Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Black July turns to gold in Toppigala

We visited the Toppigala region just prior to Wednesday’s capture together with colleagues from Lankadeepa. During the greater part of our stay, the two teams covered different areas, separately.

Last Sunday afternoon on reaching the region, the first place we visited was the Karadiyanaru base complex of the LTTE on the Chenkalady-Maha Oya A-5 highway. It had been captured from the Tigers only two weeks earlier. For the capture of Toppigala region proper it had finally become the forward base of the security forces and by Sunday it was becoming a hive of activity with the arrival of media teams, mainly from electronic media, sensing the imminent fall of Toppigala to the security forces. After enjoying some military hospitality we proceeded down the A-5 highway, accompanied by military media liaison officer Wasantha Siriwardena.

We visited the Toppigala region just prior to Wednesday’s capture together with colleagues from Lankadeepa. During the greater part of our stay, the two teams covered different areas, separately.

Last Sunday afternoon on reaching the region, the first place we visited was the Karadiyanaru base complex of the LTTE on the Chenkalady-Maha Oya A-5 highway. It had been captured from the Tigers only two weeks earlier. For the capture of Toppigala region proper it had finally become the forward base of the security forces and by Sunday it was becoming a hive of activity with the arrival of media teams, mainly from electronic media, sensing the imminent fall of Toppigala to the security forces. After enjoying some military hospitality we proceeded down the A-5 highway, accompanied by military media liaison officer Wasantha Siriwardena.

A top eastern commander, who did not want to be identified, said they were not seeking individual publicity or rewards for what they have achieved, but others should not humiliate the brave soldiers who captured the LTTE’s main eastern training base that served as the incubator for the terrorist organization.

“They can get-together and address the long neglected grievances of Tamils, but do not belittle the accomplishments of our fighting men,” was his parting comment.

Besides, another senior military officer said if the area was not cleared of Tigers, Batticaloa town would once again come under LTTE artillery fire as happened on February 28, when a group of diplomats were taken to see the development work being carried out there. Our tour of some of the captured areas on Monday and Tuesday clearly showed that this was a major staging area for the LTTE.

The area had been so important to the LTTE that it had built a road, better than most roads in the country, from Karadiyanaru right up to Toppigala rock, stretching at least 21 kilometres. While retreating the Tigers had blasted two of the bridges on this route, but army engineers have partially restored them for vehicular traffic.

We were able to proceed about 15 kilometres down this road from Karadiyanaru and come within sight of Toppigala. We were not allowed to proceed any further as the area beyond that point had not been cleared.

The Toppigala complex certainly had been an incubator of a sort. In one abandoned Tiger mini camp, which also housed their main jail, we saw a short firing range where they had trained their pistol cadres, who are responsible for so many assassinations in civilian areas. We ourselves managed to pick up a few empty 9mm bullet casings from this firing range as souvenirs. And some of the targets drawn on metal sheets were yet standing, while others had been knocked down by the soldiers.

After a bone crushing ride on a Buffel troop carrier on a gravel road, which was just beyond the second blasted bridge, we reached an army artillery base at one of the Narakamulla hills (Renamed as the LTTE’s Tora Bora complex by Karuna). The hill itself had been the headquarters of Tiger Leader Nagesh. Though it had been such an important location, because of the heavy tree cover nothing could be seen from the air or open ground on its approaches. Nagesh’s headquarters is now home to one of the military units guarding the artillery. Among the comforts Nagesh had enjoyed, though it was in the middle of no where, was a fairly modern tiled toilet with running water, with even a bath tub made of bricks and again tiled. He also had a choice of a squatting pan and a commode.Thanks to much of the facilities left behind intact by fleeing Nagesh and his men, the place also serves as a main field kitchen. According to Lt. P.K.R.U. Rupasingha, who is the welfare officer of this unit, he prepares as many as 600 meals at a time for soldiers serving within a radius of 15 kilometres. The jovial and obliging man certainly served a wonderful rice and curry meal for the visiting journalists and their crew on Tuesday. We couldn’t believe the army could do so much despite it being so close to the front. The previous day we were served equally delicious short eats from the same camp.

We also saw fighting units going through some trying conditions. A group of commandos who had just cleared one of the last Narakamulla hills early on Monday were seen eating meagre field rations. Some of the men who had been spearheading the fight were surviving for days on field ration packs. A young sergeant major who had led the unit in the operation was obviously taking a nap under a bush and hanging near him was a Mickey Mouse bag, probably given to him by his girlfriend as a good luck charm. On being informed about our arrival, he quickly sprung from his perch and readily organized some drinks for us.

In that Monday early morning operation one of the men lost a leg to an anti-personnel mine as he had stepped outside a jungle path. Later that afternoon we too were taken on that route with strict instructions not to step out of the trail as army engineers had still not cleared the area.

As we passed the place the victim’s half blown boot was lying there with dried blood on it and just beyond that point soldiers had unearthed a similar mine. Unlike the earlier anti-personnel mines, which were turned out by the LTTE, the present ones are a much more lethal imported variety. Whereas in the past only ankles were blasted, the present mines blast away up to the knee of a soldier and its shrapnel can also damage the other leg or even upper part of the body.

Fleeing Tigers have left not only anti-personnel mines neatly concealed, like under a tree, where a soldier might go to answer a call of nature or to escape the unbearable heat from the sun, but they have left far lethal booby traps. One such monster that was shown to us before being blasted had been detected in the nick of time. It comprised two 120mm mortar shells and a claymore mine rigged to explode together by wiring it to a car battery and concealed in a fox hole. The trip wire had been placed across a path by the side of the fox hole. When it was blasted we were at least two hundred metres away, but the noise alone could have pierced the ear drums of anyone nearby.

Just few metres away from this deadly booby trap was a cage, about eight by eight feet made of heavy steel and painted red, but well covered by foliage. It probably held some of their most secret prisoners. It had no roof, unlike their other main prison we found by the side of the Karadiyanaru-Toppigala Road. So the prisoners were clearly left exposed to the elements.

In this godforsaken place, we also saw lot of fighting men finding it difficult to move from place to place especially while going on leave or coming back from leave due to obvious shortcomings in transport facilities. With the army being preoccupied with an operation at such a crucial stage it was quite understandable.

Some of the units like the one at the artillery base had been thoughtful enough to obtain several CDMA phones for soldiers to be in touch with their loved ones while serving in the remotest of places.

The brutality of the war was seen in the way Tigers had tortured to death a sergeant who had been caught by them while on a reconnaissance mission. Fleeing civilians in this sparsely populated region had seen the serviceman being dragged along the road, while his captors had cut his neck little by little till it was completely severed. By Tuesday morning the Karadiyanaru-Toppigala Road, the pride of Tigers and on which they had brutally killed the captured sergeant had been named after him by his colleagues.

At the same time a top ground commander appealed to any remaining Tigers to surrender as continuing to resist would be a futile exercise. He referred to them as “our brothers and sisters”.

According to intercepted Tiger communications, 444 LTTE cadres were killed in the entire operation to capture the region and 327 were wounded. The army has handed over bodies of 55 Tigers to the ICRC. On the side of the army, 13 officers and 206 soldiers had been injured and two officers and 20 soldiers had been killed.

Since many an armchair pundit in Colombo is arguing that it is not worth holding onto the granite hills of Toppigala committing large number of troops, the next best thing to prevent it from becoming a fortress to Tigers once again would be to blast all that rock away as metal, now badly needed to rebuild the East, suggested an ordinary soldier who travelled with us in the Buffel for our security.

May be it is better to build new barracks for the soldiers here once elections are held in the East so that civilian rule can take root without there being any irritants arising from so many soldiers being present in congested civilian areas.

If the need arises they can always be rushed to surrounding towns from Toppigala, it being such a central location vis-à-vis Punani, Vakarai, Pasikudah, Kalkudah, Sittandi, Chenkaladi, Eravur and Batticaloa.


Fierce fighting as troops launch operation in north

Immediate push to the Wanni after victory in the east

Hard on the heels of their victory at Toppigala in the East, security forces yesterday launched a military offensive in the Wanni to re-capture guerilla held areas. At the crack of dawn, troops broke out of their defended localities towards Tampanai and Periya Tampanai, east of the Madhu area, to advance forward. Ahead of this advance, from midnight artillery, multi barrel rockets and mortars were fired at rebel positions.

Later in the day, Air Force jets bombed guerilla positions in the area. Army spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe told The Sunday Times last night ten soldiers were killed and 32 injured in the confrontation. The wounded were airlifted to hospitals in Anuradhapura in Air Force helicopters.

A military official said they inflicted heavy casualties on the guerrillas. Independent verification of counts on both sides was not possible. However, other sources claimed that the guerillas were offering stiff resistance to moves by troops to advance.

The Army official said troops had pushed the Tiger guerillas further into the Wanni area from the defense lines. He said the troops were now consolidating in the defended localities held by the guerrillas until yesterday. However, LTTE military spokesman Irasiah Ilanthirayan said last night that Government troops, assisted by the Air Force, MBRL and artillery cover had tried to enter

LTTE-controlled areas from two fronts at Piraiyanlakulam and Iranailluppaikulam but were driven back at Tampanai by their cadres. He claimed that the troops had begun their forward movement around 6.00 a.m. yesterday but were pushed back to their original positions by last evening.

Mr. Ilanthirayan also claimed that 15 army personnel were killed and more than 45 were injured. He said they had recovered the bodies of four soldiers and they would be handed over to the ICRC today. The guerillas had recovered one RPG, three T 56 guns and ammunition, he said adding that three LTTE cadres were also killed in the confrontation.

The new offensive in the Wanni comes just two days after Security Forces declared they had re-captured Tiger guerrilla strongholds in Toppigala and thus cleared the area of their presence in the East.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already declared that with the completion of the re-capture of the east, the Government would launch military offensives in the North. He said this was to weaken the LTTE. President Rajapaksa’s assertion, political observer say, meant that the Government will not engage in peace initiatives until military offensives in the north are completed.


Fall of Thoppigala–Not Even Dr. Goebells Could do This

“After …months of war, pains and grieves; after … years of ‘tiranny’ and inhumanity, after have the innocent victims of the most ‘perverce’ gang….; today……., we can cry at full voice our joys our enthusiasm for your coming".

An anti fascist leaflet of the Italian resistance in September 1943 welcoming the Allies after Italy joined the Allies in WW2- reproduced in its original English

The Fuhrer betrayed again
The real traitor in the whole hostile clique in the East is Karuna
(With apologies to Dr Goebells)

The above may well may be the sentiments of the 2 sides and their apologists to the conflict in the East after the fall of Thoppigala to the SL forces on 11 June 2007

The fall of Thoppigala presages the end of the LTTE hold in the East.

The imminent fall of Thoppigala after a carefully, well planned and superbly executed military operation saw a rush of political adventurers feverishly dishing out propaganda to the public hoping to diminish or neutralise the effect of the victory and apply field dressings to the LTTE's psychological wounds. Having no concern for the fortunes of the forces, their only thought was what effect the fall out would be to them. Their side was certainly not Sri Lanka's. First amongst them was Running Wicks (RW). He was backed by his judge advocate. Together they sang a strange if not shameless duet to denigrate and ridicule the efforts of the servicemen who in the service of their country, fought, were wounded and died at Thoppigala in the service of their country.

RW took it upon himself to announce at a public meeting that Thoppigala was not worth fighting for. He connected it with some disdainful theories of his about Mavil Aru too. He said Thoppigala was simply a rock set in a jungle environment of X square miles, which he worked out in Y acres, where there were also 5 irrigation tanks. He counted all this in public to get his figures absolutely straight but had not failed to count how many trees, leaves, boughs and rocks there were too to complete his statistics. As usual he had got lost in the woods for the trees. (The area commonly called Thoppigala which includes Narakamulla completely dominates the surrounding countryside. It gave the LTTE a secure rear base from which its artillery including a TBRL, mortars and ubiquitous snipers who despite all technological advances are still irreplaceable in modern battle, were directed. Kochalacholai and Kiran were their forward bases where their rampaging cadres were able to take a toll of our troops for over 20 years. They also terrorised the nearby villages with murder attacks and kidnappings directed at women, children and places of worship and novice monks. The duo also invented a myth of the main objective Narakamulla being 'captured' once before by the SLA 15 years ago by referring to it as Thoppigala - when RW was riding side saddle. There was no explanation as to where the rocks were then. They had also forgotten to mention what the LTTE if not the army had been doing there all this while and why. Surely they were not breaking rocks.

RW's only connection with campaigning is that he has been making an art of losing political battles with abandon. Having started as a directly commissioned officer without any training in the Beira and then Diyawanna corps, he made it to second in command twice with not a little bit of supporting and overhead fire from and sapping and mining by relatives and friends. But he never made it to Commander. RW has lately failed to prevent a mutiny in his own ranks and lost his seasoned frontline campaigners who deserted en masse. He is now left with odd bods and sods, the ear, nose, mouth and stomach ache troops. To make matters worse he has supported the Fuhrer's propaganda goons.

This is the first time in history that any political leader in the world has taken upon him to belittle his own armed services in battle even though the decision to begin (battle) was with his acquiescence. He also got his disordered cronies to imitate him.

When the WW2 battles were being fought in the Western desert were there any politicians from Britain or Germany to count the grains of sand in it to prove its worth? When the war spread to Russia no one strained himself to count the blades of grass on the steppes or tried to measure it in terms of square miles. There is no truth that Napoleon had tried to either earlier, just in case this man an expert in diverting attention from the battlefield by liberally tingeing history with addled war stories. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour was he there to fathom the depth of the sea or how many fish there were? Who found fault with either the Japanese or the British Fourteenth Army for not counting the trees in the jungles or the lengths of the rivers of Burma before engaging in battle. In Imphal a battle was fought across the tennis courts of a former planters' club but was there someone complaining that there were no tennis balls on it? When the Allied troops in WW2 fought bitterly to take Monte Cassino, the key to the Gustav line in Italy, neither Field Marshal Kesselring nor Generals Patton, Bradley, Clarke and Alexander had to answer to their political leaders as to why they were fighting over a large rock over 7000 feet high.

Why then this denigration by this duet of a hard battle truly won by the grit, guts, skills and with the blood of the SL soldiers who were simply carrying out their duties as laid down by their commanders?

Could it be that, as in 1983, RW favours attacking Colombo with his spearhead forces, the notorious national SS even if they were not Himmler's own? Then of course the counting would not have been trees, irrigation tanks and rocks but loot, rapine and murder and not with guns but with petrol bombs, axes, swords and knives against innocent Tamils. We succeeded in burning down a major part of our capital city as the political leaders looked on petrified at the monsters it had cloned; not knowing that the seeds of hatred it created would give rise to strident militant Tamil nationalism and nearly 25 years of ignoble strife.

What happened again in 1988/9? Who went around registering 60,000 heads and burnt bodies? How did RW quantify those blood drenched 'victories'?

Where were his buddies then? They did not get on platforms or even onto the streets to speak so blithely and with comic looks as they do now. Instead they locked their doors and peeped through the key holes to look at the carnage. Fortunately the governments that came after them did not give the SS and the police a 'holiday'.

The duet also began to strike a falsetto and claim that Thoppigala (was it not just a rock then?) had been captured about 15 years ago to belittle its actual capture by the armed forces in July 2007. The truth is that in 1992/3 when the present army chief was commanding a Brigade in Welikanda there were many LTTE hit and run attacks and ambushes on the Batticaloa - Polonaruwa road. The military response was to pull out the troops of the division in Batticaloa from their nearby camps including Vakarai and patrol the roads to keep them clear. The camps on the coast were denuded The whole strength of the LTTE in the East, armed then only with T56 mm rifles machine guns and RPGs was about 200 in 1992. Their bastion was and remained at Narakamulla, the capture of which was signaled as the fall of what is commonly referred to as Thoppigala. The Special Forces (SF) which then had only one regiment at the time had a strength of about 400 men and dominated the area including Thoppigala. Yet the SF bold and steady as they were and are did not 'capture' or attempt to capture Narakamulla then. They sent out regular fighting and ambush patrols to the area which had the habit of attracting the LTTE 'like bees to honey' as the Colonel commanding officer the SF used to state. Why did this duet then seek to distort history that Narakamulla which was denied by the LTTE to the IPKF had been in government hands about 15 years ago and was abandoned in 1995? It was not simply to mislead. It was deliberately hypocritical and dishonest. However even Goebells the master of all propagandists would not have stooped to shame his country's soldiers even to save his life. This duet couldn't care to what depths its propaganda digs down to.

After this where then could RW be running to now? Surely not Iraq where he had hopes of sending our troops to score brownie points with Bush. Lately he has shown a fascination nay obsession with Hitler, the original Fuhrer and not missed a single opportunity to make comparisons, not with the death camps which killed 12 million people for good personal reasons, but just the eviction of Jews from Germany. He appears to have forgotten what happened to the Tamils in 1983 in front of his eyes as he stood firm with all the other ministers of the time behind locked doors until it was all over. So could he now be aiming to go to a bunker like Hitler to call it a day? Surely not to Berlin? Where then is the other bunker? Only a cyanide carrier will know.

No one can take away from the armed forces the honour and glory they earned with their blood, guts and disciplined valour, defeating the LTTE in what was thought to be impregnable Narakamulla. This time the LTTE unlike in 1992 had TBRLs, artillery, medium and heavy mortars, anti tank guns, anti tank and anti personnel mines, and 2000 seasoned cadres armed with AK 47s. They fought against 6 infantry battalions and the Commando Regiment, supported by profuse artillery, some armour including APCs, first in and still there Engineers lifting mines, excellent comms provided by SL Signals and the pin point strikes by the intrepid SLAF from April to July, before conceding defeat and conducting a fighting retreat to the Wanni in their normal style.

Deranged politicians have a choice. They can plead insanity to charges of treachery and avoid becoming the state's guests or join the Fuhrer where ever he may be. But History will record their perfidy for eternity.

We Sri Lankan soldiers
For our freedom and yours
Have given our souls to the Gods
Our bodies to the soil of the East
And our hearts to Mother Lanka
(With apologies to the Polish II Corps which took Monte Cassino in May 1944)