Desperation is best seen when an organization resorts to the same abortive measure to overcome its present sorry situation. The LTTE's latest attempt to attack the Army Forward Defence in Muhamalai on Wednesday (April 23) shows nothing other than its utter desperation to resuscitate its shattering image amid ever increasing defeats it suffers at the hands of Sri Lankan Security Forces.
However, Wednesday's battle has drawn a range of interpretations, including some Anti-Sri Lankan forces that call it a great military debacle. The usual terror stooges in media are enraptured on the deaths and casualties of the security forces, calling it a great achievement of the terrorists. A website named "Lanka e- news" even went to the extent of inflating the number army deaths to mislead the public. This website unashamedly said that 143 army bodies had been taken over by undertakers following the battle. By the way, the army casualty figures led to mixed sentiments even among people who love their country, on what has really happened at the battlefront.
Against this backdrop, defence.lk contacted high-ranking military authorities to clarify the controversies surrounding the battle. Army Chief, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka gave a frank and elucidatory debrief of the operation to media personnel at Army Headquarters last afternoon. The followings are the facts disclosed at the meeting.
In the Jaffna theatre of operations, the Sri Lanka army holds its Forward Defence positions on three frontiers,i.e. Kilaly, Muhamalai and Nagarkovil defences (see map). The Kilaly and Muhamalai defence lie adjacent to each other while a loch separates the Nagarkovil defence from the rest. The width of the Muhamalai and Kilaly Forward Defence Line (FDL) is about 8 km and the extent of the "no man's land" between these and the LTTE's first bunker line is about 700m. Sri Lanka Army 53 division holds the Kilaly front while 55 Division holds the Muhamalai front.
Defence intelligence reports based on observations made at the battlefronts during last two weeks had indicated intensified activities at the LTTE defences, alerting troops to a possible attack. Increased bunker construction, harassing fire, and artillery/mortar ranging made the troops to plan for an imminent defensive operation.
As explained by the Army Commander, the situation was so obvious that the terrorists had no option but to try again for the Jaffna peninsula to boost its dwindling confidence amid ignominious defeats in the Wanni theatre. As the countdown began for the terrorists to lose Madhu, the outfit made its third Sisyphean effort to capture Jaffna peninsula since 2006.
Offensive sans surprise
On Wednesday around 2.30 a.m., LTTE launched, what may call its first wave of attacks with heavy mortar shelling and ground attack. However, it became the first and the last wave of attack as LTTE met with an unexpected counter offensive by well-prepared soldiers.
Defensive to offensive
It is said in the art of war that victorious armies first win and then battle while defeated ones first battle and seek victory. At the Muhamalai front the army effectively defended its ground that it cannot afford to lose, and caused the terrorists to turn tail abandoning their mission. Then the battle commanders at the front took the initiative to give the maximum damage to the terrorists who were disorganized at the time, by turning the defensive to an offensive. Five battalions of 53 and 55 divisions stepped out from their defensive positions and were on the track of the enemy. Ultimately, the terrorists lost vital ground and a large number of their best fighting cadres to army.
By first light on Wednesday, Sri Lanka army infantrymen captured the LTTE's first line of defence. Soldiers of 55Division made their way relatively easier than the soldiers of 53 Division, due to high density mine fields and booby-traps they came across on their way. By 6.30 a.m., the whole 8 km stretch of Kilaly - Muhamalai Forward Defence Line was pushed 700m ahead (see map), i.e. on the LTTE's first line of defence.
Enemy fights back
Muhamalai is the gateway to the pivotal ground of LTTE's fighting capability. The harsh sandy terrain filled with mangroves and cactus plants that may be seen as unimportant to an ordinary person, is the pathway to the Wanni heartland. To the LTTE, losing the ground up to Elephant Pass under present conditions means nothing other than that the countdown has begun for its demise. As explained by the Army Commander, the Muhamalai defence is something the LTTE would expend its best resources to defend, and it is not something unexpected by Army.
With sunrise, the terrorists started their retaliation to avoid the army moving forward. Having registered the exact location of their own defence line, which was now occupied by the Army, LTTE directed a high intensity and indirect fire at the soldiers. According to the army officials over 1000 mortar shells mostly 82 mm type was fired at troops. Also, there was an occasional RCL and artillery fire including from 130 mm and 152 mm heavy artillery weapons.
Under these circumstances, the Army started to suffer a casualty rate of about 35 to 40 per hour. By11.30a.m., the Army tactically withdrew about 100m from the LTTE's first line and positioned themselves at best defendable ground. Within this 5 hour period, i.e. 6.30- 11.30, the Army too gave a heavy beating to the terrorists, using heavy artillery and rockets, while the ground troops valiantly held their positions giving required assistance to the indirect weapon commanders in the back. It is this unwavering commitment of the infantrymen that contributed most to the great damage caused to the enemy (see map).
According to monitored radio transmissions, names of 119 LTTE cadres have been declared as dead in the Muhamalai battle at the time of writing this report (see list). Ground troops have confirmed at least 160 terrorists were killed or critically wounded. Further, 300 others are reported to have suffered injuries (see list).
The estimated strength of LTTE in the Muhamalai defence is about 800 cadres and the radio transmissions indicated that 50% of LTTE strength was hors de combat during the battle. In the overall battle for the LTTE, Theepan, and his 2nd Muhundan were heard wailing over the radios to hold the 2nd and 3rd lines which were then requesting orders to retreat. LTTE leaders for the Muhamalai sector were Jerry and Double Alfa (AA) and for the Kilaly sector were Kumanan and Kutti. At one time one of these leaders was heard speaking to Lawrence, the terror leader for Nagarkovil front that all the cadres he had sent from Nagarkovil had perished.
Electronic Warfare cells in the Wanni theatre heard of the transporting of canters and busloads of casualties to hospitals in Kilinochchi, and Mulaithiuvu.
According to military reports, the 55 division lost 20 soldiers and 53 Division lost 60 soldiers, including 33 who were unable to merry-up with troops. Also, 352 soldiers suffered injuries out of which only 169 were airlifted to Colombo, including 109 who underwent immediate medical treatments. It was reported that among the soldiers who were taken for immediate medical treatments, over 30 were due to anti-personnel mine explosions. However, at the time of writing the number of soldiers who made ultimate sacrifices in this battle is settled at 80.
Army lost over 30 personnel weapons during the battle while no damages were caused to heavy weaponry. The mechanised infantry or tanks were not deployed in the attack though some of the armoured vehicles were used from their original locations to give covering fire.
Rationale behind the attack
Refuting claims made by certain parties that Muhamalai was a great debacle, the Army Commander explained his strategy to defeat terrorism and the reality of the battle.
According to the Commander, a veteran infantryman whose capabilities are well better known to the terrorists than many others, the number of army casualties is nowhere near what could be termed a military debacle. He explained that not all battles are cake walks and there will be times like this where the LTTE will be pushed to expend its best fighting cadre and resources but with no significant gain. Few more such attempts will bring the LTTE to its breaking point from which it would soon meet its fate, he explained. This is the army's present strategy to fight terrorism, he added.
Explaining the present situation further, the Army Chief said that LTTE has been so reluctant to spend his best fighting cadres after the fall of the East. At present, it is encountering a severe manpower shortage and the majority of the cadres deployed in the Wanni fronts have been found to be forcibly conscripted youths, sea tigers and those recruited for the tiger police, he said. The strategy would be to push the LTTE to introduce its best fighting reserve to the battlefront and to meet them with equal force, he added.
Speaking on the day of the 2nd anniversary of the failed suicide bomb blast attempt on his life, the Army Chief said that his soldiers know the reality of battle and they are well prepared to meet the enemy.
He further explained that previous strategies used were aimed at gaining the ground rather than destroying the enemy. This resulted in many military setbacks through which the LTTE built its huge image as an impregnable terrorist outfit. Now the soldiers have not only challenged the LTTE's image but also put the terrorists into an utterly desperate situation.
The Army Chief explained that there are some people who may gain some sadistic pleasure by hearing of a high rate of army casualties. These people would not be satisfied by whatever casualty figures given by army and would continue to inflate the figures to damage and belittle soldiers' sacrifices. He emphasized that "all these soldiers have died in fighting for the country fearlessly but not while running away from the enemy. Soldiers know the risk that they have to take in defeating terrorism and are ready to do it," he said. "It is a great shame that some degrade their commitment," he added.
Speaking about the enemy, the Army Chief said he would never underestimate the enemy. He said the LTTE has been fighting for over 30 years and thus was well organized and highly battle-oriented. If such an organization has been allowed to develop to its present extent, the battle to defeat it should not be expected to be one without own casualties, he said. The important fact is that the soldiers now have the necessary equipment, and high morale backed by the right political leadership to meet this challenge, he added.
Finally, the Army Commander said that during his term of office he has prepared all the battlefronts to meet this challenge. For the Jaffna front alone, the strength has been increased from 27,000 to 34,000 with an additional two reserve divisions to meet the enemy. He expressed his confidence that if the present trend continues the battle will definitely take a decisive turn before the end of this year.