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Sunday, September 30, 2007

On the Offensive on All Fronts

On the Offensive on All Fronts

Several diplomatic efforts, including high level official visits, were made to South East Asian countries, to curb the Tigers from using these places for procurement and shipping of arms and ammunition, to the north and east.

These efforts paid off, as these countries employed greater vigilance to stem the flow of weapons to Sri Lanka, in the recent past.
Besides these efforts, the government has sought to promulgate Emergency Regulations (ER), to make it an offence, not only to procure such material, but also to aid and abet, as well as fund such procurements.

Govt. plugging the gaps
Under fresh regulations, titled Restriction on the Procurement of Certain Items, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has made it an offence for any Sri Lankan national, resident here or overseas, from procuring, aiding or abetting or providing financial assistance under these regulations. Upon conviction after trial by the High Court, a person is liable to Rigorous Imprisonment for a term between three months and five years, and a fine not exceeding Rs. 500,000.

Under the category of weapon systems, weapons and ammunition, military aircrafts, naval ships, armoured vehicles, artillery, naval and air defence guns, aircraft guns and accessories, missiles and rockets, all types of grenades, all types of firearms, pistols, machine guns, automatic rifles, 40 mm grenade launchers, 40 mm RPGs and mortars (60mm, 81 and 82mm) have been listed as prohibited items and equipment.

Armoured vehicle spares, submerged vehicles or underwater vehicles, explosive detection equipment, digital jamming devices, infrared illuminators, GPS equipment, inclusive of aviation GPS and laser designators have been prohibited under the category miscellaneous items and spares. Laser Range Finders and Radar Range Finders and Thermal Image Devices are also in this list of prohibited items that, however, could be procured with Defence ministry approval.

Under special equipment, all types of radars and radar spares, all types of parachutes, night vision devices and beta lights, while all types of military switches used for booby traps and IEDs and ISF electric and ISF percussion igniter switches have been prohibited. The list could be further enlarged by the Defence Secretary in the interest of national security, preservation of public order and the maintenance of essential services and supplies.

So, it appears that the government is leaving no stone unturned to throttle the Tigers in every conceivable sphere, and is going hammer and tongs, to defeat the LTTE on all fronts.

Alive to the fact that the LTTE, taking a beating on the battle field, is likely to turn its guns on key defence and economic installations in areas outside the north and east, the Government has set up high security zones (HSZ) around key places such as the Colombo Port, the Katunayake International Airport and the adjacent Sri Lanka Air Force base, to name a few HSZs. The Government has set up these HSZs under ERs promulgated recently. (See Katunayake HSZ map).

Army draws first blood in Wanni
Militarily, this has been a significant week, as the security forces launched separate operations on what has been an impregnable forward defence line (FDL) along the Kilali-Muhamali-Nagakovil axis.

The military claims that 20 Tigers were killed as against two soldiers, in the pre dawn attack on Kilali, when small groups of soldiers from the 4 CLI, broke into the area and destroyed eight bunkers.

The LTTE, however, concedes the deaths of four Tigers and claims an unknown number of dead soldiers were removed by the military, which returned to base after three hours of fighting. The pre dawn attack on Sunday at Nagarkovil, where the military is quite strong, did not produce the desired results, while five Tigers were killed in another attack on the Muhamalai FDL. Intercepted LTTE messages revealed that an LTTE area leader Ravi disappeared during the confrontation.

The LTTE is trapped in an area of 6,500 sq. kms., due to the ongoing operations by the security forces. The Tiger strength is in the region of 3,000 cadres, including 1,800 on Jaffna FDLs along this axis, and 1,200 Sea Tigers.
The August 11 and October 11 attacks last year by the Tigers and the security forces respectively, saw each side that attacked first pay the bigger price.

This week, the attacks by the security forces, were swift and as a result, the casualty count was far below that observed on either side, in the two major attacks last year.

The LTTE is blaming the army for initiating the ground attack with battle tanks, in Kilali, while the army maintains that the Tigers fired 120mm and 81 mm mortar rounds during the attack.

The attacks up north, were launched Sunday, despite setbacks in Thampanai, in Mannar, till late Saturday (22), when the Tigers rained artillery and mortars and attacked the military’s FDLs killing Captain Alagiyawanna and three soldiers and injuring 32 more. Several Tiger cadres were also killed during the confrontation, and the military claims it captured three bunkers.

The security forces had broken into the FDL in Periythampane, from the direction of Vilathikulam. The battle was co-coordinated by Wanni Special Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya and Brig. Jagath Dias, on the instructions of Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The eastern flank of the A-9 Road, was guarded by the newly created 57 Brigade that faced a major debacle recently and subsequently, came under Jagath Rambukpotha. The army had advanced about two kms. beyond Periyathampanai, since March this year, when operations in the Mannar region commenced.

Meanwhile, the Army Chief had earmarked another operation on Monday, to target the LTTE in the Giant Tank area, popularly called Yodhawewa in the Mannar region. The second Commando Brigade and the 10 Gajaba Regiment were deployed for the attack. According to battle plans, the elite forces and the infantry troops were detailed to capture a row of bunkers west of Yodhawewa area, from where the LTTE launched attacks on security forces and vehicles on the Vavuniya- Mannar main supply route. Amidst stiff resistance, the security forces managed to capture seven bunkers during the battle.

Three soldiers were killed and 22 others injured in the confrontation, when security forces stormed the LTTE bunkers, killing around 30 Tigers. Capt. Thushara Wettasinghe lost a leg when he stepped on an anti personnel mine. Capt. Wettasinghe, a valiant officer, was awarded the Veera Vikrema Vibhushana for his galantry during the Thoppigala battle.

Strategies and Tactics
The modus operandi of the security forces was likely to succeed in the Mannar region via the Wanni jungles, but in approaching the northern Jaffna FDLs, a new approach may have to be devised.

The military began its operations by systematically clearing the Tigers off their habitat. Initially, small groups, including elite forces, penetrated the jungles. This is in contrast to previous efforts of sending battle tanks and columns of soldiers, who were vulnerable.
This ‘Eelam War IV’ saw the military put its artillery, mortar launchers and multi barrel rocket launchers into good use, while ground troops specialized in jungle warfare, penetrated Tiger territory.

Military aircraft kept pounding rebel positions and destroying Tiger assets with the support of ground and electronic surveillance.
Even last week, as we reported, air sorties were carried out on an LTTE base consisting of large arms and ammunition dumps, which had also harboured the special Imran Pandiyan “regiment” of the Tigers.

Navy rules the waves
On the part of the Navy, on several occasions, Fast Attack Craft (FACs) have intercepted Tiger craft carrying reinforcements and supplies, while Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) have helped destroy Tiger vessels laden with arms and ammunition. This was the case just a fortnight back, with three ships destroyed in the space of 24-hours.

This week, the Navy, on Thursday (27), launched an attack on a flotilla of Sea Tiger boats from Nayaru area cruising towards Podwakattu. During the confrontation, in the sea off Trincomalee, the Navy destroyed three Sea Tiger craft, killing an unknown number of cadres onboard. A naval rating was killed and several others injured in this battle that lasted nearly four hours.

All out War on Terror
With the Navy destroying nearly a dozen LTTE ships loaded with arms and ammunition, the government has also moved to cripple the LTTE’s procurement of weapons, weapons systems, spares and ammunition at the first instance, by introducing new ERs.

Internationally, too, the Tigers procurement mode has been placed on low gear after a spate of arrests of LTTE operatives in the US, UK, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and France, among other countries.
On the ‘KP’ affair, this is how Senpathi reported on September 16:

“Top officers in the Sri Lankan Defence establishment are convinced that the Americans, who conducted an undercover sting operation, had planned to take it to its logical conclusion.”…
“In August 2006, the FBI netted in 11 people, including Sri Lankans and foreigners, involved in procuring weapons. But, they had deliberately kept out Pratheepan Thavarajah’s name in the press release, for fear that he would become a fugitive.

The US, which has been working closely with the Indonesian authorities, was able to take over Thavarajah, who was grilled by Indonesian authorities for a week. Some officers feel, a similar pattern would befall Kumaran Pathmanathan, as the US authorities would want to get at the bottom of the LTTE network. This would help unravel the network of other terrorist organizations, they believe.”

As expected, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his address to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, was quick to connect the local efforts to root out terrorism, with the international campaign to uproot the menace.

“Terrorism anywhere is terrorism. There is nothing good in terrorism. Sri Lanka has taken an upfront position in the global community’s efforts to deal with terrorism. We have become party to 11 out of 13 UN Conventions for the suppression of the various acts of terrorism,” said President Rajapaksa.

Though the President made a boast of signing 11 of the 13 UN Conventions on terrorism, he may have forgotten the international fall out just last September, after a five-member Bench of the Supreme Court dismissed the Sinharasa application based on the UNHCR determination on his case. (Please see relevant box story)


Military Matters - The Nation' News

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