Despite stiff resistance and infiltration attempts, defeat looms large for the LTTE, that is fighting to hold on to its rapidly shrinking terrain, as government troops forge ahead to gain complete control of the guerrillas final stronghold of Puthukkudiyiruppu.
The government on Thursday announced the capture of the Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital which was used by the LTTE as an artillery and heavy mortar launching pad against the advancing troops.
Troops of the Sri Lanka Army 53 division and Task Force 8 faced heavy resistance from the guerillas as they began to fire at the advancing troop positions. The intense battle was reported to have lasted several hours. The troops were later backed by rounds of artillery which were followed by support given by the T-55 Main Battle Tank. Eventually the troops managed to overpower the LTTE in a tactical assault which led to the death of at least 12 cadres.
|Troops involved in clearing up operations in the vicinity of Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital. Pix courtesy Army Media
According to military sources, when troops moved into the hospital premises LTTE cadres had burnt the tyres of the ambulances, medicine and vaccines before fleeing the area. Since the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) evacuated the remaining patients at the hospital to hospitals in Vavuniya and Trincomalee via land and sea routes, the LTTE had begun to use the hospital as a command and battle co-ordination centre, the military said.
Last week several attempts made by the LTTE to penetrate the troop defence lines were foiled. Heavy fighting was reported to have erupted in areas such as Mulliyaveli, Kuppilankulam, Puthumatallan and Mullaitivu town. According to military reports several rebels were killed in the fighting while several soldiers too suffered casualties.
Last Sunday a team of the army’s elite Special Forces was sent to a position South of Puthukkudiyiruppu. Their mission was to regain control of a massive earth bund that had been recaptured by the guerrillas and to prevent further LTTE infiltration.
Despite the terrain being water logged due to the torrential rain, a tactical assault was carried out on the LTTE that was holding on the bund at the tip of the Chalai lagoon. The Special Forces team was successful in regaining the area which has now been strengthened with additional troops.
The following day, the LTTE attempted to breach the defences of the Task Force 8 troops operating West of Puthukkudiyiruppu. Tiger guerrillas equipped with small arms had started firing incessantly resulting in troops retaliating.
There were reports that among the Tigers were sarong clad men and children carrying assault rifles and firing at troop positions. Many of them had eventually fled the scene. Later it transpired that the LTTE had been carrying out a massive recruitment of civilians and children from the civilian “no fire zone” to use them in the frontlines. They were said to have been given a basic weapons training under the instructions of a senior “commander” before being forcibly pushed into the frontlines.
The Military says it has received reports that “commanders” , Bhanu, Soosai, Lawrence and Swarnam were planning a diversionary guerrilla attack to breach troop defence lines. Following such reports troops have begun consolidating their positions to thwart such enemy advances.
These reports were based on aerial surveillance carried out by the Sri Lanka Air force Unmanned Vehicles (UAV) on March 5 that indicated LTTE movements North of Puthukkudiyiruppu.
Due to the intelligence received the 55 and 58 divisions managed to foil yet another LTTE infiltration attempt in the North of Puthukkudiyiruppu and South of Palamattalan on March 7. There was an exchange of fire that lasted for several hours where cadres from the LTTE’s Imran-Pandiyan brigade, considered one of the most powerful fighting formations, had taken part in the offensive and had perished.
The LTTE is facing severe setbacks after their loss of several leaders. Last Wednesday the LTTE’s chief of the Financial Division Subarathnam Selvaturai alias Thamilendi was confirmed killed.
In what is seen as yet another blow to the Tigers, last week, military intelligence reports confirmed the death of Sea Tiger leaders, “Lt. Colonel” Saleem, “Lt. Colonel” Ambalanan and ‘Lt. Colonel” Eleel Chelvan. The Black Tiger leaders who were killed last week were identified as “Lt. Colonel” Maran, “Major” Tamil Maran, “Major” Malar Shamal, “Captain” Kalai Kadirawan and “Captain” Kala Enivan.
Meanwhile troop advance is being hampered by the torrential rains in the Mullaitivu district. Due to the terrain being water logged military operations are being delayed causing logistics difficulties for both sides. Several temporarily built bridges and roads had been washed away, separating several areas and posing a challenge for the forces to move heavy equipment and casualties.
It has now come to light that the LTTE too is experiencing similar obstacles due to the heavy rain. Intercepted radio communication messages among LTTE leaders have revealed that the ground level guerillas are unable to fulfill their logistical requirements due to the downpour.
In the final push to capture the whole of Puthukkudiyiruppu, it has transpired that the LTTE had plans to use chemical weapons against advancing troops. Troops of the 57 division that were carrying out a search operation in north of Udayarkattukulam on March 5, uncovered 16 chemical resistant costumes and 17 gas masks which were clear indications of guerrilla intentions.
In previous battles the LTTE had used chemical gases against the troops which were generally used in close quarter attacks.
Last Wednesday, Sri Lanka Army 18,Gajaba Regiment infantrymen attached to the 58 Division, that conducted search and clearing operations in Ampalavanpokkanai, North of Mullaithivu made a startling discovery of spare parts of Tiger aircraft. The spare parts were concealed inside oil barrels, which were unearthed by the troops. The troops had unearthed aircraft tires, batteries, engine parts, direction lights and several other aircraft items.
The Sunday Times has reliably learnt that the government’s Defence establishment has taken steps to work with Interpol to identify and take appropriate steps against those who had been providing weapons and military hardware to the LTTE.
Meanwhile following last Tuesday’s suicide bomb attack in Akuressa the government has adopted stringent security measures to prevent the LTTE from carrying out more such attacks outside the theater of conflict.
The Sunday Times revealed on March 1, how Intelligence Services had learnt that as LTTE-held terrain rapidly came under government control, the Tigers would target civilian, military and non-military strategic targets in an attempt to divert attention from the theater of conflict and prevent or even slow down the momentum of advancing troops. Such attacks were expected to follow as the Tigers lose their capability of carrying out a conventional military operation.
The guerrillas are presently confined to an area less than 35 square kilometres and that terrain is shrinking at a rapid speed, the military says.