Frontline commanders are optimistic that with the shifting of the civilian ‘Safe Zone’ by the Army to the 12-kilometre-long strip jutting out of the two Mullaitivu coast lagoons, as announced Thursday, the forces are in a much better position to mop up the remaining Tigers in less than 100 sq. km. of Mullaitivu District still under LTTE control.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, however, said yesterday that their biggest problem was ensuring the safety of civilians still there, some of whom are being held against their will, while others are from Maha Veerar (Great Heroes’) families, meaning families of dead and serving cadres, and considered hardcore supporters of the organisation. “Sifting the cadres from the civilians will be a big problem”, he said, especially, at a time when cadres are posing off as civilians.
The Security Forces (SF) now firmly believe that, there are no more than 75,000 civilians remaining in the fast shrinking Tiger held Wanni. As the clock ticks away for the Tigers, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) monitoring the area under Tiger control round-the-clock, shows frantic digging along the Mulaitivu coast, to bury much of their remaining arsenal, as they did in the East, prior to the fall of their bastion there at Toppigala in July 2007.
Defence sources said that they are already marking ground coordinates of the arms burial sites, for easy retrieval, once the areas are recaptured. The UAVs have even observed entire containers and boats being buried. The weapons are covered with grease and polythene before burial.
Gen. Kalkat, who led the Indian Peace Keeping troops here, has said that, once they had cornered Prabhakaran in Mulaitivu, but the Tiger Supremo had escaped through a seven-kilometer tunnel. So, obviously, the LTTE might still have some surprises.
In the early hours of yesterday, about 1:30 am, according to Military Spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, LTTE infiltrators lobbed a grenade at a bus transporting civilians from Kilinochchi to Vavuniya and followed it up with gunfire, killing a 59-year-old woman and injuring 13 others. Among the injured are four children and four women.
Army Chief Lt Gen. Sarath Fonseka has added a new fighting Division, the 10th Battle Group to the Sri Lanka Army, to tighten the dragnet around the remaining LTTE units in Wanni
Col. G.V. Ravipriya, in charge of Mannar area, was appointed head of this new Division designated Task Force VIII. As a Brigade Commander of 57 Division, Col. Ravipriya led his Brigade in the capture of the last enemy defence lines outside Kilinochchi. He was redeployed to the battlefield through the 59 Division and Task Force IV, when the LTTE launched a short lived bloody offensive to drive back forces to Oddusudan from the southern outskirts of Pudukudyirippu
One Brigade of Task Force VIII has been entrusted to Lt Col Subashana Welikala who commanded the 4th Singha Regiment, which fought with the 57 Division from the inception of its Wanni operation. He has joined the new Task Force from the 63-2 Brigade.
An officer of the Commando Brigade, Lt Col Lalantha Gamage has been appointed as its other Brigade Commander.
With the declaration of the new civilian ‘Safe Zone’ on the Mullaitivu coast on Thursday, all civilians in the LTTE’s grip, and the representatives of the ICRC working for their welfare, were informed to leave for the new zone immediately.
The LTTE launched artillery attacks and their operation from the previous neutral zone.
Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera informed the head of the ICRC last week, to send the civilians entrapped in this area to the Government controlled areas and to prevent the LTTE from installing artillery batteries in the new neutral zone.
However, when the head of the ICRC had claimed that it is not within his purview, the Chief of the Defence Staff had questioned him whether the ICRC not being able to do so, is representing the LTTE.
The Defence establishment has complained to the ICRC Headquarters against the ICRC representative’s alleged double standards and being a voice for the Tigers.
It has been confirmed that the civilians moving to the neutral zone are subjected to checking by the terrorists.
It has been revealed that the LTTE leaders and the members of their families have entered the Mullaitivu coastal belt north of Mullaitivu town. At present, only a coastal belt of 21 kilometres is under the LTTE.
The noose tightens
55 Division under Brig. Prasanna de Silva is advancing from Chalai in the North to the South on this coastal belt and 59 Division under Brig. Nanadana Udawatta from Mullaitivu Town, is advancing North on the same axis..
58 Division led by Brig. Shavendra Silva was advancing from the direction of Pudukudyruppu West to the East and from Pudukudyruppu North to the South.
Task Force II under Brig. Rohana Bandara is proceeding in the direction of Pudukudyruppu from the South. Task Force IV under Col Nishantha Wanniarachchi and 59 Brigade with the new Task Force VIII was moving up from Pudukudyruppu south.
Although fighting is definitely tapering off, Army Chief Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka has in no way taken his eyes off the conduct of his field forces, and is continuing to monitor every detail, while Wanni SF Commander Maj. Gen Jagath Jayasuriya is coordinating all aspects of the front.
Air strike claims Tiger top brass
Meanwhile, according to intelligence, the funeral of a senior LTTE leader took place in secret, following an air strike last Friday (6) on LTTE Military Wing Leader Swarnam’s house at Pudukudyruppu area.
Although Soosai was believed to have been killed in the air strike, later, he was heard over intercepted LTTE radio communications
It was confirmed that there were bodies of LTTE leaders among the bodies recovered from the bombed building. Soon after the air attack, the LTTE began digging up the site with heavy machinery, and the air force engaged the site once again, while the digging operations were going on. Later, the Tigers once again resumed digging of the site and recovered 17 bodies.
Bodies and ‘booty’
58 Division discovered several LTTE strongholds and seized a haul of heavy weapons from Pudukudyiruppu west.
58-1 Brigade under Lt Col Deshapriya Gunawardene is advancing from the direction of Pudukudyiruppu North to the South and 58-2 Brigade under Lt Col Sanjaya Wanigasinghe from Pudukudiruppu West. The advancing forces of 58-3 Brigade are providing support fire to them.
The Infantry Regiments of 58 Division, advancing from the West to the East and from North to the South, this week captured Suganderapuram town, which was of strategic important to the LTTE. The infantry regiments captured the area after two days of intense fighting.
They recovered the bodies of 20 LTTE cadres, and captured fuel storage, a mortar and bomb making plant and an LTTE printing press. 58-1 Brigade under Lt Col Kithsiri Liyanage captured fuel depots and vehicles.
9th Gemunu Watch (GW) under Lt. Col. Lal Chandrasiri recovered a haul of arms including five 120mm artillery guns, two 81mm mortar launchers, two MPMG weapons, two 60 mm mortar launchers, 25 claymore mines, and several other weapons greased and packed in polythene.
6th GW under Lt. Col. Kamal Pinnawala recovered a similar cache of weapons last week.
The LTTE had manufactured 81mm mortars and claymore mines in the captured mini armament factory.
It was revealed that the LTTE received machinery for the printing press from a Norwegian NGO.
“The LTTE had printed diaries and calendars for 2009 and the December issue of the Eelanathan newspaper,” a senior military official said.
The SF recovered two 40-ft-long Sea Tiger boats, similar to the Navy’s Dvora attack craft. They also recovered unopened containers.
58 Division was advancing towards Pudukudiruppu along the Paranthan-Mullaitivu (A-35) highway and the area above it. The 5th Armoured Corp under Lt Col Nihal Samarakoon is providing support fire to the advancing troops.
LTTE’s civilian card
About 28,000 civilians surrendered to the 58 Division this week amid intense fighting. Meanwhile, a woman suicide cadre among them, blasted herself, killing 20 military personnel, including officers providing facilities to the refugees, and eight civilians and causing injuries to 64 others.
Monday’s suicide attack was intended to prevent the influx of civilians and to cause maximum casualties among security forces personnel.
In another development, 40 LTTE cadres deserted ranks, leaving their weapons and uniforms to avoid any further fighting. They had left two suicide kits as well.
The advance continues
62-1 Brigade under Lt Col. Atula Ariyaratne of Task force II, under Brig. Rohana Bandara, is proceeding towards Pudukudiruppu, below the 58 Division.
62-1 Brigade was instructed to proceed, after the last Tiger obstacle in Pudukudiruppu area was removed by 57-4 Brigade.
57-4 Brigade comprising 8th Gajaba Regiment (GR) under Lt. Col. Chandana Wickremesinghe, 6th Vijayaba Regiment (VR) under Maj. Prabhath Kodituwakku, the 7th Signals under Maj. Dhammika Tilakarante, and the 18th VR under Maj. Laksiri Perera, are proceeding from Pudukudiruppu West to the East, along the South of A-35 highway.
The 8th SR and 16 GR of 62-2 Brigade under Lt. Col. Kirthi Gunasoma are advancing with Task Force IV.
It is confirmed that about 70 Tigers were killed in confrontations in these areas over a week.
62-1 Brigade had advanced about another kilometre towards Pudukudyiruppu by Friday.
62-1 Brigade this week also captured Tiger bomb making plants, arms storages and several LTTE camps. The LTTE had manufactured hand grenades, Arul bombs and mortar shells.
Civilians brave Tiger threat
On Tuesday, when civilians fleeing from Pudukudyiruppu to Udayarkattukulam came under LTTE attack, 62-1 Brigade repulsed the attack and saved the civilians.
However, 19 civilians were killed and 75 others injured in the LTTE gunfire. Meanwhile, 1,265 civilians dared to surrender to the SF amidst LTTE gunfire. The soldiers even offered their meals to the refugees. An expectant mother who delivered on the way, was provided immediate medical treatment by the SF.
As GOC 57 Division, Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias was detailed to coordinate Task Force IV, 53 Division and 59 Division; Deputy Commander Col Aruna Wanniarachchi took over command of 57 Division.
57-4 Brigade was able to capture the upper area of Udayarkattukulam tank and eliminate the LTTE’s obstructions to the advancing forces.
This was also the main and final obstacle facing the SF, on their forward march to Pudukudyiruppu. The 8th Infantry Regiment under Lt. Col. Ipshitha Dissanayaka, coming under the 57-4 Brigade under Lt. Col. Senaka Wijesuriya, overcame this challenge within 48 hours and advanced about 1.5 kilometres.
The operation that commenced at about 6.15 am on Monday (9), to break down the defence line of bunkers and trenches in an area of about one kilometer, continued till night.
The SF marched across this area with an open stretch of about 300 metres, despite the LTTE’s intense gunfire.
The following day (10), the advancing Infantry Regiments, with the help of the armoured cars, captured the entire area. Seventeen terrorists had been killed in confrontations on the first day.
Cpl Wijeratne of the Delta team of the 8th Infantry Regiment was promoted Sgt and LCpl Disanayaka as Cpl in the battlefield itself, by the Brigade Commander, for the leading role played by the two men in the entire operation.
59 Brigade under Brig. Nandana Udawatta was proceeding from Pudukudyiruppu East and from the direction of Mullaitivu.
The military defence line, which had been strategically pulled back three kilometers, during the short-lived LTTE offensive on January 31, has now been restored by the valiant forces.
The 7th GW under Lt. Col. Chaminda Lamahewa faced the brunt of the Tiger assault that day. However, the officers and soldiers of the regiment fought till the very end.
However, 33 military personnel including Maj. Kamal Nanayakkara laid down their lives during the battle. When intense fighting erupted, Cpl Pushpakumara requested his senior officers to fall back with the remaining men, while he went forward, armed with claymore mines and blasted himself among the enemy.
“Sir, you all move back with the others, and let me die with them,” he had told his fellow men, before carrying out the daring deed. There were many valiant men among the forces, during this major counterattack by the LTTE.
The LTTE’s attempt to push back the military defence line to Oddusudan, by deploying suicide attackers and combat groups, was foiled by the Special Forces Squadron under Maj. Kosala Wijeratne. He led his squad, determined to fight to the last soldier. Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias who supervised the battle, praised him then and there, for his battlefield prowess.
Meanwhile, a group of LTTE cadres attempting to enter the area through the Pudukudyiruppu-Oddusudan road, using an armour plated truck, was foiled by the 1st VR. The terrorists came under RPG and armoured car fire, and 25 of them were killed in the confrontation. Later, the SF recovered the bulletproof truck, along with their bodies and weapons.