4th June 2000
The situation report from the Special Media Information Centre (SMIC), the only official source of information on the high intensity war in the Jaffna peninsula, last Tuesday, said a little more than what it sought to.
And that too at a time when Sri Lankans, and the outside world, are denied any independent reportage in view of the toughest ongoing censorship in the nation's history and a prolonged ban on media visits to operational areas.
First to the SMIC situation report:
"On 29 May 2000 troops occupying forward defences in general areas Chavakachcheri, Ariyalai and Sarasalai advanced from two locations towards enemy held area. Troops supported by Artillery and Mortars assaulted a bunker line of the terrorists. During this assault security forces inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy.
"Monitored LTTE transmissions revealed that a large number of terrorists were killed and wounded during the assault. Subsequent to the confrontation security forces recovered 14 dead bodies of terrorists. Seven soldiers were killed during the operation and 32 were wounded."
If the SMIC sitrep was the first official revelation that troops had launched their first major offensive since their humiliating withdrawal from the Elephant Pass Defence Complex, it also came as the first official admission that Tigers had taken up positions in Chavakachcheri, Ariyalai and Sarasalai.
That is not all. The Tigers had even dug in after setting up bunker lines in these areas, which had remained under security forces control for as recently as two weeks ago.
That was officially confirmed when the SMIC said "Troops supported by Artillery and Mortars assaulted a bunker line of the terrorists..."
Barring Tuesday's brief announcement about the offensive, where 14 Tigers and seven soldiers were killed, there has been no word from the SMIC of any further developments when troops "...advanced from two locations..."
It can be revealed that the operation began before the crack of dawn on Monday with troops, under cover of artillery and mortars, assaulted the LTTE's newly captured positions at Chavakachcheri, Ariyalai and Sarasalai. They met with stiff resistance during attacks at the first two LTTE positions. However, at Sarasalai troops fought fierce battles to push the LTTE by over two kilometres by late afternoon on Monday. However, later that evening, a heavy enemy thrust had forced the troops back to their original positions. By next morning, Tuesday, the operation was called off.
Despite no territorial gains during last Monday's offensive, the fact that an offensive operation was carried out after the battles in the Elephant Pass sector, signalled a significant development. Troops had regained their will to fight and demonstrated they were still responsive to calls for counter offensives. Buoying their morale, besides the repeated persuasion by their senior officers, was the arrival of new weaponry, more importantly the lethal Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL). If artillery and mortar shells rained earlier, only one at a time, things were now different in the battlefield.
Rockets from the MBRLs were spewing out fire, one after another, within seconds. The first few pieces of MBRLs that arrived from Pakistan was the subject of battlefield gossip. (See box story for new acquisitions by the Army) The vehicle mounted rocket launchers had the capacity to fire one rocket after another until its thirty barrels were emptied. In the alternative, it could empty all its thirty barrels at once. More lethal versions of the MBRLs were due to arrive in the battlefield soon.
"If it did not push the Tigers out of their newly gained positions, it definitely slowed their advance", a Government official from Chavakachcheri, who returned to Colombo last Thursday told The Sunday Times. Speaking on grounds of anonymity for obvious reasons,
"Some of the civilians have fled the area. Others are
troops to abandon the sprawling and strategic Elephant Pass defence complex last month, the LTTE has stepped up its military campaign in the peninsula. In what it calls phase three of 'Operation Oyatha Alaikal' (Ceaseless Waves), the LTTE has declared its aim is to re-capture the Jaffna peninsula, which has remained in Government hands since 1995.
Gaining control of Elephant Pass, Tiger attacked
forcing troops to re-adjust their defence lines further northwards to Eluthumaduwal. On the western flank, it extended to Kilaly and in the north east on a straight line up to Nagarkovil. Troops strengthened their positions in this sector after fears that a further advance through these localities, at least by five kilometres, would allow the LTTE to range artillery on the airfield at Palaly and the military port in Kankesanturai.
Instead of mounting pressure on this sector, in a surprise move, the LTTE launched attacks on Tanankilappu, Ariyalai and Navatkuli areas. These advances allowed them to extend their advance towards Kaithady, Sarasalai and Chavakachcheri areas and
As a result of the intense fighting, troops were forced to take up position on one side of the A-9 (Jaffna-Kandy) highway with the Tigers on the other side. (See map on this page)
It is to evict the Tigers from these positions that the troops launched the offensive last Monday. With the offensive being called off on Tuesday, battles in the subsequent days have been confined largely to artillery and mortar duels.
The relative quietness has prompted some sections of the defence establishment to conclude that the LTTE had now run out of steam after "suffering heavy casualties".
Following warnings from foreign intelligence channels, Sri Lanka last week alerted the Indian Navy through diplomatic channels of LTTE attempts to move in weapons through international waters in the north eastern seas. A Sri Lankan intelligence officer in Bangkok had also reported that Thai authorities had apprehended an LTTE ship, destined for north eastern waters, with a load of communications equipment and barrels of fuel.
He is also learnt to have alerted about another similar ship heading towards Sri Lanka with a load of military items.
Kankesanturai is the only port to which all military cargo and fuel supplies are consigned. The Palaly airfield is the only runway in the Jaffna peninsula where troops are transported in and out. Casualties are also airlifted from there.
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