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Final battle in the midst of civilians

[Sunday Times.lk, Saturday, 11 April 2009 21:30 No Comment]

With the fall of the final bastion of Puthukkudiyiruppu this week the focus now turns on the ‘no-fire zone’ where tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped.

 

For well over two moths, the country’s attention has been focused on Pudukkudiyirripu which served as the nerve centre of the LTTE’s military operations in the Mullaitivu district. For several weeks, the LTTE had been taking counter measures to prevent troops from reaching Puthukkudiyiruppu.

 

The LTTE adopted several strategies — which included attempts to infiltrate troop defence lines, tactical suicide bombings and even using civilians as human shields — to buy time and slow the advance of the troops. Bloody battles raged to penetrate the LTTEs’ final stronghold, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides.

 

The guerrillas, in defence of Pudukkudiyirripu, their most fortified bastion, had built a massive earth bund surrounding the area and placed land mines and improvised explosive devices to prevent any incursion into the terrain. However, in the face of security forces’ attack, the Tiger fortress of Puthukkudiyiruppu began to crumble, resulting in the guerrillas losing complete control of their final enclave and compelling them to seek shelter in the midst of civilians in the demarcated “no-fire zone”.

Last Sunday, troops who had encircled the 1.5 square kilometer stretch of land had finally gained full control of the whole of Pudukkudiyirripu.

 

They were from 53 Division, 58 Division and Task Force 8. Since April 1, the day on which the troops laid siege to the remaining terrain of Puthukkudiyiruppu, pitched battles had been raging with the guerrillas offering stiff resistance. The fall of Pachchapulmudai junction, considered the LTTE’s main supply line connecting to the Tiger defence line and the no fire zone, was a turning point. The junction is situated northeast of Puthukkudiyiruppu town.

 

Another strategy also worked to the advantage of the troops. They forced the remaining Tiger guerillas to disperse into several isolated groups and then surrounded them separately. The troops are said to have first contacted the LTTE guerillas in and around the area via their radio frequencies, urging them to surrender. The guerillas did not comply.

 

Last Saturday and Sunday the LTTE deployed waves of attacks against the advancing troops and fired several rounds of artillery. The LTTE had even deployed several Black Tiger suicide cadres to breach troop defences. When the fighting intensified, troops deployed their snipers to take on major LTTE positions.

Heavy fighting was reported to have erupted in Anandapuram where the LTTE had launched synchronized attacks at the troops. But the troops neutralized the attacks within hours.

 

After last Sunday’s battle for Puthukkudiyiruppu, bodies of a large number of Tiger guerillas were seen scattered all over the battlefront. According to the military, amongst the dead were a few top rung Tiger leaders including Theepan (LTTE’s former Northern region commander), Ruben, Nagesh, Gaddafi, Vidusha (leader of the LTTE female wing, ‘Malathi brigade’), Durga (‘Soothiya brigade’ leader) and Kamalini.

 

While fighting was continuing, troops who had intercepted LTTE radio communications learnt that Vidhusha had requested LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman to send more guerrillas to the frontlines to help them counter the advancing troops. Apparently Pottu Amman in response had declined their ‘SOS’ and had said that he was unable to send more guerillas as the army had blocked the path to the area.

 

At present 53 Division soldiers are preparing to liberate the northern bank of the Nanthikadal lagoon which is still under guerrilla-control. They are manoeuvring out of the Pudukkudiyirripu East area. Mop-up operations are underway in the recently captured area.

 

The Sunday Times last week revealed how the LTTE had begun to manoeuvre though the coastal areas in a bid to break into security forces’ defence lines. Last Saturday ground and naval troops averted an imminent LTTE attack on advancing troops by destroying three Sea Tiger boats off the coast of Alampil in Mullaitivu.

Around 1.30 a.m., coastal radars detected around 10 LTTE crafts moving out of the no-fire zone area in Puthumatallan in a southerly direction. The Navy then deployed its Special Boat Squadron (SBS). The sailors observed that there had been seven Sea Tiger attack craft and three suicide craft.

 

The SBS sailors intercepted the boats and opened fire, destroying one LTTE vessel and damaging another. Three naval craft were damaged while two sailors sustained injuries.

 

The remaining LTTE boats fled towards the no-fire zone carrying the wounded rebels. Two hours later, the guerrilla boats reappeared and attempted to breach the defence lines of 59 Division soldiers who were operating in Alampil, north of the Nayaru lagoon.

 

Troops opened fire at the Tigers who tried to wade across the shore. Two more LTTE boats were destroyed. The remaining LTTE boats fled the scene and were reported to have reached Puthumatallan. In a subsequent search operation in the area, troops recovered seven LTTE bodies and weapons.

The much awaited fall of Puthukkudiyiruppu marks a decisive phase of the Eelam war IV as troops are now poised to move into the civilian no-fire zone. The attempt to move into the no-fire zone is billed as the greatest challenge the troops will be facing in Eelam war IV as they will be not only fighting the LTTE but will be launching one of the biggest hostage-rescue operation in the country’s history.

 

The government says some 50,000 civilians are trapped in the 20 square kilometre no-fire zone where the LTTE has positioned its heavy guns. According to ground intelligence, any civilians who try to leave the area will face death at the hands of the LTTE.

 

This phase of the war will be different and more risky because the troops will be unable to use conventional military methods. Once the troops move in, they will not be able to get air support as they will be fighting the guerrillas amidst civilians.

 

Unlike on previous occasions where the strategy involved eliminating as much LTTE guerillas from the battlefield before claiming and consolidating terrain, speed and momentum were given prominence during the battles for Puthukkudiyiruppu.

 

However in the next phase of the war, aerial surveillance will play a key role in identifying guerrilla positions located in the midst of civilians. As expected, the LTTE will use civilians as a tool of war. Fighting in such a terrain could result in considerable amount of casualties due to restrictions in maneuverability, force employment and expenditure of critical resources in the process.

 

As the guerrillas remain cornered in a multi-frontal assault by the troops in the Wanni, operations in the east, particularly in Ampara, to rid the district of LTTE guerrillas who are operating from dense jungles, are being carried out by the police Special Task Force (STF).

 

Last Sunday’s killing of Police Superintendent H.L Jamaldeen, who fell victim to a suspected LTTE gunman at Marathamunai in Kalmunai, was a warning to the Defence establishment that the LTTE is attempting to take the war to areas outside the northern theater. SP Jamaldeen, who was the deputy director at the Kallady Police Training School in Batticaloa, was shot while returning home after visiting a relative. He was the senior most police officer to have been killed in the Eastern Province since Eelam War IV began in 2006.

The death of SP Jamaldeen comes in the wake of the STF killing of 13 LTTE guerillas on April 3 during an operation in the jungle terrain of Kohon Ela in Ampara. Security has been tightened in villages such as Siyambalanduwa, Lahugala, Hulannuge, Bakmitiyawa, Pannalgama, Panama and Manthottama in the Ampara district.

 

The Sunday Times learns that a group of Tiger guerillas are still operating from the dense jungles of Bakmitiyawa where they had reportedly been hiding since the STF cleared the LTTE’s bases in Kanchikudichchi Aru in January 2007 in an operation named after the STF motto “Niyathai Jaya” (victory assured).In the meantime, security has been beefed up in the country after the State Intelligence Service warnings that the LTTE in desperation could carry out attacks during the Avurudu season.

 

Additional security precautions have been taken to guard reservoirs, power stations, telecommunication installations and the oil refinery. Among the principal towns where security had been heightened, besides Colombo, are Kandy, Badulla, Nuwara Eliya, Galle, Ampara, Anuradhapura, Vavuniya and Trincomalee.

Regular search operations are also being heightened in several major towns and cities across the island.

The loss of Pudukkudiyirripu has brought the Tigers once again a step closer to defeat. How the LTTE will respond in the coming days will undoubtedly define the course of events.

 

Troops 75 metres away from Safe Zone

 

IDPS The security forces are about 75 metres away from some parts of the ‘Safe Zone’ and are facing pockets of resistance while more civilians continue to cross into the government-controlled areas, the military said.

 

Military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said that about 600 civilians entered the Government-controlled lines on Friday and the indications were that thousands more were expected to follow in the days to come.

“The security forces are just 75 metres away along the western line of the ‘Safe Zone’ while in other areas the distance is around one kilometer,” he said.

 

The troops used loud-speakers to urge civilians in the Safe Zone to move into the government-controlled areas and this was bringing the desired results, Brigadier Nanayakkara said.

 

The LTTE, meanwhile, was engaging troops on a small-scale in certain areas close to the Safe Zone. Bodies of at least nine LTTE cadres were recovered by the advancing forces. The troops suffered no casualties, the military spokesman said.

[Full Coverage]

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