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Sunday, 11 January 2009

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Forces advance towards Mullaitivu:

LTTE on last legs


by Ranil WIJAYAPALA

If there were any fastest move in the battlefront since the commencement of the Mavil Aru battle, it was witnessed within the first ten days of the year 2009 with the most prestigious Tiger strongholds falling to the Security Forces.

This, of course, was a positive result of the strong foundation laid by the Security Forces within the last two years in their bid to defeat LTTE terrorism.

The impossible and unattainable became realities with the capture of Paranthan, Kilinochchi, Muhamalai, Kilali, Soranpattu, Murisamudai and Elephant Pass, the latest.

The significance of these victories achieved by the Security Forces was highlighted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he addressed the nation twice within the span of seven days to declare the highest and unprecedented achievements by the Security Forces in recent history.

It was on November 15 last year the President officially declared the most significant achievement by the Security Forces in that year, the fall of Pooneryn, the last LTTE bastion on the Western coast.


Pic: Rukmal Gamage

He opted to address the nation to announce the victories achieved by the Security Forces as they were not mere military victories, but victories of the entire nation that would bring far reaching benefits to the country in time to come.

Elephant Pass

A historical chronology:

* 1983 - The Sri Lanka Army establishes a detachment.

* 1991 - July 14 LTTE launches a massive attack on the Elephant Pass camp.

* 1991 - July 14, Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment rifleman Gamini Kularatne made the supreme sacrifice to defend Elephant Pass camp immobilising the explosive laden LTTE bulldozer that came into the camp. He was posthumously awarded the highest gallantry award PWN (Parama Weera Vibhushana).

* 1991 - August 4, The LTTE attempt to take the Elephant Pass base was beaten back by the troops led by Major General Denzil Kobbekaduwa with the conduct of Operation Balaveghaya.

* 2000 - April 22, LTTE attacks Iyakachchi and Elephant Pass military complexes and the troops withdrew as the LTTE cut off fresh water supply to the military complex from Iyakachchi junction.

* 2009 - January 06, Troops attached to 58 Division re-capture Elephant Pass South.

* 2009 - January 09, Troops re-capture entire Elephant Pass.

The liberation of the Jaffna-Kandy A-9 highway after 23 years is a giant leap in the two and half year long war to liberate the North and East from the clutches of the LTTE. By this giant step the Security Forces have truly cornered the Tigers into a patch of jungle in the Vanni.

The LTTE has now become a virtual non-entity in the Vanni and the Security Forces now can continue their usual land operations unhindered.

It was on Thursday afternoon Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka calculated the number of hours that would be required for the troops of the 53 Division and the 55 Division advancing from the Muhamalai and Kilali front to take full control of the A-9 Road as they passed Pallai town, destroying the third defence line of the LTTE. They had to advance nearly 20 Kilometres from Pallai to Elephant Pass to make this historic move.

He predicted that the troops could capture the remaining part of the A-9 Road upto the South of Elephant Pass which was held by the 58 Division troops led by Brigadier Shavendra Silva, within 48 hours as 53 and 55 Divisions had already passed Pallai town by Thursday afternoon.

It was in the early hours of Wednesday troops attached to the 53 Division under the command of Brigadier Kamal Gunaratne and the 55 Division under the command of Brigadier Prasanna Silva started to advance from their defences towards the LTTE defence line some 600 metres ahead of them.

By the time the 53 and 55 Divisions commenced operations to advance to the southern part of the Jaffna peninsula, the 58 Division troops had already reached the southern part of Elephant Pass along the A-9 Road. They had taken control of the Thamilamadam area and part of the former military complex of the Sri Lanka Army by Tuesday morning.

Flush out

Though 58 Division had the capacity to advance further northwards to capture the remaining part of Elephant Pass, Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka thought it should be the task of the 53 and 55 Divisions as North of Elephant Pass was the edge of the Jaffna district.

Therefore, the two offensive Divisions operating in the Jaffna defences started their advance on Wednesday morning to flush out the Tiger cadres operating further southwards.

The Jaffna battlefront, which usually turned to be a killing field for both Security Forces and the LTTE during confrontations, took a different nature this time.

The LTTE had shifted all their military assets from the peninsula by that time expecting a severe onslaught by the Security Forces from the South and North simultaneously if they continued to operate there.

The LTTE was very much aware that they cannot move their guns out of the peninsula towards Mullaitivu at a time when fierce battles rage in the ground.

The LTTE was also aware that it was extremely difficult for them to evacuate casualties from the ground in an event of a bigger battle as they have been sealed off from the southern part of Elephant Pass.

Retreated

Therefore, LTTE opted to react to the Security Forces whilst retreating ground as they were aware that it would be a death trap for them if they continued to fight with the troops as reinforcements, logistic supplies and casualty evacuations were at an extremely dangerous situation by that time.

It was around 10.30 a.m. in that the 55 Division reached the Tiger defence lines in the North of A-9 Road. The 53 Division was little late and reached the Tiger defence line in Kilali and Muhamalai amidst stiff resistance from the LTTE and reached the target little later than the 55 Division.

Ten soldiers were reportedly killed and more than 60 soldiers sustained injuries at the initial battle to capture the Tiger defences. But many of the casualties reported were in the P3 category.

Since there was no reason for them to delay their advance the 53 and 55 Divisions commenced their forward march on Wednesday morning itself to reach the remaining defences of the LTTE.

Though troops advanced from the Muhamalai and Kilali towards Tigers, defences the troops in the Nagarkovil front did not advance, as the LTTE was strongly holding that terrain.

It would have been suicidal for the troops to advance ahead on to the Tiger defences in Nagarkovil as the sandy terrain in Nagarkovil was infected with trappings and mines laid by the LTTE.

Once troops started moving fast the Tiger resistance reduced drastically as the Sri Lanka Air Force fighter jets and the MI-24 helicopter gunships destroyed many of the gun positions detected by the Security Forces.

Therefore, troops advanced fast towards Pallai town which is located some two and half kilometres south of the Tiger defence line by Thursday morning and two Division commanders had a joint operations command in Pallai town.

Though resistances was lesser than earlier troops had to go through mine fields and trappings set by the fleeing Tiger cadres. It was due to such a trapping of the LTTE that the Army lost one of its battalion commanders who commanded the 5 Gemunu Watch battalion operating under the Air Mobile Brigade attached to the 53 Division.

Lt. Colonel Nalinda Kumarasinghe and his buddy and signal operator were killed as they were walking in the Pulo Pallai area after the capture of Pallai by the troops.

He was the most senior officer killed in the battle front so far since the Mavil Aru battle in mid 2006.The progress of the battle was so speedy as infantry troops were supported by Mechanised Infantry battalions operating in the Jaffna peninsula.

Historic

By Friday morning troops had reached upto the key Iyakachchi junction which leads to Vettilaikerni and Elephant Pass and troops were ready to make the historic move.

The troops attached to I Vijayaba Infantry Regiment were in the forefront of the troops advancing from the North whilst 2 Commando troops under the command of Lt. Colonel Balasuriya attached to the 58 Division were awaiting to make that historic move to take full control of the A-9 Road.

Major Shamid from the 2 Commando Regiment representing the 58 Division and Captain Nissanka from the 1 Vijayaba Infantry Regiment the 53 Division linked up at the Elephant Pass board around 11 a.m. on Friday and message was passed to Colombo to make final arrangements for the President to announce this historic victory.

Following that historic move, troops of the 55 Division and 53 Division continued their operations to capture the remaining part of the peninsula towards the Eastern coast of the peninsula.

They were concentrating on Champianpattu, Vettilaikerni and Nagarkovil areas. By Friday evening troops of the 55 Division has reached upto Vettilaikerni and were in the process of clearing booby traps and mines in that area.

Some 30 civilians entrapped in that area surrendered to the Security Forces on Friday evening.

The main focus of the Government was the liberation of the Jaffna-Kandy A-9 Road which is the main supply route to Jaffana. Though the capture of Pooneryn opened the A-32 Mannar-Pooneryn Road to Jaffna it was under threat until the Security Forces could clear Kilali area.

With the capture of Muhamalai and Kilali, troops have cleared the path to make both these routes operational easing a huge burden on the Government, especially the Security Forces.

It reduces a large amount of Government expenditure in terms of transporting essential items to the Jaffna peninsula by sea and air as this road remained closed since August 11, 2006. Even when it was opened the LTTE used to charge illegal taxes from the traders and the civilians using this route.

The closure of this road deprived the LTTE of a bulk of money that came as illegal taxes.It would be a remarkable victory for the troops who had to wait for weeks to go on leave from Jaffna peninsula by air and sea.

The massive operation conducted by the Sri Lanka Navy for the past few years to transport more than 3,000 troops at a time from Trincomalee to Kankesanthurai and Kanakesanthurai to Trincomalee would come to an end once Army starts transporting troops via A-9 Road.

Though the Security Forces had the chance of transporting troops through the A-9 Road under the sections of the Ceasefire Agreement they did not opt to use this road considering the threat they had to face when they went through LTTE held areas.

So, it was a victory in economic terms too for the Government at this juncture where it is facing numerous problems due increased defence expenditure.

With the liberation of a large segment of territory, the Government can reduce defence expenditure drastically.

With these developments taking place in the Jaffna front with the strategically important Elephant Pass under their control, troops are poised to neutralize the LTTE’s air capabilities which had become a nuisance for the Southern people during the last year.

That is basically because the troops are in the process of advancing towards two major air strips of the LTTE located in Iranamadu East and in Mulliyawali West of Mullaitivu.

The 59 Division, under the command of Brigadier Nandana Udawatta, is now closing in on the Mulliyavali airstrip and are poised to capture it by Saturday marking yet another victory against the LTTE as troops are in a position to physically move into these assets.

The Tiger airstrip in Iranamadu too comes under the threat of Task Force III under the command of Brigadier Satyapriya Liyanage.

With these moves troops are now poised to confine the LTTE to a very small land area less than 40 square kilometres as troops attached to the 58 Division have already passed Murusamudai junction on the Paranthan - Mullaitivu Road amidst stiff resistance from the LTTE.

Architect of battle

Fierce battles erupted in Murusamudai East front yesterday too as 7 Sinha Regiment troops under the command of Lt. Colonel Kithsiri Liyanage surrounded and killed more than 12 Tiger cadres operating there.

The 58 Division is now operating as a striking force to reach the Mullaitivu North beach front as a huge area under its command were to be handed over to the newly formed Task Force VI which began operations from yesterday.

They have been given the task of holding the areas from Valaipadu to Paranthan which was earlier held by the 58 Division.

The 57 Division, under the command of Major General Jagath Dias, is also moving in the Eastern direction from the Kilinochchi town and had passed Dri Aru which was kept as a major obstacle for the infantry troops by the LTTE.

These fast moves by the Security Forces had caused big problems for the LTTE as they never expected such a strong concentration of troops to surround them into such a small area at any time.

The Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka, who is the main architect of this battle, has left no room for the LTTE to survive or escape. Therefore, the Tiger leader has been left with a limited time period to decide about his and his organisation’s future.


 

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