Saturday, September 29, 2007

Army begins the march to secure vital supply route

A day before President Mahinda Rajapaksa reiterated to world leaders that his main objective is to arrive at an honorable settlement to the three decade long conflict after militarily defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) the Sri Lanka Amy launched the first offensive of its final series of battles to capture remaining Tamil Tiger controlled areas.

Operation Edibala

Operation ‘Edibala’, which was launched to secure the Mannar-Vavuniya main supply route, commenced on February 4, 1997 with troops of the Army's 53 division with commandos and the Air Mobile Brigade participating. The troops moved out of Poovarasankulam the furthest point west of the Vavuniya defences under the control of the security forces.

The operation was led by then General Officer Commanding of the 53 Division Brigadier Wasantha Perera and his Deputy, Brig. Nanda Mallawaratchi, both frontline infantry officers.

Whilst the troops advanced westwards from Vavuniya consolidated their positions in Murunkan the Five Brigade began their advance from Mannar eastwards towards Vavuniya and linked up thus completing the Vavuniya to Mannar MSR (main supply route).

The Sri Lankan National Guard, the Commando Brigade led by Lt. Col. Chandrawansa, Air Mobile Brigade led by Col. Sivali Wanigasekera and the 20th Brigade led by Lt. Col. Sunil de Silva, were involved in the operation. Major General Patrick Fernando, General Officer Commanding Task Force Two, was in charge of Operation Edibala while the Overall Operations Commander was Major General Asoka Jayawardena.

The Army along with the Navy, Air Force and the Police, launched the latest offensive in two directions to secure some strategically important areas in the North of Mannar and North of Vavuniya.

On Sunday evening, the Commando Regiment and the Task Force-01 led by Brigadier Charlie Gallage, who guided these same units to capture the eastern province’s last rebel stronghold Thoppigala few months ago, began moving from Adampan area towards the rebel-held west side of the Yoda Wewa north of Mannar.

Before launching the offensive last Sunday the LTTE could easily monitor military and other civilian movements along the Mannar-Vavuniya Main Supply Route from areas under their control. This was one of the main purposes to launch this military operationOn the other hand there is also an argument that with the opening of the Vavuniya-Mannar axis there is potential to extend those operations to open a main supply route (MSR) northwards through Illupaikaduwai, Pooneryn to Jaffna across the Sangupiddy ferry.

With the commencement of the operation, the LTTE put up heavy resistance and troops had to go through a heavily mined area. Three Commandos were killed and 22 injured on the first day alone. However troops continued to advance despite LTTE resistance. By Tuesday the advancing troops were able to capture the LTTE Forward Defence Lines (FDLs) after fierce fighting. During that period there was heavy artillery and mortar fire between the two parties and the military had to use Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers at LTTE targets. But considering earlier occasions, the LTTE had not fired much artillery this time around.

The Military believe that the LTTE is now facing a critical shortage of artillery shells and instructions have been issued by the LTTE leadership to minimize using artillery shells and such heavy weapons.

Since the capture of Tiger FDLs the troops started to consolidate the newly taken areas while moving further towards Vedithalathivu, which is the LTTE’s last stronghold used to smuggle weapons and drugs from the sea west of Sri Lanka. In the meantime, Commandos and Task Force-01 members were further moving towards the Yoda Wewa where the LTTE had a heavy presence. This was the first occasion that the Sri Lanka military moved towards north of Mannar since capturing the Mannar-Vavuniya MSR by ‘Operation Edibala’ in 1997(See box for detail history).

Since then, there were no major offensives launched towards North of Mannar until last Sunday.

While the Commandos and Task Force-01 troops were advancing towards north of Mannar, infantry units based at the 573 Brigade Headquarters in Palamoddai West of Omanthai, where both sides are manning respective entry/exit points, launched a fresh offensive towards Vilaththikulam on Monday, surprising the LTTE leadership.

The operation was launched under the direction of Colonel P. Gamage – Brigade Commander of the 573. Troops from the 6 Vijayaba Infantry Regiment (VIR), 8 Gemunu Regiment (GR) and 4 Sinha Regiment (SR) took part in this operation. As usual the Tigers had laid a carpet of mines in front of their FDLs in order to block the military’s advance. On the previous night Commanding Officers of each unit had a discussion with the Brigade Commander about their operation the next day. This time the senior officers wanted to launch an unusual offensive in order to capture Vilaththikulam area, where the Tigers had a line of heavily fortified bunkers.

Before dawn, the troops started to move from Palamoddai Army base towards Vilaththikulam, but the movement was suddenly diverted to south west and south east of Vilatththikulam as planned. Then the moving troops started to go further north bypassing Vilaththikulam area and finally they arrived just north of Vilaththikulam. But the LTTE was waiting for the troops to come from South of Vilaththikulam.

By Tuesday, the military launched a massive onslaught against the Tigers taking them by surprise. Fierce fighting broke out between the two parties until the Tigers started fleeing the area.

Following the battle the LTTE deaths had risen to more than 20 and also the injured were more than 40. Troops also suffered four deaths and nearly twenty had been wounded.

However, the exact death toll of the Tigers was not known as the LTTE communications intercepted by the military had revealed that a large number of LTTE cadres were killed and an equal number were wounded.

So far the troops advanced more than three kilometres as the Tigers withdrew further to northern areas including Punchiparanthan. The same communication also revealed that a Senior LTTE area Leader named ‘Ravi’ and his group had gone missing with the breaking of fighting in the area. However until now the Tigers had been constantly trying to locate him dead or alive, as he was believed to be a top LTTE leader, tiger communications had revealed.

Advancing troops also found a large number of cells, just behind the LTTE FDLs used by them to detain and punish fleeing LTTE cadres.

Reports claim that a large number of such LTTE cadres had been kept in these cells when they had tried to escape after fearing for their lives. It is also evident that the LTTE was forcibly recruiting youth after taking their parents into custody.Intercepted LTTE communications also revealed that the LTTE was engaging in setting up medical treatment centres near their FDLs in North of Mannar and North West of Omanthai in order to treat their wounded cadres. Intelligence reports revealed that a large number of wounded LTTE cadres were getting treatment at Kilinochchi and Mallavi hospitals.

Meanwhile after fighting commenced the LTTE leadership called most of the LTTE leaders to North of Mannar, the Madhu area and the area north of Vavuniya fearing the military would further advance towards the rebel held areas.

The LTTE’s ‘Colonel’ Ramesh, one time Batticaloa and Ampara Special Commander and the Second in chief of the then LTTE eastern military Leader Karuna Amman, is also now in the area north of Mannar. Intelligence reports said that most of the cadres in these areas now were cadres who had fled the east a few months ago.

Meanwhile, the latest military intelligence report revealed that the LTTE had deployed about 4000 cadres in their Wanni FDLs while almost all the political cadres had been called for the fighting. These political cadres are now reportedly based in and around Pooneryn under the leadership of LTTE’s Political Head S.P. Thamilchelvam.

The intelligent report had also confirmed that some 1800 cadres have been deployed along the Muhamalai FDL, while 1000 cadres were assigned to the LTTE’s Radha Regiment, which was established to provide security to LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The current strength of the Sea Tiger wing is estimated at 1200 cadres.

In another development, a Commanding Officer of one of the Infantry units that taking part in the military operation in West of Omanthai has been removed with immediate effect for failing to carry out an assigned task during the operation. Currently the second in Command of the unit is commanding it. However no details are available about the latest removal.

LTTE death toll rises
A total of 80 LTTE cadres were killed within a period of one week, as the LTTE had intensified minor scale infiltration attempts at the northern defences at Nagarkovil, Kilaly and Muhamalai recently, with the intention of targeting strategic military locations.

During the last week, the LTTE made at least four attempts to infiltrate the Muhamalai FDL, while three attempts were made in Vavunia and two attempts in Welioya. However most of the time LTTE elements attempting to breach the army defence lines had fled the scene following effective counter attacks from troops.

In most instances they had got killed when they tried to infiltrate the military FDLs in Vavuniya, Muhamalai and Welioya.


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