Military planners of the Wanni operations initially envisaged the capture the administrative headquarters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam by the dawn of the New Year. By the end of last week, the two military divisions which laid siege to Kilinochchi town had pierced through the trench cum earth bund built by the Tigers on the avenue of the approach of the two divisions.
Task Force 1 also known as the 58 Division was advancing towards Paranthan junction and the 57 division had broken through the remnants of the earth bund in Akkarayankulam.
However, on the eve of the New Year, Tigers stepped up resistance against Task Force 1, which was advancing on the Paranthan-Pooneryn road. A 30 mm cannon fitted to an armoured personnel carrier (APC) fired salvos at the soldiers. Fire power was so strong that it broke the trees. The APC fitted with the cannon kept moving from place to place to distract the fire finding radars. Later, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) spotted the APC and based on electronic evidence provided by the UAV, Air Force fighter jets destroyed the APC, clearing the challenge.
At the dawn of the New Year, troops of the Task Force 1 took the Tigers holding the strategically important Paranthan junction by surprise. They delivered a coordinated pre-dawn attack. Under the cover of darkness, the Nine Gemunu Regiment and alpha company of the second commando Regiment captured the village named Uriyan located two km north of Paranthan, thereby cutting off a supply route for Tiger cadres from Elephant Pass. This was followed by a coordinated attack on the strategically important Paranthan town by several regiments attached to this division.
Air force fighter jets carried out regular air sorties while armoured and artillery attacks targeted Tiger cadres holding well fortified positions. By midnight, the 12 Gamunu Regiment stormed the garrison town. Meanwhile, Eleven Ceylon Light Infantry supported by the Bravo Company of the First Commando regiment entered the A 9 road 1 km north of Kilinochchi.
By early morning of January 1, troops succeeded dislodging the Tigers from Paranthan junction and thereby effectively cutting off the main supply route of Mullaitivu- Kilinochchi road. The capture of the junction also isolated Elephant pass from Kilinochchi.
The LTTE launched a series of counter attacks, carried out by the battle hardened Tiger formation known as the Imran Pandyan brigade. Soldiers beat back successive attacks. Heavy artillery and mortar dual prevailed and main battle tanks and Infantry Fighting Vehicles of the Fifth Armoured Corp engaged with the Tiger targets.
Later in the day, the 11 Ceylon Light Infantry pushed southwards on the A 9 road towards Kilinochchi. They stopped 1 km from the Kilinochchi Railway station and took up positions. By then, the 571,572 and 574 Brigades attached to the 57 Division had broken through the earth bund and were approaching the Tiger political headquarters in three directions.
By 10 am on January 2, the 571 Brigade entered the Kilinochchi town. They were followed by the 572 and 574 Brigades. As the troops entered the built up area, the Tiger cadres opted to urban guerrilla warfare. Troops were faced with stiff resistance from the Tigers fighting from abandoned buildings. The house to house clearing operations became a tedious task. Then instructions were given to engage any buildings from where fire was coming using Rocket Propelled Grenades in order to avoid military casualties.
The Tigers retreated and by afternoon, troops had consolidated the control of the administrative headquarters of the LTTE.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa officially announced the capture addressing the nation, describing it as a victory for the entire country.
By the end of December, the LTTE smelt the impending fall of Kilinochchi and P. Nadesan, the political commissar of the movement said that the Tigers would fight irrespective of the loss of Kilinochchi— only a couple of weeks after Tiger supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan called the capture of Kilinochchi as a day dream of President Rajapaksa. When Nadesan admitted the possible fall of Kilinochchi, the 57 and 58 Divisions had effectively pierced through the trench cum earth bund. By then, there was no gainsaying that the fall of the town was imminent.
The Tigers fought tooth and nail to save Kilinochchi. No official figures have been released on the casualties of the security forces during the month of December, which was the bloodiest month during the fourth Eelam war. The LTTE had rarely been releasing its casualty figures. Heavy casualties were partially due as the security forces claimed that the LTTE continues to replenish its armoury. For instance, they point to the increase in the artillery and mortar attacks by the LTTE since mid December.
However, the most startling evidence of continued smuggling of arms by the LTTE was captured by an Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAV) on December 19. According to the two hour Video footage recorded by the UAV, an approximately 35 foot trawler was seen beached in Chalai, unloading boxes of ammunition. Boxes were stacked on the beach and were seen loaded to trucks, which disappeared into the jungles. Chalai is the main launching pad of the sea Tigers. The UAV videoed the entire operation for two hours, however, the bad weather prevented the Air Force from engaging the target.
On the following day the navy intercepted and destroyed the alleged arms smuggling vessel, 17 km off Mullaitivu.
According to intelligence reports, the LTTE continues to smuggle arms through the ship to trawler transfer at mid sea. Intelligence sources have reported that a ship carrying arms and ammunition had been anchored in the Andaman Sea. These arms are loaded onto trawlers and transported to Chalai. The LTTE trawlers, fitted with high powered engines operate in the midst of hundreds of Indian fishing trawlers, which have made their interception extremely difficult.
Back to the Wanni front; following the capture of Paranthan junction, the Task Force 1 is advancing towards Elephant Pass towards north and Murisamodai towards the east. Troops were operating only 2 km from Elephant Pass by yesterday. Task Force 1 is moving northward while the 53 and 55 Divisions of the army deployed in Muhamalai, Nagar Kovil and Kilaly were expected to move southward at anytime from now. However, many military officials believe that the Tigers would pull back from the northern defence lines, rather than risking a double envelopment by the three military divisions.
Loss of opportunity
However, military planners whose military strategy for the last three years aimed at the attrition of the guerrillas view a pull back by the LTTE as a loss of opportunity to score a higher rate of attrition on the guerrillas. According to military estimates, the LTTE has lost approximately 12,000 cadres during the last three years. They attribute this high attrition rate to the LTTE’s desire to fight from the beginning. Throughout 2007 and 2008, the Tigers offered stiff resistance as troops began operations from their forward defence lines running parallel to the Mannar-Vavuniya road. Troops fought pitched battles in Mannar’s rice bowl.
The LTTE shifted the strategy only during the latter part of 2008, opting to vacate Pooneryn and Mankulam in order to save cadres for future battles. The pull out from these places, though helped save Tiger cadres, by that time, the fighting units of the LTTE had faced a severe drain as well as battle stress.
How long would the Tigers opt to hold onto the northern defence lines is open to question. The longer the better, at least for enough time till the 58 Division could manoeuvre close to the northern defence lines, military planners believe. But, reports from the battle front reveal that the LTTE had already been vacating Elephant Pass, once the home to the largest military garrison which housed over 10,000 troops when the Army vacated the camp in the face of the guerrilla onslaught, Unceasing wave 3 in 2000.
The LTTE is believed to have at least 6000 fighting cadres, according to military estimates. Military officials believe that the LTTE would build another earth bund cum trench to defend its military nerve centres in Mullaitivu.
Last week, five small teams of the 59 Division stormed a trench cum earth bund in Alampil. Five “eight man” teams took control of the earth bund and pushed deeper. They were unaware that a trench ran 200 meters from the earth bund. Advancing further, they were trapped in open land as Tiger cadres started to fire from the trench. 27 soldiers were killed, of which 22 bodies could not be recovered. The LTTE later handed over 17 bodies of soldiers through the ICRC.
Many fallen soldiers had close gunshot wounds, said a military official. Later in the week, troops of the 59 Division operating in Mulliyaweli came under strong counter attack by the Tigers. Troops repulsed the attack and during the subsequent search operations 14 bodies of slain LTTE cadres were recovered along with a catch of arms including one MPMG (Multi Purpose Machine Gun), two RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) launchers, ten RPG rounds, five T-56 riffles and hand grenades.
The air strip of the LTTE is located 3 km from the area where troops are operating in Mulliyaweli. Hence is the stronger resistance by the Tigers, said a military official.
There is no gainsaying that the battle is becoming brutal and bloodier. However, battle for Kilinochchi, which some analysts opt to describe as the mother of all battles, was not protracted as it was projected to be.
However, the LTTE would like to fight one last battle which would decide whether it would retain conventional fighting capability.
Military strategy for the last leg of the battle has already been announced. Accordingly, the final thrust would involve 6 military Divisions- 57 and 59 Divisions and Task Force 1, 2, 3 and 4, which altogether have 100 battalions and 50,000 troops. The six divisions would lay siege to the Tiger enclave in Mullaitivu and will launch a coordinate attack.
Military successes in the past were reversed as they captured towns and urban centres while enabling the Tigers to retreat to the jungles from where they regrouped and fought back the forces.
The current military mission, though was protracted and the jungles were cleared before laying siege to the towns. Commandos are already operating in the jungles of Iranamadu as a prelude to the final thrust. The LTTE would be confined to an area of the size of 160 km2 from where it would be forced to fight the last conventional battle. It would not be a long before. According to senior military officials’ talk, though not yet public, the intention is to destroy the LTTE’s conventional military capability by June this year. That appears to be not too ambitious if the current military achievements are to be viewed with its due merit.