On Thursday the Tigers took four buses which ply between Batticaloa and Valaichenai. The incident occurred near the spot where more than forty soldiers were killed very recently. Troops were tense. Traffic was held up for a long time. It was apparent that the army was worried that the buses had been taken for the purpose of mounting an attack on its exposed positions in the interior to the southwest or its semi- beleagured camps on the road from Chenkaladi to Valaichenai. Many usually well informed local people were, however, of the opinion that the vehicles had been taken by the LTTE to transport villagers in areas under their control to meetings which are being held widely to mark the Annai Poopathy week.
On Friday the Tigers attacked the commandos of the elite Special Task Force at Pulukunawa, a remote village in the Ampara district, killing more than sixteen of them. Though there may be little connection between the attack and the hijacking of the buses, it is still difficult to rule out the distinct possibility of the vehicles being used in preparations for a major offensive in the east which in the LTTE's view may thoroughly tilt the military balance in the region in their favour. The army on the road between Valaichenai and Chenkaladi might for sure heave a sigh of relief only in the event of the buses being recovered or returned in the near future without incident. There are seven military camps between Valaichenai and Chenkalady - a distance of eight miles. Of these the camps at Kinnaiady and Kalmadu which is near Kalkudah, control vulnerable approaches to the main road from the sea and from the interior. A camp was established at Kaluwankerni on the coast east of Vantharumoolai to control the increasing activities of the Sea Tigers in the area which had made the army's positions on Chenkaladi - Valaichenai road doubly vulnerable. Despite this the security forces have been taking very heavy casualties on this route. First, the army lost more than sixty five soldiers (according to a local body count) in an encounter at Santhiveli, after which a camp was set up near the place and then at Mavadivempu it took more forty five casulaties - which later increased to about fifty two.
Why is the army so vulnerable in this relatively small area despite having such a large number of camps? The answer to this will throw some light on the general security situation in this part of the island. The control of the trunk road between Chenkaladi and Valaichenai, which is a vital segment of the Main Supply Route to the district on its north western side, is precarious because immediately to its west and to its north lie vast areas which are held by the LTTE.
The area covered by the seven army camps is therefore like a fragile islet in a hostile wilderness. It takes hours every day for the army to clear short distances on the road before it can allow any traffic, including its own, to pass. This daily routine has become quite dangerous now. It is also sapping the strength of the camps. Though this is a high risk area, the situation which obtains in other sectors of the Batticaloa district is more or less the same. The military balance in Batticaloa can be tentatively described as follows: The government is trying to ensure its hold on the district despite withdrawing a substantial number of troops to the north, by controlling three of the five strategic access routes to the region. The three area, the Welikanda - Batticaloa road, the Kalmunai - Batticaloa road and the network of narrow dust roads from the Central Camp - Bakkiella area in the Ampara district to Mandoor and Vellaveli in the Batticaloa district. The other vital access routes - the road from Maha Oya to Chenkaladi is under the full control of the LTTE beyond the derelict village of Pullumalai. The coastal road from Mutur to Batticaloa is in the hands of the Tigers between Kiliveddi and Kayankerni which is a few kilometers north of Valaichenai. The three main access routes which are under the control of the security forces are under constant pressure from the Tigers who hold the hinterlands on the edges of which these routes lie. The Welikanda - Batticaloa road is held by the army and the other two access routes are supervised by the STF. The strength of the army and the STF in their respective areas of operation seems to be adequate only to keep the routes precariously safe enough to ensure civilian and military traffic during daytime. They do not obviously have the ability or power to 'soften' LTTE positions in the hinterlands. The security forces have engaged in major offensives like Operation Rivikirana and small scale Special Forces operations in the hinterlands to take the pressure of the three access routes. The massacre of twenty-six STF commandos in Vellaveli and the attack at Vantharumoolai show that the major offensives which were aimed at destroying the LTTE's military potential in the interior quite substantially, have had no effect. Such offensives in the past were meant to keep the Tigers on the run, giving them little time between one major operation and the other to regroup and reestablish vital supply bases and sources. Despite reports in the press that the recent big operations into the Tiger held hinterlands - the most popular in the military communique being Thoppigala have been quite successful in dispersing the LTTE. The pressure keeps increasing almost daily on the access routes which are under security forces control. Ex-Tamil militants who have undertaken deep penetration operation into the Thoppigala area say that the LTTE maintains vast base complexes there with permanent concrete structures which do not, according to them, seem to have been touched by artillery fire. The LTTE's military network is so large in this area and supplemented by widely-strewn groups of auxillary forces that it is virtually impossible to score a hit and make a safe withdrawal they say. Although this may be the case in the Thoppigala and Vakarai regions, Special Forces operations have been somewhat more successful in bringing some pressure on the LTTE's mobility in the Paduvankarai hinterland. This is mainly due to the influence which the Mohan's group still retains there. Special Forces Ops are carried out on a smaller scale by other Tamil groups as well. In Eelam War Two the Mohan group operating with commandos of the Special Forces regiment were quite successful in bringing the LTTE's activities in Paduvankarai almost to a standstill after it ambushed and killed serveral key Tiger leaders including David. Special Forces Ops are facilitated greatly in this region by the pervasive intelligence network cultivated and maintained by Mohan and his boys. They have an exceptionally large number of informants, infiltrators and moles who help them pick their targets with extreme precision. They have also been able to place explosive devices in Tiger camps. But the LTTE seems to have become really alarmed after Mohan ambushed and killed Kalanesan and another Tiger who was travelling with him. Kalanesan was at that time believed to be the chief of LTTE's civilian intelligence organisation. It was discovered later, according to Mohan's associates, that the person who was killed along with Kalanesan, was Tharma, supposed to be the most senior operative in the LTTE's intelligence wing in the district. Such S.F. operations being the most effective way of hitting at the LTTE now, Mohan has become indispensable to the government which at one time cried foul, at the work of his 'handlers' in the military intelligence like 'Captain Munaz'. It has to therefore turn a blind eye to some of his non-military activities which in the past drew flak from human rights groups. However, the withdrawal of the larger portion of the Special Forces regiments to the north for the purpose of carrying on a counter insurgency campaign against the LTTE in the Valikamam sector and the closure almost all the camps in the interior, have now placed severe limitations on the operations of the Mohan group. This has been further compounded by the manner in which the LTTE has devised its counter strategy.
Firsty, the Tigers withdrew all their important leaders to bases in the deep jungles about which Mohan and the military intelligence seem to have very scanty information. This happened soon after the killing of Tharma and Kalanesan. It was widely reported at that time that Karikalan, who was the most prominent of those who were 'withdrawn' thus, had been recalled to Jaffna by the Tiger leadership which was not happy with his statements to the press. Karikalan in fact never went to Jaffna but remained in one of the remote base complexes, appearing regularly to meet the public at the LTTE office in Vakarai. No one it should be pointed out here, is able to carry out Special Forces operations in the vast Vakarai region. There are few or no ex-Tamil militants or LTTE surrendees who know the area or who can cultivate a stable network of informants and infiltrators. This makes the Vakarai region virtually free of the deep penetration operations which seem to be a greater headache to the LTTE than large scale offensives. Secondly, the LTTE has taken to road and area clearing operations before they permit their leaders to move into places considered vulnerable to S.F. ambush and attack. The public have to sometimes wait till eleven thirty in the morning at the LTTE office in Arasadythivu near Kokkaddicholai to meet officials. One rarely comes across key Tiger leaders in the Paduvankarai region now. But one can see many ordinary cadres going about on motorbykes - some of which were captured from the army in Koduvamadu near Chenkaladi. The LTTE has also made matters worse for Special Forces Ops by deploying auxiliary forces drawn from the large population of dispossessed paddy and chena cultivators in the hinterlands who were driven out of their lands during Eelam War Two by the army which believed that the prevention of cultivation could deprive the Tigers of essential food supplies - a method which appears to have worked in South America and Malasiya. The presence of these militias which are armed with the FLN self-loading rifles now considered redundant by the LTTE, according to Mohan's boys, has made safe withdrawals after attacks in the interior virtually impossible in certain regions. They also say that LTTE surrendees are of little use these days because they (surrendees) do not know much about the key camps in the interior. Therefore, with the major offensives not producing the desired effect in the hinterlands and with the S.F. operations losing their former impact, the task of taking the steadily increasing pressure on the three access routes to the Batticaloa district, off has become impossible. On the other hand the LTTE has made the following gains:
a) undisputed control of all the strategic hinterlands of the district plus the southern extreme of the Trincomalee district which is contiguous with Vakarai.
b) the ability to destabilise the three main supply routes at will, an ability which may eventually become power to interdict all military movement on them if the government were to concentrate in the north for a sufficiently long period.
c) the control of a large stretch of coast south of Ilankaithurai Muhathuvaram in Trincomalee district to north of the Kalkudah bay.
d) Recruitment. The Tigers have opened three recruitment centres (called Puthiya Poralihal Inaiyum Seyalaham in Tamil) in the Kokkaddicholay, Arasadithivu and Paddipalai. In recent months 47 boys and girls have joined the organisation from the village of Kokkaddicholai alone. A steady flow of recruits is reported from almost all the villages in the hinterlands.
This briefly is the fate of all the vast investments that the military made in pacifying the east between 1990 and 1994. Can the new investment made in the Jaffna peninsula yield dividends which can offset the abandonment of the vast investment of military resources in the east?
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