Situation Report

31st December 2000

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LTTE's Stealth Boat tries to outsmart Sri Lanka Navy's Fast Attack Craft

The four dark blue boats, each with an outboard motor attached, were an exact look alike of the United States Air Force Stealth Bomber, though the sizes differed.

They were approximately 19 foot long and floated just above water, the aft jutting skywards and the fore bumping off the surface, as the 200 Horsepower Johnson engine went into full throttle. The scenes were reminiscent of speed boat races where high velocity thrusts propelled them into air in an up and down motion. 

Like the name implied, the Stealth Bomber, flew stealthily over the skies. The LTTE's Stealth Boat, whose existence came to light by chance, literally flew over the water at a speed of nearly 50 knots, one similar to a Navy Fast Attack Craft. 

Last October, in the jungles of Gangi, South East of Trincomalee, blue uniformed Sea Tiger cadres, armed with walkie talkies carried out practice runs. Their testing area was the waters of the Mahaweli, the country's longest river, as it wound its way through the Gangi jungles, before merging with the Indian Ocean at Koddiyar Bay.

The Stealth Boats were put through various paces, slow runs, quick turns, speed runs and other manoeuvres. The men with the walkie talkies spoke to the Sea Tiger seniors on the ground about performance details. After hours of running, they stopped to re-fuel. A closer look at the boat showed the crude fibre-glass construction. But from a distance, the appearance of the Sea Tiger Stealth Boats posed a unique sight. Sea Tiger cadres took turns running them. 

It is after several such practice runs that the Sea Tiger guerrillas planned a major assault on the Trincomalee Harbour, home for the Navy's Eastern Naval Area. On October 23 (Monday), Tiger suicide cadres successfully breached high security at the Dockyard. 

At the crack of dawn, when security at the mouth of the harbour was relaxed, "MV MERCS Hendala", a cargo vessel entered. It was heading for the Mitsui Jetty to load cement to be transported to Point Pedro.

Right behind, an explosive laden Tiger guerrilla boat with suicide cadres on board, followed right into the Inner Harbour area, a high security zone. The boat which came near A 541 (Lanka Rani) passenger craft exploded. The vessel obtained by the Navy from Ceylon Shipping Corporation for transport of civilians was in a Boat Pen with a Gun Boat alongside. Both were damaged.

Navy officials said three other explosive laden boats accompanied the one that entered the Inner Harbour. Two were destroyed by Navy patrol craft and a third, which was hit, had moved towards Mutur. They said the Tiger guerrilla boats entered the Inner Harbour whilst mortar fire was directed on that location and adjoining areas including Eastern Naval Area headquarters. The mortar fire came from Clappenburg, barely half a kilometre away from positions held by the Army and from Marble beach, on the slope of Diamond Hill, an area that juts into sea ahead of the harbour mouth.

Army launched an operation in these two areas whilst two Sri Lanka Air Force Mi-24 helicopters provided air cover. Above them, an SLAF Beechcraft hovered all three helping to co-ordinate the ground operations. One of the Mi-24 helicopters which veered out was hit by a Tiger guerrilla Surface to Air Missile and plunged into the sea. 

That killed four SLAF personnel including the Commanding Officer of the Mi-24 Squadron, Group Captain Jagath Rodrigo, an experienced pilot with a high rating. 

Their bodies and the wrecked helicopter were recovered on Tuesday. The second helicopter too had come under Surface to Air Missile fire but the Pilot had activated the counter missile system in time and was able to avoid being hit. 

It is now confirmed that the attack on the harbour was carried out by Sea Tiger Stealth Boats. The proof came when an Army-Navy joint operation with Sri Lanka Air Force air cover, in Clappenburg Bay area and Marble Beach, led to an interesting find. Some of those who were deployed to fire mortars were arrested. That included a video cameraman who has been filming every stage of Tiger guerrilla preparations to attack the Trincomalee Harbour. The unedited tape fell into the hands of the Security Forces. 

And that has given the authorities some startling details of a Sea Tiger modernisation, newer LTTE acquisitions and tactics.

The footage began with Sea Tiger Stealth Boats conducting trials in the Mahaweli River in the Gangi jungles. These boats moved at high speed, the fore jutting skywards and the aft periodically hitting water as it sped past the security net at the harbour mouth.

The video footage shows how the Tiger cadres loaded mortar shells on to bullock carts and transported them to Clappenburg and Marble Beach areas. They were then buried at various locations. It was the strike group which arrived in the area later that unearthed them. The leader of the group carried a map and gave instructions to his men where to dig. Soon they were unearthing Mortar Launchers and mortar shells. They were put in place and they began firing as the Stealth Boats made their way into the harbour.

The footage also shows how retaliatory fire from Army artillery guns and mortar launchers hit the Sea Tiger cadres. Flashes of red, like lightning, rent the air every time they were fired. Some cadres are shown with skin in their bodies peeled off. Others lay dead. Yet others were carried by their colleagues. The cameraman had even managed to obtain shots of the Stealth Boats speeding their way into the harbour and the loud noise of the explosion.

But a more significant part of the footage was about a Tiger guerrilla carrying a shoulder mounted suspected Stinger Surface to Air (SAM) Missile Launcher the first conclusive evidence that they were not only using SAMs more extensively but also the fact that they have now acquired adequate quantities of missiles for deployment in the east. Previously, Surface to Air Missiles have been fired on Sri Lanka Air Force aircraft almost entirely in the north. This confirmed that the Mi-24 helping troops helicopter was hit by a susptected Stinger missile. 

Shots of the Surface to Air Missile Launcher in the video footage is only for a few seconds. Evidently, the cameraman realised he should not have that footage on tape. This is because acquisitions were a secret and the Tiger guerrillas did not want the Security Forces to become aware of it. As for LTTE video footage, only parts of edited accounts were sent abroad in propaganda tapes which are sold in various world capitals having a Tamil concentration. 

A closer study of the seized video tape and an analysis of its contents gave the Security Forces not only some useful information but also vital clues to questions that have baffled them. For obvious reasons, one cannot delve into detail. But one factor that became clear is the close attention the LTTE has been paying to developing its Naval capability. Another more significant fact was how it was continuing to acquire and smuggle into Sri Lanka new military hardware in large quantities, like obtaining the Surface to Air Missiles. In other words, the easy flow of weaponry through the northern and north eastern seas continues thus highlighting a significant fact it has helped the LTTE to continue to sustain an increasingly high intensity war with the Security Forces. 

Towards this end, the Government is paying priority attention to modernise and develop the Navy. Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, on Thursday met the newly appointed Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, to discuss matters relating to this and other aspects. 

Vice Admiral Sandagiri, who has been promoted to the current rank from tomorrow, has an undaunting task as he takes over command. Whilst focusing on a series of top level changes, he also has to cope with some of the controversial issues facing the Sri Lanka Navy.

The next in line of seniority after Vice Admiral Sandagiri, Rear Admiral Terrance Sunderam, retires today after reaching the maximum of three years in the current rank. Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrema, is to replace him as the Commander of the Eastern Naval Area, headquartered in Trincomalee.

Rear Admiral A. H. M. Razeek was yesterday appointed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as the Navy's new Chief of Staff. Rear Admiral H. R. Amaraweera, who made a written claim to supersede seniority and had it turned down by the Ministry of Defence, will be the Navy's new Commander of the Southern Naval area. 

How to effectively use some of the recent controversial procurements will undoubtedly receive Vice Admiral Sandagiri's attention. Main among them is the acquisition of the two Israeli built, more than 20 year old, Offshore Patrol Vessels. Reports of periodic break-downs have begun to worry Naval authorities.

Another factor he would undoubtedly have to evaluate is the Navy's move to establish an Air Wing. Whilst the defence authorities have accepted in principle the establishment of an Air Wing, how it should function has remained a subject of concern. Earlier plans envisaged the Navy setting up its own maintenance facilities in addition to training crews, stocking spares and setting up its own network of landing facilities. 

It has been pointed out that calling upon the Sri Lanka Air Force to provide support facilities would not only save enormous costs but also enable the Navy to use its infrastructure. Defence Ministry sources said the matter was being closely examined since only the nucleus of an Air Wing was being formed by the Navy to operate on an Indian built OPV for the time being. Prohibitive costs and other priorities prevented the immediate setting up of a fully fledged Air Wing, these sources said.

LTTE's offer of a Christmas eve, month long unilateral ceasefire came in the backdrop of strong evidence the Government has acquired about LTTE re-arming and re- grouping itself. One aspect is the development of the Sea Tiger capability. LTTE's own video footage has given the strong evidence.

Even if the LTTE declared it would enforce the month long ceasefire on its own and only engage in defensive action, the Security Forces at dawn yesterday indicated they were not going to slow down. They launched the eighth stage of "Operation Kiniheera," to continue their thrust towards the Jaffna town, along the A-9 (Jaffna-Kandy highway). This was by seizing areas west of the Navatkuli bridge. 

Four hours after its launch, troops have captured the entire A-9 highway from Kodikamam, Eluthumaduval through Chavakacheri to Jaffna town a significant gain. A noteworthy feature, however, was the lack of heavy resistance from Tiger guerrillas. They had withdrown. Only two soldiers sustained minor sharpnel injuries due to Anti-Personnel Mines.

On hand to oversee the conduct of the operation from the Security Forces Headquaters in Jaffna were Chief of Defence Staff, General Rohan de S. Daluwatte, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle and Air Force Commander , Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody. 

It was conducted by Major General Susil Chandrapala Deputy SF Commander. The Commander Maj. Gen. Anton Wijendra was on leave.

As a result of yesterday's operation, there will be continuous mobility for the troops along the A-9 highway within the Jaffna peninsula.

The Government is set to continue with offensive operations as year 2001 dawns. It says it would consider a ceasefire only after talks begin with the LTTE. At least for the moment, the second year in the new Millennium dawns with war for the Government. 

For the LTTE, it is the dawn of a New Year where it has called off offensive action and says it would only indulge in defensive action for a month.

It has called upon the international community, particularly the United States, European Community members and India, to pressure the Sri Lanka Government to accept the ceasefire. 

The Government, which placed the nation on a "War Footing" only five months ago, now says that its re-iterated position is that a ceasefire could be considered when direct talks with LTTE begin. 

Even if the Government does accept the offer of peace talks through Norwegian facilitation, whether the LTTE would be forced to the negotiating table through military action will remain the crucial question in the New Year.

Sandagiri takes over as 14th Commander of Navy

Rear Admiral Daya Sandagiri has been promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral and named the 14th Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy by the Ministry of Defence. It takes effect tomorrow. The news of his appointment by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was conveyed to him by Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva on Tuesday. Rear Admiral Terrance Sunderam, Commander, Eastern Naval Area, the next senior-most Navy officer, did not receive an extension upon reaching the maximum in the rank he now holds. Hence, he retires today. Rear Admiral A. H. M. Razeek, Commander, Western Naval Area, was yesterday appointed Chief of Staff of the Navy by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga Vice Admiral Sandagiri is likely to formally assume duties on Tuesday. Tomorrow, there will be a send off guard of honour to the outgoing Commander, Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera, who was yesterday promoted to the rank of Admiral. Last night he was accorded a farewell dinner. On Tuesday afternoon, Vice Admiral Sandagiri is due to receive Air Vice Marshal Jalal-ud-din Ahmed, Chief of Air Staff, Bangladesh Air Force, who is on a six day official visit to Sri Lanka. Daya Wickrema Kumara Sandagiri counts 34 years experience in the Sri Lanka Navy, now fifty years old, and was the first Navy student at the Royal College of Defence Studies, UK. He was enlisted in the Royal Ceylon Navy on November 14, 1966 and was in the First batch of Naval Cadets to join the renowned Naval and Maritime Academy in Trincomalee on July 1, 1969. He was commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant in the Executive Branch on July 1, 1973. On successful completion of his professional training in Sri Lanka, he was sent to INS Valsura in India for the Sub Lieutenant Technical Course in 1971 and to INS Venduruthy in India for specialisation in Gunnery in 1975. Later, he graduated from the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington in India in 1984. Vice Admiral Sandagiri has served in almost all shore establishments of the Navy during his career. He was Commandant of the Naval & Maritime Academy which nurtured his Naval career. Also he had the distinction of serving as the Area Commander of the Northern, Eastern, Western and Southern Commands of the Navy for over four years. He has had the rare distinction of being appointed as the Director of Naval Operations by four Navy Chiefs in successions, Vice Admiral Asoka de Silva, Admiral Ananda Silva, Admiral Clancy Fernando and Admiral Mohan Samarasekera. He was appointed as the Chief of Staff on April 1, 1998 and was promoted Rear Admiral on 8th March, 1997. Vice Admiral Sandagiri was awarded the prestigious Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya in 1999. Among other medals awarded are Utthama Seva Padakkama and the North and East Operations Medal. A product of St. Mary's Maha Vidyalaya, Veyangoda and Kegalle Maha Vidyalaya, Kegalle, Vice Admiral Sandagiri is married with two children.

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