Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 18 October 2009





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Government Gazette

When troops undid LTTE at Silavatura

The fall of entire Eastern Province to the Security Forces by mid 2007 put the LTTE terror outfit in a more fragile situation although its so-called leaders made various attempts to cover up their military defeats in describing them as tactical withdrawals.

Although the LTTE’s power base was centralized in the Northern front, most of its resources and hardcore cadres were from the Eastern province. Above all, losing control over the Eastern population was the biggest blow the LTTE suffered due to the fall of the Eastern Province to the Security Forces.

With the LTTE’s last bastion in the Eastern Province, the Barons’ Cap or the Thoppigala, the Security Forces had prepared the groundwork for their next step. The Army Headquarters had formed its latest offensive Division, apart from the 53 Division which was the only offensive division the SLA had with it at the time of the commencement of military operations against the LTTE.

It was at the end of February 2007, the 57 Division was formed and launched its operations in the Wanni theatre. Brigadier Sumith Manawadu was appointed as the first Division Commander of the 57 Division and few battalions were attached to the 57 Division to commence its operations against the LTTE cadres operating in the Wanni battle front from West of Vavuniya. As it had to fight a solo battle against the LTTE which was operating a wider front by mid of 2007, the 57 Division, which commenced operations from Kalmadu in Vavuniya, faced stiff resistance from the LTTE. There were many instances the ground troops faced stiff resistance from the LTTE and readjusted their Forward Defence Lines.

But it never came behind the original defences they were manning by the time they commenced their operations closer to Mannar-Vavuniya Road.

With the formation of the 57 Division, the LTTE too strengthened their positions west of Vavuniya and made several attempts to infiltrate Security Forcers defences after infiltrating into Government controlled areas: From January 2007 to mid of 2007 heavy damage was inflicted on the LTTE by the Forces there had been a number of confrontations on a daily basis. The LTTE strengthened its FDLs as they did not want to see repetition of the Eastern experience in the Wanni front. Although the LTTE was concerned more about the territory, the main objective of the 57 Division was to bring maximum pressure on the LTTE and reduce its manpower. They bought time till other battle fronts opened up in the Wanni to launch offensives against the LTTE.

However, the ground troops too moved ahead of the FDLs to neutralise Tiger threats, to killing large number of Tiger cadres who tried to infiltrate Security Forces FDLs.

Took over

It was in May 2007, Brigadier Jagath Dias took over the 57 Division from Brigadier Sumith Manawadu at a time it was facing its worst experiences facing the LTTE.

By this time, the Security Forces too had suffered heavy casualties with stiff resistance from the LTTE. Many battles had erupted in Thampanai and Periyathampanai area in the west of Vavuniya and east of Madhu due to strong LTTE presence in the area, as they were well aware that the loss of Thampanai and Periyathampanai would lead to further defeats in Madhu.

As LTTE was totally concentrating on the 57 Division battle front expecting more resistance from the SLA, the Security Forces adopted a completely different strategy in September. The SLA, in a surprise move, concentrated on the North Western coast in a surprise move to liberate Silavatura from the clutches of the LTTE.

The news about the military operation to liberate the areas South of Mannar came as a surprise not only to the LTTE, but to the Security Forces. Even the troops involved in the operation were informed about the launch of the operation a few hours earlier following a decision taken at the National Security Council.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave the nod for the launch of this humanitarian operation after Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka moved the proposal to the Security Council emphasising the need to liberate the area from the clutches of the LTTE as Tigers were exploiting the population in Silavatura, Arippu who made fishing their lifeline.

Security Forces received enough proof to say that the LTTE cadres mingling with the fishing community smuggled arms and ammunition and fuel to the area as they were experiencing an acute shortage of fuel in the uncleared areas.

One of the major contributing factors towards launching this operation to liberate the area was due to the continuous threats posed by the LTTE to military vehicles plying on the Mannar-Vavuniya road, the only supply route connected to Mannar town.

The presence of Tiger cadres South of Mannar provided many chances for the LTTE to cut off this main supply route to Mannar and isolate the Security Forces in a decisive battle.

The possibility was very high with the strong presence of Tiger cadres in Vidithalthivu, North of Mannar a few kilometres away from Mannar.

The LTTE was aware of this situation and made use of their presence in the area to launch claymore attacks on a number of Security Forces vehicles plying on the Vavuniya-Mannar Road.

On July 24, 2007 ten soldiers were killed and 19 including 13 civilians were wounded when LTTE exploded a claymore mine at Chettikulam in Medawachchiya-Mannar Road, on July 24 this year.

From the Navy point of view, the presence of the LTTE in Silavatura and Arippu in the South was a greater threat for the Naval patrol craft deployed for the security of Colombo Harbour as the LTTE used to move to attack Colombo Harbour mingling with the fishermen.

Sea Tiger cadres made use of the license issued to fishermen in Puttlam and Battalangunduwa to smuggle arms and ammunition to LTTE controlled areas posing as civilian fishermen.

On many occasions Sea Tigers launched attacks on Naval troops patrolling in the sea off Kalpitiya reaching the Naval craft in the guise of fishermen.

Apart from this, the LTTE also made use of the area to send suicide cadres and explosives to Colombo from this area since it was the only available route for the LTTE to send in their cadres to Colombo. This background provided reasons for the Security Forces to launch another humanitarian operation to liberate the area from the clutches of the LTTE.

Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka gave orders directly to the field commanders whilst Wanni Security Forces Commander Major General Jagath Jayasuriya and the Mannar Area Headquarters Commander Brigadier Channa Goonetilleke were looking after the logistics arrangements for the operation.

The humanitarian operation commenced without any operation plan to maintain the secrecy of the operation as Security Forces did in the Eastern operations too. Arrangements were made through the Area Headquarters in Mannar under the command of Brigadier Channa Goonetilleke, to accommodate the civilians from Silavatura and Arippu at several welfare centres until the humanitarian mission was completed.

According to statistics available, with the Government Agent and the Non Government Organisations operating in Silavatura and Mannar area, there had been around 6,000 civilians in the area. However, the Security Forces realised that the figure was exaggerated, as the total number of civilians arriving in the cleared areas in Mannar did not exceed 3,000 by the end of the operation. With the civilians in Arippu, and Silavatura and Kondachchi arriving in Murunakan and Nananddan, 1 SF troops Commanded by Major Ihalagama under the Command of SF Brigade Commander Nirmal Dharmaratna moved into the area along with the 9 Gemunu Watch battalion commanded by Lt. Colonel Pradeep Perera.

The leading role was played by the Special Forces troops under the command of Colonel Nirmal Dharmaratne. Weeks prior to the launch of the operation they inducted rescue teams in to the area to observe the situation there and to cut off all LTTE supply routes to the area.

As SF troops completed their mission inside Silavatura, the ground troops were given instructions to move into the area in early Saturday morning with troops attached to 8 GW moving into the area along the Murunkan-Silavatura Road.

Though they expected Tiger resistance at Kompansinthakulam Bridge across Malwathu Oya or Arivu Aru, they faced no resistance. The 9 Gemunu Watch, 8 Sinha Regiment and 10 Gajaba Regiment were used to cut off the supply routes while Special Forces troops played the leading role. The Bravo Company of the 8 GW battalion commanded by Captain Imesh Habadivulvewa took control of the bridge which was earlier used by the LTTE as a tax collecting centre from the people and from the tractors transporting sand.

As Bravo Company took control of the bridge with no resistance Charley Company of the 9GW under the leadership of Captain Bandaranaike moved towards Chaddyappankulam junction on the Murunkan-Silavatura Road. From the Silavatura junction on the Murunkan-Silavathura junction two companies Delta Company under the leadership of Captain M.U.C. Perera and Delta Company led by Captain Sampath moved in two directions to take control of Arippu. As troops of the 9 Gemunu Watch took control of Arippu-Silavathura was sealed off completely by the 9 GW troops. The troops attached to 8 Sinha Regiment were airlifted to the battlefront directly from Eastern front to completely cut off Silavatura from South on September 2.

Different tasks

Each battalion had been given different tasks and were not aware of the other battalions involved in the operations. By the time 8SR troops were heli dropped to Kajuwatta area, 9 GW troops were not aware of their movements.

This surprise was fully maintained during the whole operation and 8 SR troops along with the 1 SF troops advanced towards the Silavatura from Kajuwatta area.

By September 2, Sunday morning troops took full control of Silavatura capturing a Sea Tiger base. Two Tiger cadres the intelligence leader and the political leader of Silavatura area were killed in a claymore attack with Special Forces troops cutting off the supply routes to the area. Troops believe that many Tiger cadres fled the area by sea southwards and towards the Vedithalthivu north of Mannar despite the rough seas.Despite the rough seas the Army started sending supplies to ground troops in Arippu by boat from Vankalai. By September 03, Monday troops further advanced towards Kondachchi to take full control of Silavatura area and consolidated their position.

Troops conducted search and clear operations in Silavatura and found a Sea Tiger base along with ten boats and a suicide boat. Large stocks of RPG bombs, hand grenades, T-56 ammunition, detonators and explosives left behind by the fleeing Tiger cadres were recovered from the area.

The clandestine operations conducted by the Sea Tiger cadres were apparent during this search operations as troops found a few fishing boats fitted with claymore mines into the fibreglass bodies of the fishing boats.

It is very difficult to identify these suicide boats as they are similar to the normal fishing boats. They could be identified only by the detonator wires fixed to the boats.

The number of licences issued to civilians by the Navy to engage in fishing has also been recovered from this Sea Tiger base.

The troops have taken shelter at Government buildings like Divisional Secretariat offices, schools and other public offices in Arippu and Silavatura without touching any private property belonging to the civilians who left the area with the advancement of troops.

Civilians who had left the area with the advancement of troops towards Silavatura, were taken refuge at Don Bosco Church in Murunkan and Nanaddan Maha Vidyalaya until the Security Force declare the area free of LTTE threat.

These civilians now come out with the suffering they had undergone at the hands of the LTTE as they had to live under the pressure of the LTTE. One Vijayalakshmi who had arrived there in Silavatura from Kebithigollewa area had not been allowed to go back to her village.She has been asked to live with her relatives there in Silavatura and had not been allowed to use even a telephone suspecting that she would give information to Security Forces.

Though some elements describe the victory of the Security Forces in Silavatura as mere capture of lands with no Tiger resistance, it was the strategy adopted by the Security Forces to liberate the area that compelled the LTTE to flee from the area.

Though the LTTE highly boasted about their fighting capabilities they were not capable of fighting a professional Army. The capture of Silvatura was the best example of military strategy as it came as a total surprise to the LTTE. It was the start of their downfall in the North Western coast as Sri Lanka Army decided to form another battlefront for the Wanni liberation under the name Ta.

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