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Archive for July 2nd, 2008

Years back when I was a young officer in the Regiment of Artillery, our regiment moved from New Mal in Eastern India to Deolali in Western India. On the day of our departure we trooped into the railway station with our trucks, baggage, stores and all the men at 6 am in the morning. Our special train was scheduled to leave at 11 am. We sweated in the heat in the roofless station but the train earmarked for us was nowhere in sight. The hapless station master could do nothing. Around one pm we were informed the train would be placed by 5 pm. It came at 7 pm and we were kept busy loading it for next three hours because we were told the train would leave by 10 pm. But it did not even when the clock struck twelve.

I was the train duty officer and ran around trying to find the railway staff that had vanished. Around 12 am I collared the station master in his house. “The train is ready for a long time to leave, sir,” he said. I was furious; “then why doesn’t it leave,” I thundered brimming with military efficiency. He walked over to the station and told me, “sir, train is there, but power has not come.” My uni-polar military brain could not understand the term ‘power’. “What ‘power’ do you mean?” I asked. He said “sir, you call it the engine, we call it power – the one that pulls the coaches, that has not arrived.” By the time ‘power’ came, a new dawn was on the horizon and we reached our destination two days late.

That small real life experience comes to mind when we look at the current military situation in the Eelam War-4. The military developments are in some order, just as political developments are in disorder.

Sri Lanka security forces made the strategic link up in the north between 57 and 58 divisions, capturing a large chunk of the territory between A32 Mannar-Pooneryn highway fromt and the A9 Kandy-Jaffna highway. It is no mean achievement for any army, considering that this was achieved in three weeks time, after a few bloody battles and loss of quite a few human lives. For the Sri Lankan army it is a creditable achievement showing how a learning army can overcome its own past shortcomings and reach new levels of operational efficiency. The strategic link up, if held, could block the free transportation of LTTE supplies smuggled from India arriving at the Mannar coast either eastwards or northwards movement along the A32 highway. It also provides launching pads for Sri Lankan offensives to wrest Vidathaltivu and later Pooneryn.

And the army should be able to hold on to the gains, considering that two divisions plus the newly raised 61 Division are there to defend. It is doubtful whether the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) still retain the capability to launch a sizeable conventional strike to dislodge the army form their gains. The arithmetic of force levels is against the LTTE and probably it would rather reinforce its Wanni defences and safeguard the line Pooneryn-Elephant Pass-Kilinochchi- Puthukudiyiruppu than deplete its forces in launching a counterattack.

Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka vocalised the recent achievements of the security forces while speaking to foreign correspondents recently. “The LTTE has lost the capability of fighting as a conventional army. Although they are (still) fighting us, they (are) not in the same manner as was in the past. That type of resistance is not there anymore.”

Does that mean the ‘final military victory’ over the LTTE is around the corner? The Army Commander was more realistic. He said that though the LTTE’s fighting capabilities was badly weakened, it would take another one year or so “to completely defeat them militarily.” He summed up the assessment saying, “I am sure the LTTE will totally lose even their present capability in less than one year. Then they will resort to a totally different type of tactic” So what the LTTE has lost is its proactive conventional operational capability. And that is undoubtedly a plus point for the security forces because they have the military initiative in the war from now onwards.

To the man fighting the insurgents, the only difference between the two kinds of warfare is that firepower is concentrated in conventional war, while it comes in penny packets in unconventional war. But bullets remain equally deadly in both kinds of warfare. This was dramatically illustrated yesterday when some extremist element shot at the Bell 412 helicopter while it was returning after flying in the President in Amparai. The LTTE in that area was driven away more than a year ago. Fortunately, the helicopter managed to land safely though its fuel tank was punctured by bullet fire.

But what the General said in the course of the interview on the on the ‘overall plan’ of his forces was a little disturbing. “We do not just go for terrains, but we go for the kill. This is the difference between the military operations in the past and the present,” he said. The laudable military achievements need to be put in the overall perspective. Was the LTTE’s military capability the only issue that had dragged the nation into war with its own population for the last three decades?

Far from it; as long as there is Tamil population outside the fold of good governance in Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and parts of Vavuniya and Jaffna districts, even if the LTTE loses its conventional capability, every year it should be able to muster 1000 to 2000 recruits by coercion or otherwise. The LTTE’s conventional capability is an acquired skill egged on and abetted by skewed Sri Lankan political priorities and decisions. Unlike that the LTTE’s unconventional war capability is rooted in the grievance of the Tamil population. It does not matter whether others feel these grievances exist or not. And definitely it is not due to international conspiracy as dubbed by some Sri Lankans.

How does the LTTE sustain the ability to wage unconventional war? It is because the government has not given the Tamil population a feeling of security and trust in the present dispensation. The slogan ‘Freeing the Tamils from the LTTE yoke’ (as the government media proclaims) alone will not gain their trust if the they feel that they are being saddled with another yoke! This lack of trust and feeling of insecurity among them cannot vanish as long as white van operations continue, media is muzzled, inquiries into illegal killings become political soap operas, and indefinite incarcerations without trials go on as before. These actions are not done by international NGOs or friendly foreign powers as it is made out for political convenience. Most of such actions are taken such loose cannons operating within the system to score political brownie points rather than solve problems.

Many Tamils feel that every action to empower them with all the good intentions is undone by backroom operations. Two glaring examples of lack of political sincerity are the half hearted implementation of the 13th amendment and the ‘non working’ of the APRC – the all party committee – constituted for evolving an acceptable formulation of devolution. The 13th amendment has a lot of lacunae for the elected provincial government to exercise its powers; the government agents do not come under it, it has little powers to collect any form of revenue, and it has policing as a subject but has no control over the police force (the DIG Northeast works under Colombo). It cannot even organize and control water supply for the people. Added to this is a general reluctance to implement even its limited articulation of power. So merely installing a Tamil chief minister in the east is not going to make the problem vanish. It requires hard decisions to empower the population. And there is no sign of anyone in authority seriously considering this.

As regards the APRC, there is nothing much to show. After a lengthy and very eloquent dialogue process, with all the inputs of wise men, its only practical achievement is its recommendation for the implementation of the existing 13th amendment of the constitution. And beyond that, there appears to be nothing on its cards except the travel bills accumulated on tours of the committee members to study how the devolution process has been achieved in other countries. Is this status going to change? Sadly, there is no sign of any other initiative.

Mahatma Gandhi’s description of Sir Stafford Cripp’s Mission in 1942 as the ‘post-dated cheque on a failing bank,’ appears apt for the current situation in Sri Lanka. The government in Sri Lanka regardless of its composition or ideology has to create a sense of security and trust among the minorities. And this is not going to come on its own by military victory over the LTTE alone. The security forces can only do so much. The government has to act to make use of the opportunities provided by military victories. The Tamils have to feel the ‘power’ to take them to new places, like my own military experience taught me when we moved our regiment by train.

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Army during a cordon and search operation found over 4 Kg of C-4 high explosives hidden inside a barrel found in the Internally Displaced Persons’ centre at Siddambarapuram , Vavuniya this morning (July 2). The search was launched after the arrest of a female resident of the IDP centre smuggling explosives inside coconut nuts last evening.

Defence authorities suspect that the terrorists have been using the place as a temporary store of explosives, before they transport the lethal material to South for civilian massacres.

Police conducts further investigations.

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A woman was arrested in Vavuniya yesterday (June 1) at a Police roadblock, while clandestinely transporting C-4 high explosives concealed in coconut nuts at around 5.15p.m.

According to the Vavuniya Police, the woman had been  traveling in  a bus plying towards Siddambarapuram, along the Vavuniya – Horowpotana main road when the bus was stopped at a Police roadblock at the Cemetery junction in Vavuniya.

The police searched the woman for her suspicious behavior and found the high explosive weighing 1kg separately stuffed in packets and concealed inside 4 coconut nuts.

Vavuniya Police is conducting further investigations.

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Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces, Police and Civil Defence Force are engaged in a historic battle, as they fight against one of the most barbaric terrorist movements known to mankind; that has caused immense suffering to a nation that lived in peace and harmony for thousands of years. Their success, while ridding our motherland from terrorism will also set a milestone in the global war on terror, the greatest challenge facing modern civilization.

The Ministry of Defence invites Sri Lankan academics, professionals, technical experts and strategists in all related disciplines and technologies, living in Sri Lanka or any other country, to contribute their knowledge and expertise for the success of this necessary battle.

Our aim is to create a new knowledge base vital for the defeat of terrorism, through a network of committed experts who share our vision: Saving the motherland from terrorism and making sure future generations will live in a single, undivided country, in peace and harmony; moving in unity towards the progress that is the right of all our people.

If you believe that our cause is worth achieving and that you can help in achieving it, do send us an email via the link given below with your contact details, areas of expertise and how you will be able to help us. The Ministry of Defence will contact you soon.

Please fill out the form by visiting Ministry of Defence website: http://www.defence.lk/rsa/reportknowledge.asp

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On June 29, the Sri Lanka Army’s 58th Division liberated what is known as the ‘Mannar Rice Bowl’ which had been in the LTTE grip for 20 years.

Brigadier Shavindra de Silva said at 7:30 p.m. last evening, the 58th Brigade from Pallemadhu links with the 57th Brigade from Periyamadhu.

The total land area of the rice bowl is 120 sq.km.

Giant’s Tank and around 153 small tanks situated in this area provide water to the paddy fields in their vicinity.Nearly 20 years ago, Sri Lanka’s biggest paddy crop was harvested from this rice bowl, but all these fertile paddy fields had been covered with LTTE bunkers, landmines, sandbagged trenches and defence lines. Troops are in the process of clearing bunkers, landmines and filling trenches

Brigadier Shavindra de Silva 58th Division Commander, who commanded the operation to liberate the rice bowl area had this to say:

‘The battle to liberate the rice bowl was not a cakewalk as we had to implement an effective strategy and adopt suitable tactics, continually monitoring enemy movements.

‘The rice bowl area is an open land consisting of paddy fields and small tanks. In other words, it is terrain where a soldier has to confront the enemy in the open.

‘When the enemy fires on the soldiers there is very little cover for them because the ground is open, but our soldiers were able to overcome this disadvantage.

‘My troops began to advance towards enemy territory on September 27 last year when we launched an offensive with commandos. One brigade advanced from west of Giant’s Tank, the second from Uyilankulam and the third along the A32 Mannar- Pooneryn Road.
‘We implemented a strategy and adopted tactics to draw the enemy towards us and thereafter we were well placed to eliminate them. Our main intention was to kill and wound the maximum number of LTTE cadres. When the Tigers ran short of manpower they sent children to the battlefront. We were able to capture one female cadre who was forcibly recruited by the LTTE.

‘When the rainy season started in October our soldiers faced difficulties because the entire area was flooded with places knee-high and waist-high in water.

‘The Tigers had constructed a series of trenches in front of the LTTE forward defence line.

‘Four feet from the trench line there were ditches five feet deep and four feet wide.

During the October to January rainy season, the trenches and ditches were full of water but our soldiers never considered these an obstacle. We implemented effective strategy to over run the above trenches.

On June 27, 2008 we gained full control over 13 square kilometres in the Andankulam area.

The next day we made another major break-through capturing the LTTE’s stronghold in Parappakkadanthan, 4 km. north of Giant’s Tank.

‘This location was used by the LTTE as a firing range for training purposes.

We advanced further and inflicted decisive blows on the LTTE during multi-pronged attacks launched at fortified defence lines in the general area of Pappamoddai, with my troops confirming 21 Tigers killed in the confrontations. There was heavy fighting at Pappamoddai and in the Neduvarampu general area.

Pappamoddai is located 12 km south of Vidalaitivu – an LTTE strategic location 8 km north of Mannar – on the Mannar-Pooneryn road.

On June 26 our soldiers had captured the area between Chalampan and Marattikannadi.

This is the supply route leading to the Mannar-Pooneryn road. As a result, we cut off the LTTE supply route. This is a tremendous achievement for the Army.

In this entire battle, we were able to kill 2058 LTTE cadres including their area leaders and Vidusha Brigade women cadres, these figures were confirmed by LTTE transmission and ground troops. The Army handed over 123 LTTE dead bodies to ICRC.

The LTTE deployed sniper gunmen, laid bobby traps and fixed IEDs to prevent the advancing troops as well as fired 122,130 and152 mm. artillery towards our troops, but Army artillery and the Air Force effectively countered LTTE fire power.’

Brigadier Shavindra Silva said his Division, with the assistance of the Artillery Regiment, Armoured Corps and Air Force MI 24 helicopter gunships and fighter jets was able to completely capture the ‘Rice Bowl’ region within eight months bringing under control so many agriculturally fertile villages – Manthai, Mathottam, Adampan, Pallekkuli, Kurukkandankulam, Velankulam, Vaddakkandal, Alankulam, Andankulam, Maratikandal, Alkaddiveli, Parappakandal, Parappukadanthan, Tenvediyan, Minukkulam, Vilayankulam, Parappamoddai and Odduppallam. Our troops have captured Adampan and Parappakandal which is a significant breakthrough for the captured rice bowl.

There are only 3 km more to Vidalaitivu, a main Sea Tiger base of the LTTE.

Vidalaitivu is strategically important for the LTTE because the Tigers smuggle fuel, arms and other requirements from South India to Vidalaitivu. Troops are heading towards Vidalaitivu to cut off the South Indian smugglers’ route.

The 58th Division was formed in September 2007 by Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka. The 58th Division acts purely as an Offensive Division.

The 58th Division consists of four Brigades of Army Commandos and the 581,582 and 583 Brigades.

Forces have recovered 16,948 anti-personnel mines and 96 tank landmines.

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The bell 412 chopper that transported President Mahinda Rajapakse to Arugambay at around 12.30pm today made an emergency landing after it suddenly ran-out of fuel. It later transpired that the chopper’s fuselage was drilled by a few bullets resulting in the said loss of fuel in mid-air. President Rajapakse was not on board the chopper at the time of the incident.

The chopper was shot four times on one of its fuselages using an MPMG while it was flying over Kanjikudichchiaaru in Pottuvil after refueling at Ampara Airforce Base at Uhana. The 412 is used for VIP transport while the 212 is used for troop transport. Incidentally, 7 mortar bombs fell on the Sengamuwa STF camp today morning, fired also from Kanjikudichchiaaru.

Yesterday the 58 and 57 Divisions joined together at Pallimadu to commence the march towards Veduthalthivu. On Saturday, the Sri Lanka Army received a large quantity of arms and ammunition from a friendly country in Eastern Europe.

The stock included a large quantity of 122mm rockets used by RM-70 Czech-made MBRLs and a stock of ammunition and spare parts for BMP series APCs. The sale was secured following a visit last November.

A controversy arose over the procurement of another large stock of RM-70 Rockets a few months ago after a Human Rights group misinterpreted them for guided missiles. The rockets were by then removed from the said country and was later safely received by the Army.

(Defence Wire)

(more…)

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