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Archive for March 28th, 2008

Troops face a new enemy: AP mines uprooted by torrential rain

When the Mechanized Infantry Regiment of the Sri Lankan Army was inaugurated in early 2007, the Tigers appeared to take serious note of the looming new dimension in the battle front.
The initial reaction from the LTTE has been several failed pre-emptive strikes against the emerging regiment, which, according to military officials, is slated to spearhead a major tank offensive southwards once the numbers in the Tiger ranks are depleted by the on- going attrition attacks.
Since then, the Tigers appear to have followed the military preparations closely and now military intelligence reports indicate that the LTTE has built a major trench line, running parallel to its secondary defence line in an effort to fend off the advance of the Infantry Fighting vehicles and Armoured Personnel Carriers. The troops of the Mechanised Infantry Regiment are reported to be now brazing for the new challenge, and were undergoing manoeuvers in trench crossing.
These findings are not without significance. The LTTE appears to be sticking to its strategy of a strong trench defence, rather than opting to the tactics of ‘Defence in depth’, which were successfully deployed against the advancing troops of Operation Jayasikuru.

‘Defence in depth’ envisages allowing the invading troops deep into the defender’s territory and attack as them as the operation looses momentum and the troops are stretched out.

Trench line

The popular perception was that the Tigers would opt to retreat deep into the Wanni in the face of a major offensive and fight a slow, long -drawn war to halt further advance of the troops- that has been the LTTE’s strategy against Operation Jayasikuru.
However, the report of a major trench line, which is being built several hundred meters from the front defence line of the LTTE, suggests that the LTTE had decided otherwise.
The open flat terrain southwards of the northern defence lines of the security force leads towards Elephant Pass and to Kilinochchi. This is an ideal ground for mechanized warfare.
The Mechanized Infantry Regiment was the brainchild of the Commander of the Army Lt Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The new regiment was formulated to enhance mobility of the troops and inject rapid tactical mobility to the security forces. Compared with “light” (foot) infantry or motorized infantry, mechanised infantry can maintain rapid tactical movement and (if mounted in IFVs) possess more integral firepower.
It has been observed in the past, that foot infantry units lacked mobility in certain phases of previous military operations, most notably in Operation Jayasikuru.
This also resulted in heavy casualties due to indirect fire of the LTTE. With the induction of the mechanized infantry, casualties are expected to be lower as troops would be protected by protective cover of armoured personnel carriers. The Mechanized Infantry Regiment comprises the following battalions: the 3rd Ceylon Light Infantry Battalion, 10th Sinha Regiment, the 4th Gajaba Battalion and a new addition of the 5th & the 6th Armoured Corps. The Mechanised Infantry Regiment has been a thorn in the eyes of the LTTE, even before it was formally inducted to the battle front.
There had been several pre-emptive attacks by the LTTE on the latest addition of the SLA
On 14th February 2007, the LTTE shelled the Regimental Headquarters of the 53 Division located at Kodikamam as the ceremony marking the establishment of the Mechanized Infantry Regiment was in progress.
The Brigade Commander Lt Colonel Ralph Nugera Lt. Col. Sumith Atapattu, Major Harendra Peiris, and two staff officers were injured. Earlier in October 2006, while the plan for the setting up of a Mechanized Infantry Regiment was under consideration, Tiger cadres appeared to embark on counter measures.
In October 2006, several of Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Czech built T 55 Main Battle Tanks were destroyed during a failed offensive to capture the enemy forward defence line in Muhamalai—-Most MBTs and IFVs were stuck in a trench built by the Tigers to fend off troop advance.
Later, on 28 January this year, the Tigers shelled the Pallaly Military Airport and the high security zone when an AN 32 air craft with a high level delegation aboard, including the Secretary of Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Army Commander Lt General Sarath Fonseka, forcing the air craft to fly back to the Ratmalana Air Port. The military top brass were scheduled to attend a Medal Awarding ceremony of the newly created mechanized infantry brigade.-yet, the ceremony went on and barely two days after their graduation, the Mechanized Infantry Regiment sprung into action.
On January 30, the troops supported by Main Battle Tanks decimated the forward bunker line of the LTTE, dislodging the Tiger cadres to the secondary bunker line.

Torrential rains

It has been observed during the recent limited operations conducted by the security that the primary defence line of the LTTE is sparsely guarded. A middle ranking officer stationed in Jaffna described this as a precautionary measure effected by the Tigers in response to regular small group operations conducted by the Special Infantry Operation (SIO) units of the SLA.
He said that the Tigers didnot fight to defend their primary defence line when it came under attack during recent military operations and retreated to their secondary bunker line.
Meanwhile, in the Wanni front, torrential rains lashed as troops inched towards the Tiger territory. Not only did inclement weather cripple the military operations and slow down troop advance, it uprooted buried landmines and scattered them on the ground, leaving more booby troops.
A senior military official told this writer that both the troops and Tigers have sought refuge in highlands, not yet submerged by rising water levels. The soggy soil in the Wanni has hindered the use of Infantry vehicles.
He said though military operations have not been suspended as a whole, progress had been slowed down with the increased threat posed by booby traps, AP mines and logistical dilemmas caused by inclement weather.
Anti Personnel mines are the main culprits for the large number of troop casualty. Yet, the troops, which conducted reconnaissance operations, have identified a greatdeal of mine fields laid by the Tigers. These mines have been uprooted and washed away by flood waters caused by heavy rain.
The dilemma is that the troops would have to start from scratch.
Meanwhile, troops captured an area of the size of one square kilometer between Parayankulam and Illanthevan in Mannar.
The Army said 22 Tiger cadres and four soldiers were killed in fighting. Sixteen soldiers were wounded. However, these figures could not be independently verified.
Last week I spoke to a retired senior military official about the current status quo in the battle front. He came out with high praise for the government for the support extended to the security forces. He said the troops appeared to have delivered results for the moment. “But the next 3-4 months would be perhaps the most crucial in fighting the LTTE,” he quipped.
The opening of multiple fronts, thereby forcing the Tigers to a defensive role on multiple fronts is the right strategy, he agreed, yet he suggested that military activities on other fronts have to be increased

War game

He suggested that the Tiger leadership appeared to have judged the strategy of the SLA and is concentrating its cadre in the Mannar sector, where the major security forces thrust is in progress. In the Mannar sector, troops are pushing towards Vedithalthivu, where a major sea Tiger base is located. “Perhaps, the Army needs to conduct a war game in which military commanders could put their minds together to judge enemy strategy and map out our counter strategy,” he said.
Though the video games of simulations of military operations are generally called ‘war games’, the professional study of war, which stimulates or represents a military operation, is also described as a war game. Though the most published mood of ‘war games’ is live military exercise or rehearsal, the other types of exercise include the TEWT (Tactical Exercise Without Troops), also known as ‘sand table’, ‘map’ or ‘cloth model exercise’. This type of exercise (in recent years assisted by computer simulation) allows commanders to manipulate models through possible scenarios in military planning. This is also called warfare simulation, or in some instances a virtual battleground.
The emphasis of a tactical war games are often placed upon quantified “quality” factors such as troop experience, fatigue, morale, training, equipment performance (rate-of-fire, range, penetration, probability of single hit kill). In this kind of exercise, military commanders play the role of field commanders of friendly and enemy troops.
One side could stimulate military manoeuvres and the other could respond with a counter- manoeuvre.
This enables military commanders to look through the mind of the enemy and have a grasp in possible enemy strategy.
The war is surely entering a crucial stage in the coming months. Despite, the recent set backs of the LTTE; the Tiger Supremo appeared to be confident of his strategy. Two weeks back at the funeral of the slain TNA MP K, Sivanesan, he was asked by a pro- rebel TNA MP whether he could hold ground. The Tiger Chief nodded and insisted that he will halt troop advance. Time will tell whether he could make his claims a reality.

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The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) has carried four sorties on LTTE targets located in the northern province during the past two days (26th and 27th). An LTTE training facility located in jungles north of Iranamadu and an LTTE radar post south of Pooneryn was raided by bombers of the SLAF 10th fighter squadron and 5th jet squadron yesterday (27th) morning . Bombers also raided an LTTE boatyard in Vishwamadukulam, Kilinochchi on the 26th.

Meanwhile in the Mannar front. two Mi-24 helicopter gunships of the 9th attack helicopter squadron assisted the ground forces by launching a series of attacks on LTTE positions in the region. Two forward operating bases in Alankulama and Kaliadanchan were attacked by the gunships.Forward Operating Bases (FOB) are secured positions on or near the Forward Defence Line (FDL) which are used for support role.

Meanwhile 32 LTTE cadres have been killed in fighting in Mannar, Weli-Oya and Jaffna fronts which took place on the 26th. Another 18 more are believed to be wounded. 8 Army soldiers too have been killed and 21 more have been wounded in the clashes.

(Defencenet)

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In the past few weeks there have been many media reports that point to the prevalence of confusion and disarray, among the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in the face of, heavy losses inflicted by the armed forces of the Government of Sri Lanka. Apart from many references to injuries sustained by the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, in the course of an aerial bombardment in November 2007, there was some speculation that he may even have died. [Claims of Prabhakaran’s death would have stopped, after Prabhakaran’s ‘public appearance’, at the funeral of the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance Member of Parliament, P. Sivanesan, in the rebel-held Wanni area, of which the LTTE released photographs on March 9, 2008]. The specificities, that embellish these reports, though ignored by the LTTE spokesmen, have been refuted with disdain, by several pro-LTTE writers. Given the questionable credibility of ‘news’ originating from either side of the great divide, it has seldom been possible, to sort out the truth from fiction, in the stories on the confrontational aspects, of the Sri Lankan conflict.
In the chequered history of the LTTE, spanning the past three decades during which, Prabhakaran has held sway as its supreme leader, there have been several spells over which its insurrectionary capacity suffered serious setbacks.
Prominent among such recessions were: the brief eclipse of the LTTE, in the aftermath of the Indian peace-keeping intervention in 1987; the worldwide anti-Tiger revulsion evoked by the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991; the strategic losses consequent upon its expulsion by the Sri Lankan armed forces from the Jaffna peninsula in 1995; the constraining effects on its international operations generated by the global tide of hostility towards terrorism, following the al-Qaeda attack on the United States in 2001; and, more far-reaching in impact, than any other, the internal revolt led by Colonel Karuna, in March 2004. The impression conveyed by the experiences in each of these episodes, however, is that the LTTE possessed the inner resilience and the external support required for recovery, if not entirely unscathed, at least with sufficient strength to persist with its campaign of warfare and terror. By contrast, the losses suffered in the more recent past, appear to constitute an irreversible and aggravating trend, featured by indications, that could well portend a final collapse.  Despite the weakening of its grip on the eastern lowlands, that resulted from the calamitous breakaway of the Karuna group, the LTTE leadership persisted with unswerving commitment to its goal of establishing a sovereign Tamil state, ‘Eelam’, encompassing the entire ‘northeast’ of Sri Lanka, the pledges of the ceasefire agreement of February 2000 notwithstanding. As in earlier times, its efforts were directed mainly at the enhancement of military strength, expanding the territory under its control, in the Northern and Eastern provinces, and eliminating its rivals in those parts of the country, mobilising international support for its cause, and destabilising the Government of Sri Lanka, through carefully regulated intimidation and terror. That fact, instigated, a Sinhalese backlash against the Tamils, living outside the Northeast, a reenactment of 1983. This remained a prime objective which was underscored by the assassination of Sri Lanka’s charismatic Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, a provocative outrage committed in the final days of President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure.
Colombo-based politics of the country during this period, remained in a state of flux, featured by frequent changes of the power configuration, as well as, intense electoral rivalry. Given the fact, that the, release of the foreign aid, pledged by the donors remained conditional, on progress being made, towards a negotiated settlement of the conflict, Government policy had to accommodate two mutually conflicting needs; that of strengthening security and defence in the face of the mounting Tiger threat, on one hand, and persistence with credible peace overtures to the LTTE, on the other. The latter encountered the almost insurmountable problem of fierce inter-party dissension on what could be offered to the Tigers without endangering the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
On the eve of the presidential election of November 2005, Prabhakaran enforced a boycott of the polls in the Northern and Eastern areas, where Ranil Wickremasinghe, former Prime Minister and a frontrunner of the presidential stakes, would have attracted substantially more support, than his rival Mahinda Rajapaksa. This decision appears, in retrospect, to have been a monumental blunder, that marks the onset of a drastic change, in the fortunes of Prabhakaran’s Eelam campaign. The boycott decision was evidently based upon the premise that Wickremasinghe, hailed internationally as the ‘peace candidate’, and, if elected, would, with his commitment to power-sharing under a federal system of Government, place in serious jeopardy, the case for a secessionist campaign. Prabhakaran’s expectation was that Rajapaksa, if successful in his presidential bid, backed as he was by electoral allies, vehemently opposed to a political compromise, involving devolution of power to the Northeast, would actually attempt, to implement his campaign pledges to jettison the ceasefire agreement, to evict the ‘White Tigers’(Norwegians) from their role, as facilitators of peace negotiations, and to discard the notion of LTTE, being the sole representative of the Tamils. Such a hawkish approach, the LTTE leadership believed, would pave the way for a resumption of military confrontations in earnest, backed by vastly enhanced international sympathy and support for the rebels’ cause.
Having contributed to Rajapaksa’s victory at the election, the LTTE leaders began to test the resolve of the new President. Thus, while articulating with greater vehemence than ever before, their earlier demands, for Government intervention in disarming the Karuna group, and for constitutional power over the Northeast pending a final resolution of the conflict, they launched a series of guerrilla attacks, and acts of terrorism which, in April 2006, reached the heart of Colombo’s defence establishment, in the near-successful attempt to assassinate the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.
The sharply escalating level of violence did not evoke a retaliatory response from the Government, at least, for some time. Rajapaksa persisted with his pursuit of peace, risking, in the process, the support of some of his parliamentary allies. He established an ‘All-Party Representative Committee’, tasked with formulating constitutional reforms, based on the axiom of devolution. He backed the Norwegian efforts at facilitating fresh peace negotiations, expressing a solemn hope that, the brief meeting between delegates of the Government, and the LTTE held in Geneva, in February 2006, would mark the resumption of a continuing dialogue with the Tiger leadership. Rajapaksa was also reported to have made a ‘secret’ attempt to establish direct contact with the LTTE high-command, knowing well, that the attempt would not be kept concealed, from Sri Lanka’s friends abroad. The intensifying LTTE violence, however, could not be ignored indefinitely. From the commencement of Rajapaksa’s presidency up to the bomb attack on the Army Commander (approximately during 150 days), 150 armed services personnel, about 150 civilians, had been killed by the LTTE. The animosity between the LTTE and the security forces had reached such fever pitch, and the nationalists’ pressure for some retaliation had become so intense that, the President was eventually compelled to initiate a series of air strikes, on identified LTTE bases. Nevertheless, as the President had surmised, the continuing belligerence of the LTTE, on the one hand, and the show of restraint by the Government, on the other, did resonate in the policy stances, vis-à-vis Sri Lanka, of several western Governments, both in a substantially enhanced flow of aid, as well as in the imposition of sanctions on the LTTE, in member-states of the EU, and in Canada, in May-June 2006.
The repercussions of Prabhakaran’s capricious gamble at the presidential polls, soon instilled into his strategy, a sense of desperation. This found expression in a series of ‘Sea Tiger’ attacks (including an act of piracy) that evoked, strictures from several quarters including the Secretary General of the UN, and the Head of the Scandinavian ‘Ceasefire Monitoring Mission’ stationed in Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran retaliated by demanding the removal of all non-Norwegian members of the Monitoring Mission from the Northeast. The tempo of violence was increased further, with a spate of attacks on military and civilian targets, in all parts of the country. Then came the major military showdown in the eastern lowlands, that began on July 20, 2006, in the form of a ‘riparian’ confrontation, in the irrigation channel system of Mavil Aru (south of Trincomalee) which compelled the Government, to retaliate in earnest, with a nod of approval from the US. Thereafter, following a series of bloody battles, that lasted until mid-2007, in the course of which the LTTE incurred heavy losses, the rebels were finally evicted, from the entire Eastern Province.
Throughout this period of intense military activity in the ‘East’, confrontations between the security forces and the LTTE, the situation in the other parts of the country took various forms. The Forward Defence Lines (FDL) of the Government-controlled areas, in the Jaffna peninsula, and in the hinterland of Mannar, continued to be venues of low intensity clashes, with occasional flare-ups of short duration. In localities, adjacent to the FDL in the Vavuniya District, Army killings of suspected insurgents and LTTE claymore-mine attacks, and ambushes of Army patrols occurred in routine fashion. The severe ‘maritime’ losses suffered by the LTTE, during these months, included the sinking of eleven of its vessels, off the East coast. More significant, as an ingredient of the LTTE military debacle than any other, was the destruction caused by the constant barrage of aerial bombardments, in one of which (November 3, 2007) Thamilchelvan, Head of the LTTE’s political wing, perished, and in another (November 27, 2007), Prabhakaran suffered injury.
These military defeats constitute only one, (albeit the key) component of the current LTTE crisis. The mutually interacting ‘external’ misfortunes of the Tigers, in the recent past, include the death of Anton Balasingham in December 2006, who served the LTTE, over two decades as, by far, the most effective international spokesman and propagandist for the secessionist campaign. The impact of the loss of its carefully nurtured image of invincibility, has been even more profound, especially on the support from the expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil communities, whose responses to fluctuating fortunes of the LTTE, have never been devoid of elements, typical of ‘cheer-squad’ reactions. Recent reports also indicate that, the increasingly stringent enforcement of anti-terrorism regulations, in some of the western countries have curtailed, both diaspora funding, as well as other operations of LTTE agents and, ‘front’ outfits abroad. The crescendo of their desperate campaign for UN ‘humanitarian intervention’, against the alleged proliferation of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, has achieved a measure of success in generating external pressures against the country’s war effort, but has had no mitigating effect, on the pariah status of the Tigers.
Foremost among the ‘internal’ causes for the present LTTE crisis, is the prevailing trend towards factional disintegration, of its leadership which, as the related evidence suggests, could well represent, the emergence at the surface of subterranean rivalries, that had been in existence all along. It may be recalled that, the departure of Karuna, has caused a mini-purge in the Tiger leadership. Thereafter, when Thamilchelvan was killed in November 2007, certain critics (among them, S.R. Balasubramaniam, Congress Party leader in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu), cast doubt on the ‘official’ explanation of the death, and pointed to the possibility of Thamilchelvan being killed by Prabhakaran, in the same way, he had liquidated other potential rivals in the past. In addition, throughout the recent years, there has been the barely concealed animosity between two of the highest ranking Tiger leaders – ‘Pottu Amman’ (alias Shanmuganathan Sivasankaran, the feared Head of the Tiger intelligence network, whose spectacular ‘hits’ include the masterminding of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination) and ‘Soosai’(alias, Thillaiyampalan Sivanesan), the charismatic ‘Sea Tiger’ ‘admiral’. According to an analysis of this rivalry between Soosai [who had been accused by Pottu Amman of connivance with the renegade Karuna and the Indian external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)] suffered serious injury in 2004, while engaged in a speed-boat manoeuvre (though the injury was officially attributed to an accident), the widespread and lingering belief within the LTTE, that it was the consequence of an attempt by Pottu, to murder Soosai had given rise to clashes among its rank and file, which took a long time to subside. Factional rivalries of this type in the Vanni and their repercussions, outside the country are likely to intensify if, indeed, the reported weakening of Prabhakaran’s grip, over the LTTE contains substance.
Yet another ‘internal’ dimension of the crisis is seen, in the recent resurgence of several anti-LTTE political organisations among the Tamil community of Sri Lanka, most of which were reconciled to a shadowy existence in the heyday of the Tigers in the past. Tamil critics of the LTTE have become bolder in expressing their views, than ever before. Some among them repeatedly announced that the ‘Eelam’ campaign is doomed. A distinction between the LTTE interests and those of the Tamils of Sri Lanka is being drawn with clarity and vehemence. There is also a publicly expressed suspicion that the recent spate of murders of several pro-LTTE activists operating outside the Northeast, represents the work of such organisations, the members of which rank among the innumerable victims of LTTE terror.
As a barrier to progress towards statutory recognition of the entire Northeast, as an ethnically distinctive entity (which, of course, constitutes the conceptual basis of the secessionist campaign), the Supreme Court verdict, announced on October 16, 2006, according to which the, then existing amalgamation of the Northern and Eastern provinces, to constitute a single unit of Provincial Government (a sequel to the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987), had, all along (since the expiry of 12 months after the related constitutional amendment) been constitutionally ultra vires, is even more insurmountable than the military eviction of the LTTE from the East.
The cumulative impact of these complex military and political reverses on the LTTE, has been devastating, producing the most acute crisis of the group’s existence. Sustained Government operations in the North, have the capacity to inflict progressive damage on the rebel infrastructure and support base, increasingly undermining, any residual potential for recovery and consolidation.

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In North Mannar, rice fields have become muddy and water tanks are full, and although the weather is unfavorable, soldiers have made use of the conditions to their advantage.

On 22nd at 3.30 am, in pitch darkness troops belonging to 583 Brigade, 6 Gamunu watch and 12 Gamunu watch, trained Special Infantry Operation Teams (SIOT) crawling in mud. In some places, there was water about one to two feet above the fround, toward the LTTE strong point, located Southeast of Adampan, Mannar Parayakulam.

While troops moved forward, they saw many jonny mines. Due to the rain, soldiers can spot them easily and it is easier for them to diffuse them.

Troops moved close to LTTE bunkers, and observed LTTE movements. They awaited orders from their commanding officer to attack bunkers.

All of a sudden when soldiers opened RPG (Rocket Propelled Granades) to LTTE bunkers, the LTTE was not prepared for that kind of surprise attack on them. The LTTE too retaliated, but army resistance was very high and army destroyed 8 LTTE bunkers.

Advancing SLA battle formations were assisted with heavy artillery and mortar fire, mounted at LTTE resisting positions. LTTE too fired artillery towards the army, a military official said.

Terrorists were on the run along rear defence lines in Wanni, leaving many LTTE bodies scattered in the area, which is known as an ‘open patch land’, an army senior officer said.

Troops have captured one square kilometer following intense battle with LTTE, in the area between Parayakulama and Ilanthaivan, in Mannar.

When the army interrupted LTTE Radio communication, it was revealed that 22 LTTE cadres were killed, and 26 were wounded. However, the army was able to recover bodies of 11 LTTE cadres and pieces of some dead bodies, a senior Army officer said. At the same time, six soldiers died and 16 soldiers were wounded.

When the army is engaged with the LTTE from all four directions, how can the LTTE retaliate with their limited cadres? To overcome this problem, and continue their attacks, the LTTE leadership has ordered every family member to the battle front, after a short training period, even though insufficient training, would ultimately result in more deaths. The above operation is commanded by 58 GOC Brigadier Shavindra de Silva, who is instructed by the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and supervised by Vavuniya Secuirty Forces Commander Maj Gen Jagath Jayasuriya.

Sri Lanka Army detected underworld figures involved in drug smuggling and having clear cut links with the LTTE. 4kg of C4 explosives and 10 detonators were found in Modera and after questioning five people, more weapons are believed to be present in Colombo and Colombo suburbs. “There are many underworld members and drug dealers, who have connections with the LTTE. We will nab them”, a senior army officer said.

Army continues their operation to North Mannar, Manthai, which is a very important location to the LTTE.

Vavuniya Police nets ‘LTTE abductors’, saves Insurance Executive

Vavuniya Police in a well laid security cordon arrested four individuals alleged to be LTTE operatives, while they were fleeing in two motor bikes, along with an abducted civilian at Pomppaimadu area, Vavuniya, on Monday (March 24) evening.

The abducted civilian was identified as Sumith Prasanna Manawadu, 39, an Insurance Executive employed at the Ceylinco Insurance, Vavuniya branch. According to Police sources, the insurance executive was abducted by the LTTE, while he was attending a Hindu wedding festival at Thirunawakulama, in Vavuniya, around 2.15p.m.

On receiving information of the incident, the Vavuniya Police took swift measures: dispatched task units to the area, and manned road barriers, where the abductors were netted, while fleeing at Pomppaimadu, and the insurance executive was freed, the Police further said.

A LTTE operative has swallowed a cyanide capsule, when he was arrested and was admitted to the Anuradhapura General Hospital, the sources said. The Police have also recovered a pistol and a hand grenade, which were in the possession of the, LTTE operatives.

Investigations continue as the arrested, have been involved in similar abductions of youth and businessmen for ransom, which is a lucrative income for the terrorist outfit, Vavuniya Police said.
Thirunawakulam is located along the Vavuniya- Mannar main road, approximately 4km from Vavuniya town.

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An important militaristic development is unfolding in the northern theatre of war.

The 57, 58 and 59 Divisions of the Army continue to battle it out with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) within the Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu Districts in the north west, south and south east of the Northern Province while the 53 and 55 Divisions are engaging in combat along the Kilaly-Muhamaalai-Nagar Kovil axis inside the Jaffna peninsula.

While fighting goes on almost on a daily basis in the northern mainland, known generally as the Wanni, the peninsula witnesses an intense exchange of artillery fire each day. There are also occasional skirmishes and minor offensives of a limited nature.

Line of control
As of now, the initiative is with the security forces, which are frequently launching attacks along the Kilaly-Muhamalai-Nagar Kovil axis. The time, place and intensity of such attacks is decided and determined by the security forces.

The LTTE for the time being is merely reacting and responding to military initiatives by fighting what is essentially a defensive war.

The greater part of the Jaffna peninsula and outlying islands are under the control of the armed forces. The LTTE controls the underdeveloped, sparsely populated areas in the south, south west and south east of the peninsula.

These areas consist of the Pachchilaippally AGA division and parts of the Thenmaratchy and Vadamaratchy East AGA divisions. Some of these areas fall under the Jaffna District while others come under Kilinochchi District.

All areas of the peninsula south of Nagar Kovil on the east coast, Muhamaalai in the middle and Kilaly in the west are under LTTE control. Thus, the effective line of control is along an axis comprising Kilaly-Muhamaalai-Nagar Kovil.

This is a ‘rekha’ that both sides have been trying to cross for many years.

The LTTE conducted phase four of its staggered ‘Unceasing Waves’ (Oyatha Alaigal) operation in 2000 to extend this line further north but failed. The Tigers also made an abortive attack in Muhamalai in August 2006 to reach the defences at Muhamaalai.

The armed forces conducted ‘Operation Agnikheela’ in April 2001. It was a colossal disaster. Security forces also made a determined push in October 2006 that failed.

There were also two limited offensives in November and December last year.

Retaking Elephant Pass
The strategic objective as far as the security forces are concerned is to drive the LTTE away from the peninsula and re-take the isthmus of Elephant Pass that links the peninsula and mainland.

For this the armed forces need to progress southwards about 10 to 12 miles from where they are located now. The terrain consists of plains, grasslands, fields, marshes, scrub jungle, coconut and palmyrah groves, etc.

Despite the overwhelming military superiority of the armed forces, they have found it difficult to dislodge the LTTE from entrenched positions. The Tigers, holding on to territory, are engaging in positional warfare like a conventional Army to defend and retain it.

The Army is determined to push forward and re-take Elephant Pass in the near future. A key element of the military plans to push forward in the peninsula is the large-scale deployment of its newly created Mechanised Infantry Division (MID).

The MID is a brainchild of Army Commander Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka. It was formally ‘raised’ on February 14, 2007.

The MID is in actuality the 53-4 Brigade that was designated later as the mechanised infantry brigade. It consists of three battalions called the first, second and third Mechanized Infantry Regiments, or MIR.

The military personnel deployed in these MIRs come from the 3rd Light Infantry Battalion, 10th Sinha Regiment, 4th Gajaba Battalion and 5th and 6th Reconnaissance Regiments of the Sri Lanka Armoured Corps.

The MID has a variety of armoured vehicles including BTR-80A, BMP-2, Type 63 and WZ551, for operational purposes.

Baptism of fire
The MID had a baptism of fire, literally. It was on February 14, 2007, at the Regimental Headquarters of the 53 Division located in Kodikamam that the Mechanised Infantry Regiment was ceremonially inaugurated.

While the ceremony was in progress, the LTTE fired its artillery accurately from across the lagoon in Poonagary on the mainland. Brigade Commander Lt. Colonel Ralph Nugera, Lt. Col. Sumith Atapattu, Major Harendra Peiris and two staff officers were injured.

A major factor that led to the establishment of the MID was the military debacle on October 11, 2006 when the Army tried to push southwards to Elephant Pass. The LTTE allowed the soldiers to proceed to some extent and then counter-attacked.

An important highlight of the fighting on that day was the severe losses of armoured vehicles by the Army. At least 12 Armoured Fighter Vehicles (AFV) and Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) were put out of action by the Tigers in three hours of fierce combat.

Even as fighting progressed, government troops backed by artillery went forward. The advance was slowed down to some extent by Tiger artillery as well as mines.

Two Main Battle Tanks (MBT) were hit by anti-tank ‘monster’ mines. These mines were placed and triggered by the Victor Unit of the LTTE, which specialises in anti-tank and anti-armoured vehicle warfare.

After the first MBT tank was hit and rendered non-operational, the second MBT overtook it and proceeded ahead. This too was hit in turn by a ‘monster’ anti-tank mine. A third armoured vehicle moved in a different direction and fell into a deep, waterlogged ditch. It was a pit that was dug and covered up with vegetation.

It was a well camouflaged Tiger trap. This too was laid by the Victor Unit and demonstrated that the LTTE excelled in both using modern weaponry as well as engaging in comparatively ‘primitive’ yet effective warfare tactics.

LTTE’s Victor Tank Unit
The LTTE’s Victor anti-tank and armoured Unit continued engaging in action during intensive fighting too. Despite having lost its founder Commander, Lt. Col Akbar to a random Army shell on October 7, members of the unit fought fiercely.

In addition to the earlier losses of two armoured vehicles to ‘monster’ mines and another to a camouflaged pit trap, three more AFVs were hit by anti-tank RPGs and destroyed.

Six AFVs comprising four Czech built T-55s and two Russian built ones were put out of action by the Victor Unit.

The Victor Unit also fired at Chinese built APCs with success. Three APCs were totally destroyed while another three were extensively damaged.

Altogether the Victor Unit had put six armoured fighting vehicles and six armoured personnel carriers out of action within a few hours of fighting. The armed forces had never sustained such massive losses in this manner before.

Significantly, the LTTE had suffered a major loss four days before the fighting. On October 7, Lt. Col Akbar of the LTTE was killed along the Muhamaalai FDL as a result of an Army shell.

Akbar, a Batticaloa Tamil, was the head of the Victor Unit. He joined the LTTE in 1990 got married in 2003. He was, from its inception, the chief of the Victor Unit, which was named after former Mannar Tiger Commander Victor.

This unit, known generally among LTTE cadres as the ‘RPG Commando,’ had its roots in the ‘Col.’ Kittu Artillery Unit and had its baptism of fire during ‘Operation Sathjaya’ in Kilinochchi.

It then became a sub-division of the Imran-Pandian Unit, named after two of Prabhakaran’s trusted bodyguards.

‘Blood sacrifice’
By 1997-98, the unit began functioning independently under Akbar. Members of this unit have vertical and not horizontal stripes on their uniforms.

Though many stalwarts of this unit like Maj. Navachandran, Lt. Col. Manivannan and Lt. Col. Chutta are no more, Akbar had survived despite being a veteran of many ‘Jayasikuru’ and ‘Oyatha Alaigal’ battles.

Lt. Col Akbar’s death at a critical time may very well have affected LTTE fortunes as the Victor Unit was of crucial importance in countering Army advances.

His death, however, seemed to have inspired his unit members to perform well during war. Instead of being a bad omen, it seemed to have become the ‘blood sacrifice’ made to the gods before war to ensure victory. This was a practice in the lost martial tradition of the Tamils that has been revived by the Liberation Tigers.

Incidentally, R. Pageerathan, alias Ilango, who led the attack on the Anuradhapura Air Force base in Saliyapura last October was also a stalwart of the Victor Unit. Ilango’s greatest military achievement prior to the Anuradhapura attack had been at Ithavil during the Elephant Pass operation.
LTTE cadres brought by sea had landed at Vadamaratchy east and moved inland. They had penetrated Ithavil along the A9 Highway and interdicted military movement along the road to Elephant Pass/Iyakkachchi.
The security forces were fighting hard to drive the Tigers away and clear the road so that supplies could reach beleaguered troops at Elephant Pass. The use of tanks and armoured cars placed the LTTE at a disadvantage.
It was then that the Victor Unit, named after the former Mannar LTTE Commander, got into action. Two armoured cars were hit by light anti tank weapons.
At one stage Ilango is said to have jumped on top of a Buffel tank and shot dead the gunner. Ilango had then turned the tank’s weapons on the security forces. This act helped turn the tide of war, it is said.
Deployment of the MID
The deployment of the MID is expected to turn the direction of the war in favour of the armed forces. Massive destructive power is to be unleashed on a terrific and widespread scale as the MID gets going.
The earlier role of the infantry, advancing with the aid of armoured vehicles, will be reversed with the armoured vehicles advancing with the infantry behind.
On January 31 this year the MID had its first taste of success. Thanks to the rapid deployment of the MID, the armed forces overran the first line of LTTE defence along the Muhamaalai front. Around 25 bunkers were destroyed.
In mid-March the armed forces undertook another major push. The Tigers quietly retreated and waited. Smelling a rat, the armed forces also opted to stay put for several hours and then withdraw. Consequently military intelligence uncovered the LTTE strategy.
Apparently the Tigers, in anticipation of the mechanised infantry, had embarked upon classical trench warfare. In a bid to entrap the advancing tanks and armoured vehicles, the LTTE had constructed a wide, deep and long trench behind their second line of defence. Two other defence lines consisting of a network of trenches had been constructed behind the major trench.
The giant trench was wide and deep so the tanks could not bridge over the top but would instead fall into the trench and not be able to get out. Welded ‘stars’ of steel, or specially-designed blocks of concrete, had also been placed in the way of the tanks so they could not get over or go around the trench.
The LTTE forced a large number of civilians to engage in digging trenches and bunkers as part of defence preparations. Every able-bodied man was required to do a minimum of seven days enforced ‘shramadana’ in digging in one stretch.
If anyone wanted to opt out of it, they had to pay a ‘fine’ of Rs. 5,000 per week. The LTTE used that money to pay the people doing the digging. The LTTE kept Rs. 1,000 of the fine and paid the hired help Rs. 4,000 for a week’s work.
Trench warfare
It is noteworthy that the LTTE is engaging in trench warfare to confront the mechanised infantry formations when they advance.
Earlier, the familiar tactic of the LTTE was ‘in-depth defence,’ where the security forces were encouraged to advance deep into Tiger territory and were then counter-attacked.
Interestingly, ‘tanks’ were developed during World War I to overrun trench-based defences. During World War II, trench warfare was modified to prevent defences being overrun by the mechanised and armoured divisions.
The French, for instance, constructed the famous Maginot line trench complex to stop German invasion but Hitler’s Panzer divisions just rolled around the end of it and kept going ahead.
A recent event of significance in the annals of trench warfare has been the construction of deep trenches in Western Golans by the Israeli defence forces. Massive trenches are being dug by troops and civilians behind the slopes of the Golan heights, in anticipation of a possible advance by Syria.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan armed forces have also ‘delayed’ their plans in the aftermath of knowing the trench warfare plans of the LTTE. The MID is being put through different types of tactical training to surmount anticipated trench based warfare of the Tigers.
The unusually long rainy season is also a deterrent to the MRD as soggy, muddy terrain is not very conducive to forward movement by heavy vehicles.
In any event, both sides are getting ready for the inevitable ‘big bang.’ There is no doubt that the MID will play the decisive role in breaking down LTTE defences. On the other hand, the Victor Unit will play a crucial role in countering the MID advance.
Ultimately, the renewed battle for Elephant Pass could be a novel form of trench versus tank warfare or mechanised infantry versus anti-tank unit confrontation.

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