Troops in the northern front had to contend with two different foes last week, from air and from land. Though the Army was capable in successfully meeting the threat on the ground, rain was to impede much of their progress on the northern front throughout last week.
Soldiers faced immense difficulty due to torrential rains brought on with the onset of the north-east monsoon. Troops moving forward from their positions on the Kilinochchi and Muhamalai fronts, as well as others engaged in routine duty faced severe hardship due to rains. This saw a slowing down of the military advance into Tiger territory last week.
The security forces were also threatened by stormy conditions experienced on the Jaffna peninsula on November 26. Jaffna has not experienced such stormy weather in over half a century. The storm caused six navy Dvoras patrolling the seas off Kankasanthurai to run aground. Three water jet craft capsized and an attack craft of the Special Boat Squadron (S.B.S.) patrolling along Mandathivu Island was swept off to sea. Fortunately, all the sailors who were in the vessels which sank were rescued.
Meanwhile, around 200 soldiers who were stationed in Thanankilappu to the south of the Jaffna peninsula were caught in a flash flood. Two main battle tanks were also stationed there. Thanankilappu faces the Kilali lagoon. These troops had been stationed in order to thwart a possible attempt to attack Jaffna along the Kilali lagoon.
As flood waters began rising, soldiers in bunkers had to take refuge in highrise buildings. Though attempts were made to rescue the troops using helicopters, they were impeded by bad weather. An attempt to distribute life jackets among also failed. Acting Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Major General Rajitha Silva notified Army Commander, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka of the situation. He in turn asked him to take all possible measures to save the lives of the troops. Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Major General G.A. Chandrasiri, who had been on an official visit to the U.S. had returned by this time. He also participated in the rescue effort from Colombo. Finally, a rescue attempt was initiated using navy rescue personnel in six boats.
Braved stormy conditions
The rescue teams braved the stormy conditions and the torrential rains in a desperate attempt to save their trapped colleagues. Their efforts were successful in the end.
The rains also caused commanders to pull troops back from some of their captured locations on the road to Kilinochchi. This was due to these low lying areas being flooded.
Meanwhile, news spread throughout the country on November 26 that Kilinochchi would be captured. The basis for all these reports was a statement made by national security spokesman Minister, Keheliya Rambukwella. He asked the media not to question him about the distance between the troops and Kilinochchi, saying that the town could fall at any moment.
This story immediately spread throughout the country that Kilinochchi had fallen. The significance here was that it was also the birthday of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. He makes his annual ‘policy statement’ or “Great Heroes Address” the day after his birthday. Thus, some thought that Kilinochchi would be captured on the Tiger leader’s birthday. The capture of Kilinochchi will only be important as a propaganda tool. It will not have any strategic value. Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka told this column that they don’t take what happens outside the theatre of war into account when planning their operations. He said that Kilinochchi would fall at the appropriate time. The army commander emphasized that they are not directing a military operation targeting Kilinochchi alone.
According to reports from the battlefront, it will take at least two to three weeks for Kilinochchi to be captured. Nevertheless, troops were able to capture a few buildings on the southern outskirts of the town last week. The 572 brigade, under Lieutenant Colonel Dhammika Jayasundara, and the 574 brigade under Lieutenant Colonel Senaka Wijesuriya, along with the 571 brigade who is positioned to the south of Kilinochchi and commanded by Colonel G.V. Ravipriya, have all now commenced their forward march from the south-west of Kilinochchi.
Thus, all three regiments under the 57 division commanded by Major General Jagath Dias are now in the process of surrounding Kilinochchi.
It was only a few weeks ago that Prabhakaran said that the capture of Kilinochchi was a ‘dream’ for President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The hint was quite clear; the LTTE would do everything in its power to prevent Kilinochchi falling into government hands.
The 57 and 58 divisions moved forward from there positions to capture this earth bund on Sunday morning. The 58 division moved towards Paranthan, while the 57 division advanced towards Kilinochchi. But, darkness and heavy rain impeded their progress. Meanwhile, troops from the 574 brigade attacked and captured an LTTE bunker line situated south of Kilinochchi. According to reports from the battlefront, operations on the Kilinochchi front have been limited last Sunday. The boundaries at the now defunct Omanthai checkpoint were also redrawn last week. This was after the military captured the LTTE forward defence line there.
The 56 division, commanded by Major General Jagath Rambukpotha achieved this feat. The Omanthai entry-exit point was one of the most talked of places during the period of the ceasefire, the other being Muhamalai. After Task Force 2 and Task Force 3 of the army launched their operations the Tiger cadres at the Omanthai forward defence line did not pay much attention to it. Thus, the Omanthai gateway was an entry-exit point in name only. However, with the troops moving forward by as much as 40 kilometres from Omanthai last week, the boundaries at Omanthai no longer became practical. So, the troops launched an attack on the remaining LTTE units there, ensuring that the boundaries drawn during the ceasefire period simply became history. Now, both Omanthai and Muhamalai LTTE entry-exit points have been reduced to relics.
With fall of the Omanthai gateway, the Tigers moved their latest entry-exit point to Oddusudan.
Meanwhile, the 631 brigade commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Priyantha Perera, took control of the village of Olumadu on November 25. This was after its earlier capture of Mankulam. Olumadu is situated along the Mankulam-Mullaithivu A-34 main road.
The current entry-exit point of the Tigers at Oddusudan is also located along this road.
Last week also saw the return of the commander of the army’s 58 division, Brigadier Nandana Udawatta. He had been on an official visit overseas.
The 58 division is currently advancing towards Alampil. Intelligence agencies have found that the LTTE has built a 6 kilometre long earth bund on the coastline from Alampil to Mullaithivu.
This defence line is said to have been built to prevent a seaborne assault by troops. Nevertheless, judging by the pattern of movement of all the offensive divisions and task forces currently engaged in battle, it seems that all of these units will link up soon.
It is likely that this front will extend from Elephant Pass upto the Mullaithivu coast.
However, this can only be achieved through the capture of Elephant Pass, Paranthan, Kilinochchi, Oddusudan and Nedunkerni. Therefore, it seems very likely that the “final battle” will be fought in Mullaithivu.
With the number of new recruits joining the army increasing everyday, military headquarters is examining the possibility of establishing a new division. This division is to be named Task Force 4 and will be deployed as an offensive division on the Wanni front.