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Archive for July 9th, 2008

LTTE on the defense

What will LTTE counter offensive be?

How then can Sri Lanka fix a time frame to end this conflict?

The United States Counter Terrorism Department has named al-Qaeda, Hisbollah, Hamas and the LTTE as the four most powerful terrorist organisations in the world.

This column had stated before that in any war against a terrorist organisation a time frame cannot be fixed to end it.

For example, the US ‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan, in 2001. Almost seven years later, NATO forces are still battling with the Taleban terrorists.

How then can Sri Lanka fix a time frame to end this conflict?

Here is a review of the conflict in the first six months of 2008.

The security forces have made progress, while the LTTE too, has countered with small scale attacks on civilian targets and naval installations.

However, the situation can change at any time or moment.

One-Four Base – One of LTTE’s main hub

The LTTE’s One-Four Base, situated within thick jungle in the Mullaitivu District, comprises of 14 large bases, as the name implies. This base was constructed by the LTTE in the early 1980s.

It is believed that these four large Bases have satellite bases around them to provide adequate security. Around these bases, the LTTE has buried ‘johnny’ mines and fixed booby traps. The bases are well constructed with water supply pumped from wells using generators.

However, at present these generators are said to have been moved away from the bases because advancing Government troops could hear the noise of generators when they are operating.

The bases are well equipped with communication facilities and food stocks.

As a further security measure, the Tigers have cleared an area of six and a half kms. from Janakapura in WeliOya, towards Mullaitivu, with ‘johnny’ mines buried and booby traps set in this open area. Any advancing troops can, therefore, be easily spotted by LTTE cadres.

In the 1989-1990 period, when the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) were in Sri Lanka, they launched operations against One-Four Base on three occasions, with heavy artillery, but the IPKF attack was totally inadequate and the target could not be achieved.

This was revealed by Adele Balasingham in her book ‘Will to Freedom’.

This book also mentioned that LTTE leader Prabhakaran was living in this complex during that period and Prabhakaran had commanded his cadres from here. In other words, this base was the LTTE’s operational headquarters.

When the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) helicopter picked up the LTTE delegation of Anton Balasingham, his wife, Yogi and Thilakar, during the cease-fire period declared by President Ranasinghe Premadasa, the rendezvous was a point close to the perimeter of One Four Base.

Army offensive
In 2007, the Army decided to direct firepower at different locations when launching an offensive against the LTTE. One of the key targets of the Army offensive was One-Four Base. Whenever the Army launched offensives in other areas, the LTTE cadres fled to the safety of the thick jungle in Mullaitivu and regrouped there. The Mullaitivu jungle is one of the thickest jungles in Sri Lanka.

On December 7, 2007, the 59 Division was formed and stationed in Weli Oya, functioning as an Offensive Division commanded by Brig. Nandana Udawatte who was an Armoured Corps Brigade Commander before he took over as GOC of 59 Division.

The 59 Division troops launched their offensive from Weli Oya. At present, troops are seven kms. north of Janakapura and heading towards the thick jungle in Mullaitivu, according to a senior officer from the battlefront.

“Our advance is slow and steady, as there are many ‘johnny’ mines planted and booby traps set there, so we have to clear the path, before we advance,” he said.

Within six months, the 59 Division captured one of the LTTE’s main bases affiliated to One-Four Base.

This was the Munnagam Base, which is the main logistic link between LTTE strongholds in the Wanni and LTTE cadres in the East. Troops also captured Michael Base, another large satellite base of One-Four Base, located in the Mullaitivu jungle.

Troops have thus captured, amidst heavy resistance, two bases out of the 14 satellite bases of One-Four Base.

The 57 Division was formed on February 4, 2007, as an Offensive Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias, who launched an offensive on July 5, 2007 from Periyathampanai.

The 57 Division’s task was to liberate the sacred Madhu Church area, which it did on April 28, 2008, and then went on to liberate key areas such as Palampiddy town and Mundimurippu and Periyamadhu villages by June 15, 2008.

The 57 Division linked up with the 59 Division in an area south-west of Periyamadhu. This link-up is advantageous for future offensives, as they could be conducted from Uppankulam northwards.

The 58 Division, known as Task Force 1, formed in June 2007, was commanded by Brig. Chagi Gallage, but due to his sudden illness, Brig. Shavendra Silva took command in October 2007.

The task of the 58 Division was to clear the area north of Mannar, in other words, the ‘Rice Bowl’ in this area dominated by the LTTE for nearly two decades, which had many training camps.

The operation to liberate the ‘Rice Bowl’, began on October 15, 2007 and ended on June 29, 2008.

The Rice Bowl is an open area of paddy fields, where soldiers, without any proper cover, had to confront the LTTE. The troops, therefore, had to launch operations against the LTTE under cover of darkness.

As of now, troops are heading for Vidalaitivu. Vidalaitivu is strategically important for the LTTE because it is its main Sea Tiger base, also used to smuggle fuel, arms and ammunition from south India. This base is a threat to the Colombo Harbour, an officer from the battlefront said.

“As the entire approach to Vidalaitivu is open consisting of sand dunes, we are moving at night, gradually, but there is resistance from the LTTE. Our intention is to keep our casualties to a minimum.

Task Force 2, commanded by Col. Ralph Nugera, a former, battle hardened Brigade Commander of the Mechanised Infantry Division, was formed as another offensive force, on May 14 this year.

Task Force 2 advanced north on the Vavuniya-Palamoddai road and linked up with the eastern flank of 57 Division.

Col. Nugera was wounded in 2006, due to an LTTE artillery attack in Jaffna, and had to undergo surgery. As he had to undergo a second surgery Brig. Bandara temporarily commanded Task Force 2.

The Sri Lanka Army has increased its offensive Divisions in 2007, so that it could take the fight to the LTTE.

Originally, there were only four offensive Divisions and Brigades – the 53 Division and Air Mobile Brigade, the Commando Brigade, the Special Forces Brigade with which the Army conducted operations in the East, Task Force 1 created for the Thoppigala operation and the Special Force with infantry regiments involved in operations in Mavil Aru, Vakarai and Sampur.

In 2008, there are many offensive Divisions such as the 55 and 53 Divisions and Air Mobile Brigade in Jaffna, Special Forces and Commando Brigade, Task Force 2, 59 Division, 58 Division and 57 Division in Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Mannar battlefronts. The SLAF contributed air support with its supersonic fighter jets and MI 24 helicopter gunships.

MI 24 helicopter gunships provide invaluable support to ground troops, when they advance amidst heavy resistance from the LTTE, while Bell 212 and MI 17 transport helicopters evacuate battle casualties.

Within six months of this year, bodies of 227 Tiger cadres were handed over to the LTTE via the ICRC, while the LTTE handed over 56 bodies (54 Army and two Navy personnel) to the Sri Lankan military via the ICRC.

The LTTE still has its quota of suicide bombers and a solid intelligence network in and around Colombo. Although the military is conducting aggressive operations, no one should underestimate the LTTE’s capabilities to strike back.

When compared to other terrorist organisations in the world regarding suicide and other bombings, the LTTE tops the list, as it is continually changing its tactics.

LTTE too conducts limited counter operations

As troops engage in offensives against the LTTE, the LTTE too conducts limited counter-operations against the Sri Lankan Military and civilians. From January to July 2008, LTTE cadres were able to explode several bombs in and outside Colombo. The Tigers also conducted suicide missions in Colombo and Vavuniya. As a result of LTTE attacks, 157 civilians were killed and 666 injured, while 31 service personnel were killed and 84 wounded.

On June 11, the LTTE Sea Tiger wing raided the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) detachment at Erukkulamppidy in Mannar Island, taking away military hardware. In the attack, six sailors are reported to have been killed and 13 wounded, according to sources within the Navy, but the Navy declared that, only three sailors died and six wounded in this attack. Navy and Army personnel had retaliated with one Sea Tiger leader among the five killed, while destroying a boat.

In the early hours of Thursday, May 29, the Sea Tigers launched a raid on the SLN camp located at Chiruththivu islet, close to Mandaitivu island. At least five Navy personnel were killed and many wounded in the raid, the Tigers claimed, adding that, they had seized weapons, including a 50-calibre machine gun, a mortar, two LMGs and military equipment including a radar from this strategic SLN camp. Three SLN bodies were also recovered by the Tigers and they identified one sailor.

At 2:23 a.m. on May 5, a troop carrier-cum supply ship, ‘MV Invincible’, of the SLN, was sunk in an underwater attack by the Sea Tigers, in Trincomalee Harbour.

Commandos from the Kangkai Amaran unit of the Sea Tigers took part in this mission.

The 80-metre long supply ship and troop carrier had also been deployed in 2007 in the SLN’s deep sea operations against Tiger vessels.

The ship was later engaged in naval supply service between Kankesanturai and Trincomalee.

According to the military, in April this year, the LTTE tried to attack Army FDLs in Muhamalai and Nagarkovil. In this attack, the LTTE is reported to have killed around 60 soldiers and wounded more than 100, but the Army was able to advance and consolidate itself in 500 metres of LTTE territory. The Army death and casualty rate was high, while the LTTE had many killed and wounded in its ranks. In the history of the Eelam War, the LTTE never had to face the Sri Lanka Army on four or five fronts. The Tigers had to counter only one front, when the Army launched operations. In the present stage of the Eelam War, the Army has dispersed its firepower over five sectors. In other words, five fronts have been opened against the LTTE, which has to allocate its limited cadres to five fronts.

What would the future be?
The answer to this million dollar question, on what the LTTE strategy would be to overcome this problem would appear next week.

In the near future, the LTTE is expected to step up counter attacks on the troops.

(The Bottom Line)

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