Heavy fighting was reported last evening between the Sri Lanka Army’s 58 Division and the LTTE at Sempankundu Villu. Reports indicated 30 Sri Lanka Army dead and another 50 injured in this fight as troops edged to within 2.5kms of the Pooneryn-Paranthan road.
The firefight occurred in open terrain and 11 SLLI troops fought against defended LTTE positions killing at least 30 cadres. LTTE supremo has appointed Stanley, a field commander that served under Karuna who is also a Jeyanthan ‘Brigade’ Cadre and a group of LTTE ‘Commandos’ from Batticaloa to guard this area from the Army.
Stanley was heard informing his cadres that this fight was a do-or-die situation that could either make or break the LTTE. But 58 Division Commanders were confident of reaching the Pooneryn-Paranthan road within the next 7 days.
Meanwhile troops of the 59 Division today captured the strategically important village of Kumulamunai situated in the general area northwest of Nayaru. From Kumulamunai, the buildup areas begin and span all the way upto Mulaitivu Town. The drawbacks of fighting in a buildup area is the limited artillery support. But the Army is glad to leave the jungle behind them as the Malaria season draws near.
It is likely that the 59 Division will now march eastwards to Alampil and then to Mulaitivu–a 13km journey. The LTTE still uses Alampil for sea Tiger activities. The advantages of fighting in a buildup area is that the Army now has access to an elaborate network of roads. As a result, the mobility of the 59 will increase drastically. It is also difficult for the LTTE to bury large numbers of mines and booby traps in buildup areas, like they did inside the jungles.
LTTE moving 130mm howitzers?
The Sri Lankan Army entered the village of Kiranchi yesterday after Tigers started withdrawing from the village in the face of the superior firepower of the 58 Division and the guile of the 2 Commando Regiment. A few Tiger units are still trapped inside the land mass at Devil’s Point.
Kiranchi is the southern-most village at Devil’s point, a strategic area for the LTTE for over two decades and often used as an area to observe movements at sea. The village was being infiltrated by 2 Commando along with Valaipadu and Palavi, as part of an overall strategy of making the areas west of the A-32 unsafe for LTTE, particularly after LTTE units withdrawing from Nachchikuda started moving towards Pooneryn and Devil’s Point. By Friday, Tigers had almost completely withdrawn from Kiranchi. They are expected to completely abandon Devil’s Point within the next few days.
58 Division troops are close to cutting off land-based escape routes for the trapped Tigers. 11 SLLI and 8GW troops operating ahead of 8th Mile Post on the A-32 are facing Chempiankundu Villu marshland from where they have around 3km to reach the Pooneryn-Paranthan road. The Tigers are expected to put up stiff resistance in this area.
If the road is captured, Tigers may start withdrawing from Pooneryn. Intelligence reports claim they have already moved 130mm howitzers from Pooeryn towards Paranthan along the Pooneryn-Paranthan road. If these reports are accurate, the threat to Jaffna has now been considerably reduced.
Tigers would have to recalculate their arti trajectory, acquire new targets and locations on GPS and DGPS and make new maps based on these calculations on latitudinal and longitudinal grids from areas south of Muhamalai and Kilali upto Elephant Pass or even Paranthan if they are to effectively defend against a southwards push by the 53 Division and the Mechanized Infantry. This could take weeks, even months.
For the Army, the push towards Pooneryn is a real investment for the future. If Pooneryn is captured, there is a serious possibility of the Navy operating a ferry between Sangupiddi Jetty in Pooneryn and Kerativu in Chavakachcheri. Not only will the government save money with such a move but the Army will save valuable deployment time by transporting troops by land to and from Jaffna.
Soldiers will be fresh when they get off in Jaffna or when they reach Mannar or Anuradhapura on leave. The Government may also build a bridge between the two points, which is nothing considering recent projects in the East and elsewhere including the new flyovers near Colombo and in the suburbs.
LTTE moving 130mm howitzers?
By this evening the Sri Lanka Army’s 58 Division was 6 kilometers from the Pooneryn-Paranthan road. Military tacticians will aim for this road, instead of heading directly for Pooneryn; a tactic we have observed numerous times in the recent past. Tigers will be forced to withdraw from Pooneryn but would have to avoid annihilation by the Special Boat Squadron and RABS boats deployed in the Kilali Lagoon. Their best bet would be to escape towards India rather than risking a perilous journey to Chalai in the northeastern coast. At least 40 RABS units are waiting for them from Kilali to Chalai.
As we noted many weeks ago, the Sri Lanka Army will probably checkmate the LTTE’s Kilinochchi stronghold, not from the current operation by the 57 but from the operation working its way towards Paranthan from the northwest. Military tacticians have long realized that there’s more than one way to take Kilinochchi. Currently, the Tigers are using maximum force to hold down the 57 Division at Iranamadu, Akkarayan and Kokavil general areas. They cannot afford the 58 moving towards Paranthan from the Pooneryn-Paranthan road. This would make Muhamale and Kilinochchi untenable.
But the Army is not going to stop at that. It’s going to crisscross the LTTE and dissect it from top to bottom, left to right and every other imaginable way possible. During a recent briefing, General Fonseka explained the role of the newly formed Task Force 3 claiming it would move from the west to the east from Mankulam. According to our analysis, TF-3 is heading for Oddusudan via Mankulam, Olumadu and Ampakamam and will probably join the 59 Division in a combined advance on Mulaitivu. TF-3 is being led by Lt. Colonels Perera and Welikala who are absolute daredevils with a cult-like following in the Army. The 62 semi-offensive Division is also quietly working its way towards Kanakarayankulam.
As soon as the 58 reaches Pooneryn, the 53 Division will break out from its hold. Muhamalai to Paranthan is flat, open road, which the Mechanized Infantry Division is going to relish enormously. If the 53 breaks out, it will only be a matter of time until the 55 Division breaks out. Both Divisions are under two tough Commanders, one being Special Forces officer (from the time he joined the Army) Brigadier Prasanna Silva. So you have 8 Divisions going at the LTTE in eight different directions. But there’s more.
If LTTE loses Pooneryn and retreats completely from the northwestern coast, the Sri Lanka Navy would have nothing to guard against along this coast. The Offshore Patrol Craft, SBS and RABS units currently deployed along this coast can all be withdrawn and redeployed along the north western coast. The only maritime area the SLN would have to guard would be the coast from Nayaru North upto Nagarkovil. The number of RABS units deployed from Pulmoddai to Point Pedro could exceed 100. This is in addition to the OPCs, SBS, Dvora, UFACs, Fast Missile Frigates etc deployed along the coast and in the high seas. The SLN could create a virtually impregnable security blanket along this coast that will completely halt any LTTE arms ship from even coming close to unloading its cargo.
So the obvious question is, what will the LTTE do while this is going on? But the more pertinent question is what can they do?
The answer to the first question is diplomatic pressure. Diplomatic pressure from Europe is not forthcoming to the extent LTTE might want. The best bet for diplomatic pressure to save the LTTE could come from India. But the Indians have a very limited say in this now. The Indian statement to end major operations in Sri Lanka by the end of December seems more of a publicity stunt aimed at appeasing sections of the Tamil Nadu politicians ahead of the 15th Lok Sabha Elections. But at the same time the Indian central government is cracking down on the LTTE in Tamil Nadu. It is our understanding that the Indians won’t push too hard this agenda on Colombo.
Why won’t the Indians completely back this threat with actual muscle? The answers to the above questions are as follows. The current President of Sri Lanka, soon after he came to power, has freed Sri Lanka of the Indian hegemonic mentality. Its one thing India under Indira Gandhi developing a hegemonic interest during the Cold war and another thing maintaining such in this new age. The former USSR is long gone and with it India’s power in the Warsaw. The new power in Asia is China.
President Rajapakse, to his credit, made sure that China was brought back into the South Asian region, especially to Sri Lanka in a big way. Today, China is the largest investor in Sri Lanka. They have invested heavily in Sri Lanka, particularly in the Hambantota port as a transshipment point to its growing export industries in the Far East and Africa. The Chinese will never allow their money to go to waste. China and Iran have also applied to join SAARC. Suddenly, India is not the only big player in the Indian Ocean region. The moment India exerts undue pressure on the Colombo government; the Chinese will react to save its investment in Sri Lanka. Even a single statement from the Chinese which is even remotely threatening could make India look not only weak but also foolish. A wise Indian government would avoid that.
Another powerful actor is Iran. Long before President-elect Obama underlined the need to negotiate with Iran, Sri Lanka had done it. Today, the Sri Lankan President is a very good friend of Ahamedinajad. Sri Lanka, as an insider with the Tehran government, could even become a small state mediator between the USA and Iran like Algeria during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
But what about the LTTE’s military capability and its ability to remove the leadership of the country? The LTTE has been very successful when it could concentrate its attacks on defeating a single military operation. We have had many such operations led by, at the most two offensive Divisions. Each operation was met with stiff resistance. The LTTE would deploy all its assets and manpower and focus all its strategies and tactics on that single operation and confront it head-on, flank it or allow defence-in-depth. International support and the ‘goods’ coming from the northwestern and northeastern coasts sustained the counter-attacks. The Tamils in the eastern province gave it an unlimited supply of excellent fighters. The sea tigers were strong and innovative with large number of fixed and movable assets and high morale. The counter insurgency and counter terrorism (CI and CT) methods of the state intelligence was ill equipped, inexperienced and improperly led to face that challenge.
But now, the Tigers have to spread their assets (artillery, mortars etc) thin to counter 6 separate offensive divisions, which could soon become 8 separate offensives. The population it controls is down to about 300,000 which reduced its recruitment base. The northwestern coast was lost and the eastern province was lost too. It has to now fight tooth and nail to maintain some control of the northeastern coast. International support is as low as it had ever been. The political and military leadership of the south is too numerous to eliminate. Killing just the Army Commander or the Secretary Defence or the President won’t solve the problem for the LTTE. For the first time in its history, LTTE must assassinate at least 3 leaders in a row or single blow. Even if one of these leaders survives such an impossible attack, the survivor would have to only maintain the current momentum to be a large enough threat to the LTTE.
But the LTTE will fight. It will fight till it can fight no more because that’s all it’s got. It’s been over 3 decades since the LTTE chose this path. It may be too late to change. The LTTE has achieved very little in such a long time.
Therefore an LTTE Victory at this point is seriously doubtful, although it seemed possible a decade ago. Defeat is what is knocking on the Tigers’ door today. Mere survival is insufficient. History has no place for losers.