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Military Matters


TIGERS USE CIVILIANS AS CANNON FODDER

The Army’s ability to recover, at times, hundreds of assault rifles, after recent encounters with the enemy, has been attributed to the LTTE frog marching into battle newly conscripted civilians, who, in fear, take to their heeals, no sooner clashes erupt.

Frontline senior officers said this was one of the main reasons for increased casualties among civilians. “When these wounded civilians are brought for treatment, neither the ICRC nor the doctors are aware how they came by their injuries. Similarly, even wounded Tiger cadres could be seeking treatment in the guise of civilians,” they said.

Senior officers maintained that, they themselves were taking casualties unnecessarily, due to Tigers firing their big guns from the ‘Safe Zone’ set aside for civilians, but were not retaliating on those enemy positions because of the civilian presence.

Heavy fighting once again erupted in the built up urban areas of Pudukudyirippu this week, amid torrential rains.
Soldiers wading through floods, continued their attacks on LTTE targets. The LTTE resorted to exploding all types of booby traps, especially, booby trapped buildings, whenever the forces entered them. Encounters were often at close range, as the soldiers kept advancing into fast diminishing Tiger held terrain.

With fighting becoming intense, the security forces (SF) resorted to new strategies. Their strategy up to the Kilinochchi battle was to stay at a place for a long time and to gun down as many enemy cadres as possible, rather than capturing land. However, in urban areas, they have decided to capture as much area as possible, to deny the enemy any places to hide, while destroying its cadres and also, to finish off the remaining Tiger positions.

The 35 sq km. area yet to be captured, includes 20 sq. km. land held by the LTTE and the neutral ‘Safe Zone’. The advancing forces have only about three to four kilometers more to reach the Eastern coast.
After intense fighting, the combat Divisions captured the Pudukudyiruppu hospital this week.

Relentless onslaught
53 Division under Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, 58 Division under Brig. Shavendra Silva and the Task Force VIII under Col. G.V. Ravipriya, are waging the final battles under the supervision of Wanni Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya.

The 12 Gajaba Regiment (GR) of 58 Division, under Maj. Saliya Amunugama that advanced from the North of A-35 main road, reached the hospital’s outskirt first, while 1 GR of Task Force VIII of Lt. Col. Sanath Aluvihare, under the supervision of 53 Division Commander, entered from the South. By Wednesday (11) evening, the Tigers left the hospital premises and retreated amid intense fighting. The 68-1 Brigade of Lt. Col. Lalantha Gamage carried out the operation to clear the hospital.

The defence line East of Pudukudyirippu, manned by 53 Division and Task Force VIII, came under heavy LTTE attack in the early hours of last Monday.

The SF had killed more than 100 LTTE cadres in the ensuing heavy fighting that lasted about 12 hours, and the forces later found 35 enemy bodies lying in the area.

Meanwhile, the 68-2 Brigade of Task Force VIII, under Lt. Col. Subhashana Welikala, clearing the main obstacle for the forces proceeding to Pudukudyiruppu East, liberated an open country amid heavy resistance and entered Pudukudyiruppu town limits.
An area called “Dara Point”, where both parties suffered heavy casualties, was captured during the operation. It was with great difficulty, that the earth barricade of the LTTE at the Dara Junction, with an open tract of paddy fields, was overrun.

During the operation, the soldiers faced a series of problems due to the flooding in the area. The 15 Light Infantry Regiment (CLI) under Maj. Sujeewa Hettiarachchi, the 1 Gemunu Watch (GW) under Lt. Col. Ajantha Wijesekara and 18 GW under Lt. Col. Rienzy Fernando, were in the thick of the battle.

The 7 Sinha, the 11 CLI and the 20 GR of 58-1 Brigade under Lt. Col. Deshapriya Gunawardene of 58 Division, that entered the LTTE strongholds from the North of Pudukudyiruppu, launched a major onslaught. The 5Armoured Corp under Lt. Col. Nihal Samarakoon assisted them in the operation.

Suicide mode

The LTTE sent a van loaded with explosives, to ram into the defence line manned by 20 GR under Maj. Kumar Peiris, but it was destroyed by LCpl Pushpakumara, who fired an RPG at the vehicle, when it was about 100 metres from the military bunkers.
The van loaded with high explosives caused a massive explosion. The incident at 4.45 a.m. on March 7, was heard for miles. It was followed by a wave of three LTTE attacks, which were repulsed. The 20 GR destroyed another suicide vehicle advancing towards their position.

Floody hell

Meanwhile, Commanding Officer (CO) of 11 CLI, Lt. Col. Kithsiri Ekanayake, who went to inspect the Defence Line amid torrential rains, had a close shave. When the CO was returning, the Maradapilluara tank overflowed and he attempted to pass the area by tractor. However, the tractor was swept away by the floods with the driver, but he too, managed to jump and swim to safety unhurt. When the CO who stayed on the defence line till 6 p.m. was preparing to leave on the request of the soldiers, an artillery shell fell there. An LTTE scout hiding in the area might have directed the fire.

His attempt to leave the area by another tractor failed, when that too was swept away by the raging floods. Finally, the soldiers had evacuated him at about 10.30 p.m, by means of ropes put across Maradapilluara tank.

In another incident, 55 Division of Brig. Prasanna de Silva, proceeding from Chalai to Puthumathalan, under the supervision of Commander SF Jaffna, Maj. Gen. Mendaka Samarsinghe, faced a series of obstacles due to the torrential rains. The temporary bridges erected by the SF had been destroyed by floods. However, the soldiers of the Division resumed their advance on March 12.

Tiger Heads ‘roll’

Military Intelligence (MI) revealed that Sea Tiger leader ‘Lt. Col.’ Salem alias ‘Kalarathan’, injured in an attack by 55 Division on March 7, had succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday. He was the fifth in command of the Sea Tigers.
In addition, head of the finance Section of the LTTE, Sabharatnam Selvathurai alias ‘Thamilendri’ had been killed in an artillery strike on Pudukudyirippu.

The LTTE also announced the deaths of ‘Lt. Col.’ Maran, ‘Maj.’ Thamilmaran, ‘Maj.’ Muller Chemimal, ‘Capt.’ Eelachchilian and ‘Capt.’ Kalai Kadirawan. Kalai Eeniyawan of the Black Tigers was killed in action during the Pudukudyiruppu battles last week.

Information was received that Swarnam was killed and Lawrence injured during the battle. MI reported that the funeral of a prominent LTTE leader took place in the dead of night this week, with the participation of several other leaders, including Karikalan. However, the dead leader’s identity is yet to be revealed.

Guerilla warfare

The LTTE leadership too, changed their strategies, in view of the intensifying military operations. Intelligence revealed that, they had deployed groups of suicide cadres targeting military convoys, artillery and multi-barrel rocket launcher positions, and vehicles transporting senior military officials.

It was revealed that the suicide groups had infiltrated the cleared areas under Thomas, a subordinate of Ratnam Master, the leader of the Tiger Intelligence Wing.
One such group blasted themselves, after breaking into an artillery position at Sugandipuram this week, causing damage to three 122mm artillery guns.

Meanwhile, a group of about 20 terrorists had infiltrated through Wilpattu, to launch attacks in the South, according to MI.
Army Chief in control
The SF, under the personal supervision of Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, foiled the LTTE’s plan to reoccupy Mullaithivu few weeks back, and Pudukudyirippu areas last week.

A group of about 300 Tigers led by Lawrence and Swarnam, infiltrated Pudukudyiruppu area, to capture the A-35 (Paranthan- Mullaithivu Road), to halt the supplies to 58 Division and then, to launch an attack under Bhanu and Theepa from Puthumathalan to entrap the Division. However, the SF, for the first time in the history of the Eelam War, killed about 240 LTTE cadres, including senior members of the organisation and piled up their bodies and weapons. (A separate report of the battle appears below).

Even in the face of desperate circumstances, the LTTE is still planning to take the Army Chief’s life, despite strict security measures adopted by him, according to MI.
The multi-barrel rocket launchers of the Army are yet another reason for the LTTE’s debacle. The LTTE cadres who surrendered to the SF, revealed that, their leaders shiver in fright, when MBRLs fire barrages. However, the groups sent by the LTTE, failed to trace the locations of these mobile weapons, which are often moved from location to location.

War booty

The 62-1 Brigade under Lt.Col. Athula Ariyaratne, recovered 13 empty SAM Missiles, 16 overalls used for chemical tests and several other items, including 76,000 electronic detonators from Pudukudyirippu West on March 6.
The 8 SR under Lt. Col. Priyantha Jayawardene of this Brigade, found them buried four feet deep in four containers

The articles were hidden in plastic tubes. Among them were 22 gas masks, 175 rubber mats, used by tourists to lie on the beach, musical instruments, office appliances, 32 machine gun holders, and 40 rounds of 40mm ammunition.
The 13 empty SAM Missiles contained details of Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) aircraft destroyed by the LTTE, with the dates of attacks, location and even the name of the firer of the weapon.

The empty SAM Missiles were airlifted to the SLAF Headquarters for further investigation. Inquiries revealed that the LTTE obtained the missiles from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. However, the SLAF is further studying the serial numbers and other details found on the empty missiles, to establish the country of origin.

Meanwhile, 66-2 Brigade under Col. Kirthi Gunasoma recovered a stock of 800 kgm. of TNT explosives in two barrels, a stock of motors and other equipment at Udaparankattukulam East.
The 18 GR of 58 Division, recovered a parachute, aircraft tyres, spareparts of aircraft engines, and halogen lamps buried in a jungle of Pudukudyirippu North.

The award of Presidential Colours to SLAF squadrons, for the first time in its history, took place on March 7, at China Bay Air Force Base with President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Chief Guest.
Earlier, Presidential Colours were awarded in 1976, to Katunayaka Air Force Base, to mark the Silver Jubilee of the SLAF, and in 2001, to Anuradhapura Pilot Training School.

The 10th Squadron with Kfir combat aircraft, the 9th Squadron with MI 24 Combat Aircraft, the 4th Squadron flying VIPs, the SLAF Infantry Regiment, and the Second Squadron with transport aircraft, received Presidential Colours. This was also the highest Presidential Award available to a Forces regiment.

On the same day, the 45th Passing Out of the SLN was also held with President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Chief Guest. It was most significant to the first family in particular, as the President’s son, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, was among the Sub Lieutenants who passed out. He was presented the ceremonial sword by his father as Commander in Chief of the SF. He also received the award for Best Marksman, Best Athlete, and for topping his batch

Meanwhile, a group of young women, including one suspected to be LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s daughter, Dvaraka, were taken into custody by the SLN, near Point Pedro on February 24, while attempting to flee to India by sea,

“When we intercepted the boat, judging from the clothes and jewellery worn by the women onboard, we realised they were of an affluent background. We brought them to Jaffna for further inquiries,” a senior officer of the SLN said.

Though the young woman resembled Prabhakaran’s wife Madiwadini further inquiries revealed that she was someone else
Meanwhile, information was received that the LTTE shot 265 civilians fleeing the LTTE controlled area to Chundikulam by sea, killing several of them and destroying their boat.

Principal of Therumurukandi Vidyalaya, Ashirvadan Susainathar, was one of the civilians who escaped the LTTE attack. He said that a group of about 500 civilians fleeing the LTTE controlled area, were on the beach, when the LTTE shot them. He said the LTTE gave chase and shot at the boats killing civilians on board. He said that, a child, who was with him, received gunshot injuries.
The civilians revealed that the LTTE forcibly detained many families and gunned down anyone attempting to flee.

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LTTE grand assault routed

By Tissa Ravindra Perera
LTTE Leaders Lawrence and Swarnam were tasked with overseeing a major Tiger operation last week. The plan was to utilise around 300 LTTE cadres to sneak past the Forward Defence Lines (FDL), mount a rear attack and recapture Puthukuduyiruppu and Chalai. Specially trained cadres from the Black Tigers, the Radha Regiment and Charles Anthony Regiment were among those dispatched for this attack. After carefully considering the positioning of the troops, they chose to infiltrate at the island where the 11 Artillery Regiment of 58 Division was sited, between south of Chalai and north Puthukudyirippu.
The 11 Artillery Regiment was jointly protecting the island with the 8 Vijayaba Regiment (VR) of 55 Division under Brig. Prasanna de Silva. At dawn on February 5, two boats carrying civilians were seen off Chalai. As the forces paid attention to these boats, Tiger cadres began moving along the strip of land attached to Chalai. However, by this time, Military Intelligence had forewarned troops of such an attack.

Under siege

The cadres attacked from the lagoon side, and after capturing bunkers, moved steadily onward. No sooner he heard of the attack at 4:00 a.m., Brig. Shavendra Silva, Commander of 58 Division, moved to the command station to personally oversee the counter-attack. The moment the bunkers were captured, Capt. Suranga Jayaweera stormed into the area with his Alpha Company of 20 Gajaba Regiment, stationed nearby. As they moved to clear the area south of Chalai, Capt. Jayaweera became a victim of an LTTE ambush.

At daybreak, two Commando teams under Lt. Col. Jayantha Balasuriya, were dispatched by 58 Division Commander to assist the troops under siege. Two Companies under Maj. Shah Hamid and Lt. Sadaruwan joined in the attack. Attacking with an 8-group formation, they managed to recapture the bunkers taken over by the LTTE. The 8 VR under 55 Division, managed to recapture three bunkers of the 11 Artillery Regiment earlier overrun by the Tigers. In this battle, Capt. Nadeera Vidanapathirana was wounded and Lt. Col. Jayantha Balasuriya took over command.

The officers had first perceived around 200 LTTE cadres dressed as soldiers on the island. They were effectively disguised as Army personnel, with short crops, some bearing the stripes of LCpl., Cpl. and Sgt. Some cadres even had Army headgear to complete their ensemble. At first, the Army was unsure of who they were, but after ascertaining they were the LTTE and not troops of 55 Division, the fight-back proceeded. Afterwards, the entire island was combed in a search operation and by midday on Thursday, the Army had consolidated power within the island. In this attack, some of the most prominent LTTE regiments were repulsed by Commando fire.

Tigers seek jungle refuge

Following the attack, 28 bodies (LTTE), 55 T-56 weapons, 4 LMGs, 1 MPMG and 3 60mm Mortar launchers were found. An LTTE group retreating towards Ampalawanpokkanai, came under attack from the Commandos. Most of the cadres had by this time escaped to the wooded area of Ampalawanpokkanai West, about 12 km in extent. The Army was quick to repair breaches in their defence lines and as directed by Brig Shavendra Silva, began sweeping operations from Sugandipuram to cover the entire area. In the process of search and destroy, small groups of Tiger cadres were wiped out. By this time, LTTE leaders Lawrence and Swarnam too, had entered the jungle area, accompanied by around 200 cadres. The Division Commander had been told to trap them and wipe them out in the jungle, if possible, by Army Chief Sarath Fonseka.

But the ground troops were not aware of the exact number of infiltrators.
“Sir, about 50 Tigers ran across into the jungle, in front of me, under covering fire,” a soldier with gunshot injuries on Saturday (7) night told his superiors when brought for treatment. This news shocked the commanders into action. Immediately, an Air Force UAV and a Beach Craft were airborne over the area, at the request of 58 Division Commander. Aerial photos confirmed that a group of around 200 cadres were in the jungle area.

Immediately, artillery fire began to pound the area west of Ampalawanpokkanai, forcing the LTTE infiltrators to run for cover. Urgent radio messages to their leaders had requested for backup, as their medical personnel had been killed in the artillery barrage of at least 300 rounds. An LTTE commander instructed them to move out of the area from three points, where they would refrain from firing their own artillery. And the trapped Tiger teams took refuge in their former defence line along the Chalai lagoon shore.

Reinforcing the defences

By this time, Second Commando Regiment’s Capt. Sanjeewa Navaratne with his Alpha Company, and Maj. Ravi Ratnayake with his Bravo Company, had been positioned in the area. Under Maj. Jaliya Dehideniya, Delta Company moved towards Sugandipuram, to ensure security for the supply route of the Army. The 11 Artillery Regiment and 19 WR were also deployed to assist in the operation.

Even though 122mm and 130 mm artillery guns were deployed in the civilian ‘No-Fire Zone’ and used against the Army, the forces refrained from mounting a counterattack, even though they had the weapons to do so. The cadres were returning fire from the bund and managed to breach the defences of the 11 Artillery Regiment and escape beyond the lagoon. As this was an open area, where heavy fire was being targetted at the Army with machine guns, the troops found it difficult to move forward. At this point, the 11 Artillery Regiment had suffered heavy casualties with 14 dead and 32 injured. Three officers were among them.

In the meantime, Maj. Shah Hamid got instructions to attack from the west of the bund and with artillery fire raining down, even he was wounded. Cpls Wijewardene, Athula Kumara and Dharmathileke laid down their lives, fighting to the bitter end. Another 45 soldiers were also injured by this time.

Special Forces to the rescue

Sunday morning saw fierce fighting, as the cadres fought along with reinforcements in place to assist them. It was at this point that Army Chief Sarath Fonseka personally took over the battle and brought Operations Director Brig. Udaya Perera and DMI Brig. Amal Karunasena to the Operations Room with him. He also dispatched Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias to assist Brig. Shavendra Silva.

Lawrence and Swarnam were, by this time, deploying maximum firepower to extricate themselves. The Army Chief responded by sending the Special Forces Brigade directly under his command. Four Special Forces squadrons were by this time deployed at the front. The LTTE showed no signs of backing down, using the bund defenses of the area. The main focus of the troops that landed around six in the evening, was to regain the 1.5 km that was taken over by the LTTE, and repulsing the attack.
The Special Forces teams infiltrated the jungle space, picking off the cadres. As the cadres started falling, the morale of the troops lifted as well, and in rain infested darkness, the fight continued. Right from the start, face to face confrontation killed 17 cadres and, after eight strenuous hours, the Special Forces were able to achieve their mission.

Mission accomplished

During the fight, 85 trained cadres were killed and 147 T-56, 5 MPMG and 6 RPG weapons were recovered. “This is completely a night attack and it is the first time we have cleared a bund in these circumstances,” said an Officer from the front. Over 240 terrorists were killed during the attack. 146 bodies were found, along with 268 T-56 weapons, 18 RPG, 6 mortars and a plethora of other weapons. The two LTTE leaders had also sustained injuries during the attack, and the Army suspects that one may have been killed, but it was difficult to ascertain which, as neither had exchanged radio messages. With the assistance of everyone, the fifth attempt by the LTTE, to recapture Mullativu town and the Chalai area, was successfully repulsed.

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