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Archive for August 21st, 2008

A large contingent of Commandos from the Police Special Task Force (STF) completed their training and passedout from the Kalutara STF Training School on Monday. This was the second batch to passout this year (a batch passed out in February prior to this).

The Special Task Force is the Sri Lanka Police Department’s Paramilitary Wing and has a rank and file similar to the Sri Lanka Army. The unit is deployed primarily in the Eastern Province and specializes in Counterinsurgency Operations. The STF also plays a major role in defending Colombo and other major cities in the south.

A decision was made to start recruiting STF personnel after a long layoff in enlistment and training some years ago and since then, the unit has enjoyed a high rate of enlistment particularly in the recent past along with the three branches of mainstream Military.

The main criticism against the STF has been its recent inability to destroy a group of around 150 LTTE cadres hiding in jungles from Peraru to Yala. The task, however is herculean considering the LTTE’s practice of hide and seek as opposed to face-to-face combat. A Special Forces unit is also deployed in the south to counter this threat in case of an emergency.

Earlier this year, several STF camps in the East (including Thirukkovil and Arantalawa) were vacated and relocated to Mannar and Weli Oya and new Army Brigades were established at Vakarai, Thoppigala, Sithandi and Morawewa (in addition to the Morawewa SLAF base) to rectify the situation. This move, however, diverted four new Brigades of the Army from operational duties from the North, where they were originally intended for deployment.

Recently, the Defence Ministry, the SLA and the STF have come to an agreement to rectify the situation by gradually increasing the cadre of the STF. Already, Batticaloa Town is under STF oversight. It is hoped that the new recruits who passedout on Monday would become part of the country’s defenses against terrorists.

(Defence Wire)

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Sri Lanka Air Force MI-24 Helicopters has accurately engaged an identified LTTE gathering place at Omanthai in Vavuniya district this morning, 21 August.

Air Force spokesperson, Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara, speaking to defence.lk said that the air bombardment carried out observing an LTTE’s gathering 7 Km north-west of Omanthai around 6.30 a.m.

The Sri Lanka Air Force is continuously carrying out air surveillances to locate the LTTE terrorists and to identify the intensified activities in the enemy territory. Yesterday, 20 August, SLAF engaged four identified LTTE targets using fighter jets and MI-24 attack helicopters in the surrounding areas of Nachchikuda.

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As India continues to call for a political solution to Sri Lanka’s 25-year-old ethnic conflict, reports indicate that Pakistan has decided to bolster what Sri Lanka military says its final push to defeat Tamil Tiger rebels and end their war for a separate state in the country’s north-east.

Pakistan has pledged to send a large quantity of ammunition to help the Sri Lankan government finish off the rebels in the final phase of Elam War IV, the Sunday Leader, a Colombo-based newspaper, said in a news report.

The paper said that Pakistan had promised one shipload of the wherewithal every 10 days in coming months, adding that it was Pakistan’s assurance of solid support which prompted Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse to publicly state that Kilinochchi, the headquarters of the LTTE, would be liberated by the end of December.

Gotabhaya Rajapakse, brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, declared last week that the rebel-controlled Wanni would be captured by the military by the end of this year.

“It’s possible by the end of this year,” the defence secretary was quoted as saying by the Times newspaper of London last week.

“You have to search for them and completely eradicate them. Only then can peace come.” Rajapakse’s comments come in the wake of Army Chief Lt-Gen Sarath Fonseka’s declaration that his forces had wiped out the conventional military capability of the LTTE and that the Tiger rebels were no longer able to resist security forces using conventional tactics and were resorting to hit-and-run attacks.

The reported assistance from Pakistan comes as government troops began forging ahead this month with heavy fire power coupled with continuous air raids on the last two remaining rebel bastions of Killinochchi and Mullativu.

(Dawn.com)

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The Sri Lankan military says it has broken through the Tamil Tigers’ defenses in recent weeks, ending a prolonged stalemate and stirring predictions of an imminent rebel defeat after 25 years of civil war.

Troops overran a major rebel naval base on July 16, then pushed deep into the north, capturing four more bases and entering the rebel’s heartland in the Kilinochchi district for the first time in 11 years.

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake speculated that troops might seize the rebels’ administrative capital in the town of Kilinochchi by the end of the week.

“We are very close. Kilinochchi is not very far from our sight,” he told a ruling party rally Monday, according to the Daily Mirror newspaper.

Few other officials publicly predicted such a swift advance, and some analysts warned the rebels might be marshaling their forces for a major counterattack, as they have done repeatedly in the past.

But even opposition leaders, who have been highly critical of the government’s handling of the war, praised the recent successes.

“You really have to appreciate what the services are doing at the moment,” said Lakshman Senewiratne, an opposition lawmaker. “They are doing a great job, a great job I would say. Even though there are ups and downs, the achievements are great.”

The war on this Indian Ocean island nation has killed more than 70,000 people as the separatists fought for an independent state for minority Tamils in the north and east, following decades of marginalization by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority.

The rebels, listed as a terror group by the United States and European Union, have been accused of scores of suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians.

A 2002 cease-fire appeared to pave the path for peace, until fighting flared 2 1/2 years ago. The government captured the east last year, and then turned its focus to the rebels’ main power base in the north.

For months, the army made only small advances into rebel-held areas, as the two sides traded fire over relatively static front lines.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said the advance was slowed when troops reached an 8-mile stretch of open land in the rice paddies of the northwestern Mannar district that left them completely exposed to rebel attacks.

Soldiers were forced to operate in the dark of night, making small advances, destroying rebel bunker lines and quickly digging fortifications of their own before sunrise left them exposed again, he said.

In June, government forces finally made it across the rice paddies and behind the rebels’ heaviest fortifications, he said.

“They did not have defenses in that area … so they could not prepare themselves to face the military threat,” Nanayakkara said.

The offensive suddenly picked up speed, with soldiers overrunning a rebel naval base at the coastal town of Vidattaltivu used for smuggling and waging sea attacks and then racing up the coast, seizing four more bases in a thrust deep into rebel territory, he said. That operation, combined with earlier military victories, shrank the rebels’ de facto state to nearly half its previous size, he said.

Tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting fled deeper into government territory, aid workers and government officials said.

Repeated attempts in recent days to reach rebel spokesmen have been unsuccessful. Aid groups said the government cut off most phone service to the rebel areas, which Nanayakkara denied.

While international observers and political opponents have accused the government of vastly exaggerating victories over the rebels, many say the military’s recent achievements appeared genuine. Independent verification of the government claims was not possible because journalists were barred from the war zone.

Some government officials found themselves uncharacteristically counseling patience, saying the war is far from over.

“There’s some more to go, other areas to get, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu,” Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Associated Press, naming the rebels’ two power centers.

However, “the troops are confident, the soldiers are confident, the army commander is confident,” he said.

Political analyst Susantha Seneviratne, a retired colonel, warned the troops will have more difficulty advancing along the heavily mined areas to the east, and the current offensive — if not over soon — will bog down once the monsoon rains start in October or November.

He also feared the rebels’ quick withdrawals in recent weeks were a trap to lure the troops into the jungles in the interior, where the guerrillas, who still have artillery and other heavy weapons, will launch a major counterattack.

“This silence is not good for the troops at all,” he said.

Senewiratne, the opposition lawmaker, said the recent successes have put added pressure on the rebels, but the ethnic conflict underlying the civil war will not be resolved on the battlefield.

“Sooner or later, we have to go for a negotiated settlement,” he said.

(AP)

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Sri Lanka’s air force carried out four raids on bases of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam near the group’s headquarters as the military advances on the last rebel strongholds in the island’s north.

Fighter jets and helicopters took part in the raids at Nachchikuda in Kilinochchi district late yesterday, the Defense Ministry said on its Web site. The LTTE hasn’t commented on the latest attacks.

LTTE-controlled areas in the northern Wanni region are “rapidly and steadily shrinking in size,” the army said in a report on its Web site.

Sri Lanka’s military has carried out almost daily attacks on the Tamil Tigers in the north since ending a 2002 cease-fire in January. The army estimates the LTTE, which has been fighting for 25 years for a separate homeland in the north and east, still has about 5,000 personnel in bases in the jungle.

The air force has targeted the LTTE “very systematically,” attacking its leaders, training and military bases and ammunition stores, Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke, the air force commander, said in an interview with the Daily News published on the Defense Ministry’s Web site.

“Their fighting capability, their morale and the will to fight have gone down,” he said.

Civilians Flee

The army offensives and bombing raids have forced more than 113,000 people from their homes in northern villages, the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat said earlier this month. The group has accused the air force of dropping bombs in civilian areas and says the army operations amount to genocide.

“When we select targets, we take great trouble to see there are no civilians in the vicinity,” Goonetileke said. “When the area becomes smaller and smaller, this consideration has to be foremost in our plan.”

The government’s economic blockade is preventing supplies, including kerosene for fires, reaching people who are in temporary shelters in Kilinochchi district, TamilNet reported on its Web site. The International Committee of the Red Cross said Aug. 14 that tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in recent weeks.

Civilians are being assisted in the north, Sri Lanka’s government said on its Web site yesterday.

“Urgent measures have been taken to provide adequate food and shelter to the displaced people and additional facilities are being constructed in government-controlled areas,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Eastern Region

The Tamil Tigers, designated a terrorist group by India, the U.S. and European Union, suffered their worst defeat when they lost control of Sri Lanka’s eastern region to the army a year ago.

The government said in December that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was hurt in an air raid on the group’s headquarters. S.P. Thamilchelvan, head of the political wing, died in a Nov. 2 air raid near Kilinochchi and the military intelligence chief was killed Jan. 6.

The military will free the north as it did the east and will continue fighting until all territory is retaken and “each and every terrorist is killed or captured,” Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a speech earlier this week. The insurgency has claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people.

(Bloomberg)

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LTTE reserves in Tunukkai

The town of Tunukkai is encircled and being infiltrated by troops from the 57 Division and is expected to fall shortly. Tigers have deployed several specialized reserve units kept away from battle until now to hold on to the town, including a Counter-attack team from Charles Anthony unit brought from Muhamalai and Nagarkovil areas.

The leader of this team and 12 others died in a counterattack two weeks ago while attempting to regain Kalvila in six separate attacks. The leader identified as Vithees was posthumously promoted to the rank of ‘Colonel’ by the LTTE at his funeral in Kilinochchi Town recently.

The team was deployed tactically, particularly after the SLA launches an attack, captures ground and builds temporary defenses. It would then infiltrate in small teams directing regular cadres to attack and instructing artillery fire. The origins of the team was in reconnaissance missions but later transformed into counter attack, combining reconnaissance (surprise) and heavy weapons fire.

The team comprised of cadres who had led the counterattacks after the SLA made ground during Jayasikurui Operation. Unlike in previous operations, the SLA no longer stop for clearing operations making it next to impossible to surprise them.

In recent times, the team was deployed in the Jaffna FDLs where they directed heavy artillery at advancing troops, and together with the Victor Anti-Tank unit, held off three limited operations by the Army. The unit is commanded by Theepan, who is now instructing the LTTE’s Tunukkai-Mantai defenses. The team leader killed by the 57 Division was the battle hardened deputy to Theepan.

Meanwhile in the northwestern front, troops have now advanced 4 kilometers past nachchikuda and are now 18kms south of Pooneryn.

(more…)

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Sri Lankan attack helicopters pounded Tamil Tiger positions on Thursday and troops killed 33 rebels in the latest bout of an eight-month onslaught to corner the separatist group, the military said.

The government has been relentlessly striking the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in its strongholds in the northern districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya since an official ceasefire collapsed in January,

“MI-24 attack helicopters engaged LTTE gathering northwest of Omantai in Vavuniya this morning,” Air Force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said.

He gave no details of casualties but said: “Pilots confirm that the target was accurately engaged.”

The military also said ground fighting on Tuesday and Wednesday had killed 33 rebels and wounded 40. Seven soldiers also died and 27 were wounded in the same battles.

Independent death tolls are difficult to establish because both sides regularly distort the figures to their benefit, and the war zones are restricted by the military.

The rebels, who have carried out a 25-year insurgency to establish an independent state for the ethnic minority Tamil people in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, were not immediately available for comment.

The war has killed at least 70,000 people. So far this year, according to a compilation of military data, some 5,900 rebels have been killed against the loss of 783 soldiers.

(Reuters)

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