Vol 8-No. 3


SOUTH ASIA: Sri Lanka                                                                                        News Briefs


       (Afghanistan and Myanmar in the 
         map are not members of SAARC)

LTTE: Heartland Imperilled

Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

On July 31, 2008, Government troops crossed the Mannar-Kilinochchi boundary to enter Kilinochchi District, the headquarters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), killing 20 militants and injuring another 35. Later, the 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) captured the Vellankulam Town, the northern-most town in the Mannar District, on August 2, 2008, and advanced up to the 29th milepost on the Mannar-Pooneryn Road, shifting the entire Division into the Kilinochchi District. With the capture of Vellankulam, the whole of the Mannar District came under the control of the Security Forces (SFs) for the first time in the North-East conflict. 

"The troops attached to the 58 Division killed 2,500 Tiger cadres in the Mannar battlefront by the time it completely liberated the Mannar District from the clutches of the LTTE and stepped into Kilinochchi District, the last stronghold of the LTTE," the General Officer Commanding of the 58th Division, Brigadier Shavendra Silva disclosed. The troops on the Mannar front had begun their operation in September 2008.

Earlier, SLA’s 57th Division, advancing towards the Thunukkai and Mallavi Towns, the second most important administrative centres of the LTTE, on July 24, 2008, captured the Vavunikkulam Tank area in the Mullaitivu District and another 10 square kilometres adjacent to the Tank. The Army also repulsed the Tiger’s attempt to re-establish their hold on the area on July 25, 2008. The troops recovered the dead bodies of 36 militants out of the more than 55 killed during the entire operation, reportedly the largest recovery of dead bodies of militants by the SFs in the Wanni. At least eight senior LTTE cadres, including "Lieutenant Colonel" Pallavan and "Major" Ambumani, of the 'Charles Anthony Brigade’ (one of the oldest and highly trained infantry units of the LTTE) were among those killed. Ground sources confirmed that Tiger cadres were withdrawing from the area further towards Kilinochchi following the attack.

Prior to that, at least 22 Black Tigers [cadres of the suicide wing of the LTTE] were killed when Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) fighter jets carried out an air attack targeting an LTTE training centre in the Udayarkattikkulam area East of Iranamadu in the Mullaitivu area on July 22, 2008. SLAF intelligence confirmed that a group of Black Tigers were engaged in a rehearsal at the time of the air attack. Udayarkattikkulam area is considered a nerve centre of the LTTE in the Mullaitivu District and had been used for special training for its leaders.

These major military successes on the Northern Front clearly defied the LTTE’s rhetoric about a ‘strategic retreat’ in the East to guard their Wanni heartland, and their insistence that they retained capacities to strike back. On July 15, 2008, itself, LTTE’s Military spokesman, Rasiah Ilanthirayan, released a statement to the effect that, "The President’s military approach to overcome the LTTE would never succeed as the cadres were as strong as ever. The LTTE would not lose its battle for Eelam." He had challenged the Government to enter the Wanni and ‘face defeat’. Balasingham Nadesan, chief of the political wing of the LTTE, on July 21, 2008, had similarly argued, "We have always used many different tactics and strategies to deal with such (military) offensives. We have repeatedly demonstrated our ability to convert the Sri Lankan Government offensives into our favour… Our forces will undertake any military actions that are needed to evict the occupying Sri Lankan armed forces from our homeland."

The current operations in the LTTE heartland, however, clearly demonstrate that the LTTE, which has lost some 11,106 cadres since the commencement of the offensive in July 2006, according to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, has weakened considerably and the Government troops are now at striking distance of the organisation’s headquarters in Kilinochchi. Intelligence sources are reported to have disclosed that a vertical dam is being erected around what is thought to be LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran’s bunker in Wanni, and a deep underground railway tunnel is being constructed as an escape plan in the event the SFs capture Kilinochchi.

Corroborating these assessments, Army Chief Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, on July 18, disclosed that the LTTE had now lost nearly two thirds of its manpower and land area to the SFs. Earlier, on June 30, 2008, speaking to members of the Foreign Correspondents Association, Fonseka asserted that "the LTTE has lost the capability of fighting as a conventional army. Although they are (still) fighting us, they (are) not (fighting) in the same manner as was in the past. That type of resistance is not there anymore." Fonseka added, further, "We do not just go for terrains, but we go for the kill. This is the difference between the military operations in the past and the present. I am sure the LTTE will totally lose even their present capability in less than one year. Then they will resort to a totally different type of tactic."

Before entering the LTTE heartland in Mullaitivu, troops persistently attacked the LTTE bases in Mannar and Vavuniya and regained control over a considerable stretch of land and sea-coast. According to a June 30, 2008, SLA report, the troops attached to the 57th and 58th Divisions had ‘liberated’ 1,084 square kilometres in Vavuniya, Mannar and Mullaitivu Districts.

Some of the major Military successes on the Northern front earlier in 2008 include:

July 27: SFs captured the Sugandan base, part of the LTTE’s 1-4 base complex in the Mullaitivu jungle. The Sugandan satellite base was a small base which was being used by the LTTE cadres for communications.

July 20: Troops captured the biggest LTTE base at Illuppukadavai, 10-kilometres north of Vedithalthivu, in the Mannar District. 15 militants and a soldier were reportedly killed and two soldiers wounded during the clashes over the preceding two days.

July 16: Troops captured the biggest Sea Tiger (sea wing of the LTTE) base in the North Western coastal town of Vedithalthivu in the Mannar for the first time after the early 1990’s. More than 70 militants were killed during the operation.

July 11: Army troops took full control of the Nedunkandal town, about 16 kilometres north east of Periyamadu in the Mannar District. Similarly, troops also captured Navvi, another small town about 15-km northwest of Omanthai.

July 4: 17 militants were killed as the troops captured the LTTE’s strategic Michael Base. The Michael Base, part of the 1-4 Base, is located seven kilometres north of Janakapura, is similar to the Munnagam base – the first base in the 1-4 base complex captured earlier – an underground structure.

June 27: At least 25 LTTE militants were killed and an unspecified number of them injured as SFs captured the LTTE’s strategic ‘5-4 Base’.

Another 25 LTTE militants were killed and two soldiers sustained injuries as the SFs engaged in ‘Operation Rice Bowl’ on the Mannar Front, fully captured the Andankulam area and 13 square kilometres surrounding it.

June 26: Troops operating on the Mannar front captured two and half square kilometres of land between Chalampan and Marattikannaddi on the Andankulam-Vedithalthivu Road in Mannar District totally cutting off to the LTTE supply routes from Mannar Northwards to the Pooneryn Road.

June 14: At least eight LTTE militants were killed and eight others injured as the troops, in a fierce offensive operation, captured a strategically important LTTE-held area in the Mannar District and brought the whole tank area under their control.

June 8: At least 17 LTTE militants and six soldiers were killed as the troops stormed the outfit’s 1-4 base at five places and captured a 500-600 metre stretch of land in the Ethawatunuwewa area of Vavuniya District.

June 4: 30 LTTE militants were killed as the troops captured a one-kilometre stretch of the Main Defence Line of the LTTE covering the Mannar 'Rice Bowl', by reaching the edge of the 'Rice Bowl' north of Adampan.

May 29: 14 LTTE militants were killed and 42 others injured as SFs captured ‘Munnagam’, one of the outfit’s major strategic bases, in the Janakapura area of Vavuniya District.

May 17: The troops captured Palampiddi Junction in the Mannar District, killing 13 LTTE militants.

May 9: The troops captured the strategic Adampan town in Mannar District. At least 15 LTTE cadres were killed and several others injured in the incident. Two soldiers were killed and seven others injured in action.

May 3: The troops captured a roughly 1.5 square kilometre stretch of land in the LTTE-held territory of Periyakulam in the Mannar District, killing 10 militants and injuring 10 others. Two soldiers were wounded during the clashes.

May 1: Advancing troops captured the LTTE-held Karukkakulam town in the Mannar District, killing at least 15 militants. One soldier was killed in the incident.

April 30: At least 40 LTTE militants, including a leader, were killed and several others wounded as the troops captured the outfit’s 18-Base in the Veppankulam and Kallikulam areas of Mannar District. Six soldiers were injured in the operation.

April 23: 169 militants and 43 soldiers are reported to have died in a fierce gun-battle between the SFs and the LTTE cadres in and around Muhamalai Forward Defence Line (FDL) in the Jaffna District. While 120 soldiers were wounded in the encounter, 33 soldiers were reported missing.

April 21: In a pre-dawn attack, troops captured ‘Lima-3’, the LTTE main operation base in Mannar, located east of Kathankulam. A stretch of about 1,300 metres also came under the troops’ control, while seven militants were killed in the operation. Four soldiers were wounded in the incident.

March 11: In a pre-dawn attack, troops captured the immediate areas adjacent to the Sinnaodaippu sluice gates, after advancing about 500 metres to the east of Mannar. Four militants were killed while three soldiers sustained injuries in the fight.

January 30: The SFs captured the LTTE’s Muhamalai, Nagarkovil and Kilali FDLs in the Jaffna District, destroying 35 LTTE bunkers. 30 militants were killed and an unspecified number injured during the operations, in which seven soldiers also sustained injuries.

Nevertheless, severely hit by depleting resources, both in terms of men and materials, the Tigers are attempting to replenish their capacities to fight back.

To augment their war-chest, the Tigers have started an extortion drive among Government servants living in un-cleared areas (areas not under Government control), forcing each of them to contribute SLR 4,000 from their salary to the outfit, according to the Military spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, on the basis of information gathered from civilians fleeing these areas. "Even the pensioners have not been left out of this, as they too are forced to contribute SLR 4,000 out of their pension," Nanayakkara added, stating, further, "There is an indication that the LTTE is making a major effort to defend their remaining strongholds in the Wanni and recalling ex-LTTE cadres back to the organisation for this exercise." According to a July 14, 2008, report, the outfit has also made about 200,000 people or 40,000 families living in the area under their control "virtual prisoners" and forcibly conscripted boys and girls who had just reached 17 years of age. "Recently, the LTTE was telling the people that the 1990-born were going to be the final batch obliged to join them and the war would then be over. But from 2007, the LTTE was in fact conscripting those who had reached 17. Presently they are appealing to those who are 16 to join voluntarily, but have not begun conscripting them," the report added.

Although the LTTE, on July 21, announced that they would observe a unilateral cease-fire during the period of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Colombo from July 26 to August 4, 2008, in the same breath, they rejected the any prospects of peace-talks. Balasingham Nadesan, declared, "It is impossible to hold peace talks when one party, the Government of Sri Lanka, is undertaking large-scale military offensives." Meanwhile, the Government, remains on the military offensive despite its claims that it is committed to a ‘political solution’ to the conflict, arguing that military action is necessary to implement an ‘equitable political solution’. The LTTE’s cease-fire offer was, consequently, brusquely rejected.

It is evident that Colombo currently wishes to see this war out to a finish, hoping that the present impetus can be sustained to the point of a decisive victory. It is also clear, as the Army asserts, that the rebels no longer have the capacities for conventional warfare that they had demonstrated in earlier phases of the movement. What remains to be seen is whether the LTTE still retains a sufficient capacity to mount paralysing terrorist operations outside the theatres of conventional warfare, and whether these can, in fact, undermine Colombo’s determination to push for a final victory.

[South Asian Intelligence Review]



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