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DateLine Sunday, 6 July 2008

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Operations to liberate Wanni continue

The important changes taking place in the Wanni battlefront within the past few weeks has put the ongoing operations to liberate the Wanni on a fast track.

The fall of Tiger strongholds one after the other has given a hard time for the LTTE, compelling the Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran to think very seriously about his own future and that of his organisation.

Anyone studying the history of the two and half decade long conflict in the North and East will have to move away from the conventional thinking to give the possible end of the ongoing conflict.

Even the Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, is undergoing hard times these days due to pressure exerted by the advancing troops and the intrude made into his territory.

That was the end result of the achievements the security forces gained victories secured the past few weeks, were surprising achievements even for the security forces who were engaged in decisive battles during the past two and half decades.

Mannar Rice Bowl

Security Forces attached to the 58 Division under the Command of Brigadier Shavendra Silva achieved a record victory last Sunday with the capture of Mannar ‘Rice Bowl’ which is considered to be the most fertile land in the Mannar district which produced the biggest paddy harvest for the country in 1991.

This is the first time in the two and half decade long history of the North East conflict the security forces have been able to fully liberate the ‘Rice Bowl’ and the Tiger strongholds located in the edges of the area.

By the time the security forces started the “Operation Rice Bowl” the troops were operating only on the North of Medawachchiya-Mannar road and only up to Thiruketheshwaran on the Mannar-Pooneryn A-32 road.


Pic : Thilak Perera in Mannar

At the initial stage the troops had to face stiff resistance from the LTTE, as they had well-established defences within this huge open terrain stretching across fallow paddy lands, and abandoned tanks and irrigation channels.

According to military officials, this was the first time in the history of the North East conflict, the security forces crossed such a huge open terrain within a span of nearly nine months, facing stiff resistance from the LTTE.

The success of the security forces in capturing the ‘Rice Bowl’ were mainly due to the tactics adopted by the forces in misleading the enemy showing different interest and capturing a totally different location.

The LTTE Defences

The security forces engaged in this operation had to destroy a large number of defences installed by the LTTE to face the advancing troops. The huge earth bunds the LTTE had created in the Mannar ‘Rice Bowl’ area resembled the similar defences the LTTE had created in the Northern front in Jaffna.

Anyone, who is observing the terrain with his own eyes, would wonder how the LTTE had created this massive defences using earth moving equipment and the civilian labour.

The rationale behind creating these huge defences is to delay the security forces’ advance into the ‘Rice Bowl’. Despite these obstacles troops used different military tactics to destroy the defences and capture the areas they had targeted.

Troops had to show different interests at different times to capture these areas. Firstly troops captured the area upto Manthai North on the A-32 road.

The advancing troops on the Uyilankulam-Adampan-Parappakadattan Road and Uyilankulam-Andamkulam Road captured LTTE entry/exit point and cross loading points by mid January this year. Infantry troops attached to the 58 Division used different military tactics to capture different locations.

Obstacles

Many critics on the ongoing military operations entertained misgivings about the victories scored by the security forces, in the early stages during which the 58 Division started operations in the ‘Rice Bowl’ area.

First they were sceptical about the battleground situation since the LTTE had been able to secure this place for more than 14 years except for brief periods without allowing the troops to cross this terrain.

But the troops engaged in the “Operation Rice Bowl” faced the biggest obstacle in the months of March and April due to the unexpected rainy weather.

The entire rice bowl went under water during the rainy season, restricting all movements of the troops. Though the situation gave a tough time to the troops, they overcame all the hardships so as to capture the territory which was strategically important.

The capture of this open terrain consisting of more than 120 square kilometres, including the 105 square kilo metre rice bowl area, is vital for the security forces to achieve their next step of capturing Vedithalthivu, LTTE’s main Sea Tiger Base in the North Western Coast.

According to security forces, this open terrain in the Mannar Rice Bowl had been operating as a main LTTE Sea Tiger Base which maintained a sea line of communication to procure logistic support, arms and ammunitions.

Possibilities are very low for the LTTE to defend this major sea tiger base with the completion of the “Operation Rice Bowl” by the 58 Division of the Army. Troops are now inching towards Vedithalthivu, the next target on the Mannar front.

By now the security forces are operating just two kilometres south of Vedithaltivu with troops attached to the 583 Brigade advancing towards this vital location.

According to ground troops operating in the Mannar front, Tiger cadres are busy strengthening their defences in the south of Vedithaltivu with a number of heavy earth-moving equipment. Troops, have destroyed one backhoe, which was operational in the Tiger defences on Monday.

However, troops are confident that the Tiger cadres cannot occupy Vedithaltivu for longer period as they are getting cornered in the North Western coast with the advancement of troops from various locations.

Surrounding Vedithalthivu

The troops attached to the 58 Division have cut off all the links the LTTE had with the Mannar sector after they advanced upto 12th mile post on the Mannar-Pooneryn road just two miles south of Vedithalthivu.

Meanwhile, the troops attached to 57 Division who have captured Periyamadu village on the Mannar-Mullaitivu district border is also heading towards the North Western direction. They also have the capability to pose major threats on the Vedithalthivu Base, as they are operating just ten kilometres East of Vedithalthivu.

An another Brigade attached to the 57 Division heading towards Thunkukkai-Mallavi direction is cutting off supply routes connecting Vedithalthivu with the heart of Wanni. With the isolation of Vedithalthivu due to the advance of troops from various directions, there is no possibility for the LTTE to dominate this location for a longer period.

Therefore, at present the only available option to the LTTE is to engage in delaying tactics by strengthening their defences and laying mine fields and trappings to prevent troops entering the Tiger Base.

Meanwhile, intelligence sources indicate that the LTTE is using these delaying tactics to shift their assets further towards North as they feel the fall of Vedithalthivu is imminent in the face of military advances.

Creating the military front

The troops attached to the 58 Division under the command of Brigadier Shavendra Silva and 57 Division under the command of Major General Jagath Dias linked together in the South West of Periyamadu Village on Monday evening.

The 12th Battalion of the Gemunu Watch under the command of Lt. Colonel Nandana Dunuwila which was operational under the 57 Division and the 6th Battalion of the Gemunu Watch under the command of Lt. Colonel Kamal Pinnawala created this front linkage of their troops in the South West of Periyamadu.

Three offensive Divisions and one defensive Division have contributed to form this widest front. The newly formed 62 offensive Division under the command of Brigadier Bandara and the 56 defensive Division operating in the West of A-9 road have also contributed to create this widest military front.

The 57 Division

The 57 Division which is the oldest offensive Division launched offensive operations against the LTTE in the Wanni battle front. It has been operational in the Vavuniya front since February 2007.

The troops attached to 57 Division faced severe resistance from the LTTE at the early stages of its operations, with many of the troops sustaining injuries due to land mines and trappings created by the LTTE. On many occasions the Security Forces had to re-adjust their defences as the LTTE used maximum force to resist the advance of troops into their territory.

However, the troops who continuously engaged in these offensive operations achieved their objective of killing the maximum number of Tiger cadres.

According to the statistics available with them 3,225 Tiger cadres have been confirmed killed in the Vavuniya front alone by June 24. More than 1,800 Tiger cadres have also been wounded during this period.

Though many of the defence analysts and politicians were sceptical about these figures, the banners displayed in Tiger bunkers prove these figures as the photographs and names of the Tiger cadres who have been killed in the battlefront are very clearly indicated in those posters along with the dates they were killed.

So anyone who has been sceptical about the figures given by the security forces after confirming them in the light of intercepted LTTE transmissions, can re-check with the posters recovered by the troops.

Apart from fulfilling the objective of killing the maximum number of Tiger cadres the 57 Division has also been able to capture a huge land area under their control. According to figures available with the security forces 1,084 square kilometres which were under the control of the LTTE have been liberated by the 57 and 58 Divisions.

With these achievements the troops attached to the 57 Division have been able to launch a major military thrust on the LTTE in Thunukkai and Mallavi in one of their strategic townships in the western side of the Mullaitivu district.

At present troops attached to the 57 Division have reached 10 kilometres south of Thunukkai to Puliyankulam on the A-9 road. Therefore, the number one strategic township in the Western side of the Mullaitivu district is now under the threat of the security forces.

No one can be little the achievements of the troops at a time the security forces are about to complete the 2nd year of its military operations to flush out Tigers from the North East.

Compared to the achievements of the security forces engaged in the “Operation Jayasikurui” in late 1990s to secure A-9 road up to Jaffna, today the troops have achieved bigger successes within these two years of its operations as they have not so far faced any major reversals, particularly after the commencement of the Mavil Aru humanitarian operation.

The 62 Division

As the three offensive Divisions now operational in the Vavuniya, Mannar and Weli Oya fronts, the Sri Lanka Army has opened up another military front between the Eastern flank of the 57 Division and the A-9 road.

The 62 Division now operating under the command of Brigadier Bandara is launching a major thrust on the LTTE build-up area on the Western edge of the A-9 road.

Therefore, the troops attached to 62 Division which consists of two Brigades are operating to neutralise LTTE threat on the tail-end of the 57 Division while securing Tiger strongholds in the West of A-9 road. During the brief period of operations the 62 Division or the Task Force 11 has been able to kill at least 57 Tiger cadres.

The massive military front created between the A-9 road and the North Western coast is poised to launch attacks on the Tiger strongholds which will eventually prove the military superiority of our forces.

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