapaksa was merely daydreaming of capturing the strategic town, their latest performance was most uncharacteristic, and their generally brainwashed cadres literally turned tail in this last day and simply bolted.

The President nicely summed up the achievement by stating “One must not belittle this victory as one that has been won by one community over another. It should not be interpreted as defeat of the North by the South. This is a victory for our entire nation and country. It is a decisive victory over savage terrorism ……. It is a victory over venomous separatism that sought to divide people on grounds of race and religion.”

The truth is that though the LTTE was crowing about Army casualties with the help of outside forces, the Tigers had suffered much more proportionately than the attacking troops and could not take any more. It is now obvious that the LTTE claim of having big reserves of hard core fighters to defeat the army in Wanni is mostly a myth. And the Army Commander hit the nail on the head in his address on Friday, when he declared that with the forces having killed about 1500 of enemy cadres during the past month alone, their fighting strength was now reduced to between 1700 and 1900 cadres, according to the latest assessments.

Wanni Security Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya told The Nation yesterday that in fact, the 58 and 57 Divisions finally took the LTTE de facto capital without suffering any casualties, as the defenders fled as the victorious army units descended there from North, South and West.

Bloodiest

But along the way, the Army also fought some of the fiercest battles in this conflict. It was on Tuesday December 16 that the two sides fought some of the bloodiest battles as the Army mounted assaults along the entire defence line constructed by the enemy to defend the town, stretching for miles from the Jaffna lagoon in the north to Iranamdu in the south. In addition to this, the Army also launched two costly diversionary assaults along north and south of the A-9 road artery, from the Jaffna front. Altogether four divisions and more than 7000 men were involved in that day’s assaults.

Captive

According to security sources, even holding on to its captive population of civilians will now become a problem for the LTTE. On January 01, when the Army completed the capture of Paranthan , 53 civilians had come over from there seeking protection from the Government, bringing the number of such civilians fleeing the LTTE held areas in the last several weeks, to more than 1000. And at the rate the Tigers are making “tactical” withdrawals, they would soon run out of land to fall back on, and only the eastern sea remains.

Gen. Fonseka said on Friday that the LTTE is now wedged into an area of only about 40 kilometres by 40 kilometres.
Meanwhile, according to Gen. Jayasuriya, the Army which only on December 16 successfully deployed its fourth fighting Task Force against the enemy in the Mulaitivu sector, has now also deployed its Fifth fighting Task Force. But it is being utilised mostly for holding operations in the belly regions of areas liberated in Wanni, and for the entire security of A-9 Highway from Omanthai to Paranthan.

The Task Force V led by Col. Athula Galagamage too has some of the best battle hardened commanders. Its two Brigade Commanders Lt. Col. Priyanka Fernando and Lt. Col. Ranjith Abeyratne have both proved their mettle leading 11th Gemunu Regiment and Seventh Light Infantry respectively. The 11th Gemunu regiment under Lt. Col. Fernando has proven time and again spectacular strikes against the enemy as part of the 59 Division advancing in the Mulaitivu front since this division began its operations from Weli Oya in January 2008. Similarly the Seventh Light Infantry Regiment under Lt. Col. Abeyratne has fought with the 57 Division which began its assault on Tigers from Iranailappaikulam (between Mannar and Vavuniya) in March 2007. Both these infantry officers are veterans of innumerable operations against the enemy from the time they joined the army as young second lieutenants.

The Wanni Commander also feels that in the coming days, even hitherto almost impregnable Tiger held Jaffna sector from Elephant Pass to Muhamalai will become untenable with the Army cutting off its main A-9 supply artery with the capture of Paranthan. The Army which earlier could only engage this sector from the north, is now marching towards it from the south along the A-9 since the capture of Paranthan, and its heavy guns can now engage the enemy there from the south as well.

Bunkers

LTTE cadres holed up in hardy concrete bunkers, has so far stalled many an Army assault in this sector. But Gen. Jayasuriya is now confident of tackling such enemy defences. The enemy now has only one road left to supply this sector: that is the Chalai-Championpattu road, but at most it is only a makeshift road traversing marshy lands and difficult terrains.

As the New Year dawned the 58 Division under Brig. Shavendra Silva completed the capture of vital Paranthan.
On the following day Friday the 57 Division led by Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias broke through final Tiger defences around Kilinochchi from three sides, and by noon completed its capture.

The 57-1 Brigade ably led by Special Forces veteran Lt. Col. Harendra Ranasinghe, was the first to break into Kilinochchi. Till he assumed the command of 57-1 last month he was the Principal Staff officer of 58 Division (formerly Task Force 1) from its inception in November 2007 with the launch of operations to liberate coastal sector from Mannar. The Ninth Gajaba Regiment of the 57-1 Brigade under the command of Lt. Col. Chandana Somaweera broke into Kilinochchi town around 10:00am.

The other units that make up 57-1 Brigade are Fourth Sinha Regiment under Maj. Iran Lokuketagoda and 12th Sinha Regiment led by Maj. Weerasinghe.

Breached

From Boxing Day, 57-1 Brigade, 57-2 Brigade under the command of Lt. Col. Dhammika Jayasundera and 57-4 Brigade led by Lt. Col. Senaka Wijesuriya breached the entire 12 kilometre long Tiger last defence bund surrounding Kilinochchi, and entered the town from three directions.

Initial breakthroughs were made on that day by Ninth Gajaba, Fourth Sinha, and 12th Sinha Regiments. One of the most capable platoon Commanders of the Fourth Sinha, Capt. Dhananjaya Perera was killed in a mortar attack on this day. On Christmas day too he was injured in a mortar attack while leading his men on an assault to breach the enemy bund. But instead of withdrawing from the battlefield he again led his men the following day with dressings on his wounds, when he was struck down permanently.

By Boxing Day the 58 Division under the command of Brig. Shavendra Silva took the tactically important town of Paranthan, which is the main gateway to Elephant Pass as well as the main approach from the North to Killinochchi town. This Division completed the capture of Paranthan on Wednesday night, and reached as close as 500 metres to Kilinochchi hospital by noon on the New Year day. And they were just 1.5 kilometres from the railway station there.

Lt. Col. Kithsiri Ekanayake commanded 11th Infantry led the charge from Paranthan to Kilinochchi on the A-9. In the last fourteen days these victorious troops fought continuously day and night, with hardly any sleep, thereby beating the enemy in night fighting. In the past it was the enemy which often chose to fight after dark.

It must be noted that Lt. Col. Kithsiri Ekanayake was injured in a claymore attack on his vehicle on November 17, the day after troops captured Pooneryn. And he returned to the battlefield within less than a month to resume his duties. He is also one officer who publicly says that the reason of the army’s humiliating debacles in Wanni in the late 1990s was the failure of then commanders to deploy reserve fighting battalions in the frontlines, no sooner the impending threats became apparent.

On December 31 and January 01, during the period the 58 Divison completed the capture of Paranthan, the 11th Infantry operating under it managed to capture some LTTE cadres with LMGs and MPMGs.

In the fight for Paranthan at least 50 Tigers were killed, including one of their lieutenant colonels identified as Illamperiyan. And many more were wounded. The Air Force also managed to destroy a Tiger armoured vehicle fitted with a 30 milimetre cannon, which was obstructing the advancing troops.

Consolidated

During the same period 57-1 and 57-2 Brigades had consolidated their positions in Adampan and other villages surrounding Killinochchi. Along the way, they also stumbled on a new cemetery, where about 3000 Tiger cadres killed in fighting had been interred.

Tigers defending their de facto capital, realising the certain fall of their fortress town, then began destroying all basic infrastructure there, including its massive water tank. They also booby trapped a large number of the buildings there.
As the New Year dawned the Tiger cadres initially did put up some fierce resistance, but as 57 Division replied in kind, the defenders simply bolted.

The Lt. Col Ipshitha Dissanayake commanded Eighth Infantry and Maj. Dhammika Dissanayake led 16th Sinha Regiments coming under the 57-4 Brigade captured the Iranamadu Junction in a lightning push. This was also the first time this junction was captured by the Forces.
As this important junction was being captured 57-1 and 57-2 Brigades were already entering Kilinochchi Town. By Thursday night the 57-1 had reached town limits.

****