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Forces knocking on the gates of Tigers' last bastion

Mullaitivu terrain witnessing decisive battles in Wanni liberation:

Can Security Forces breach Tiger defences which turned out to be a killing field even for the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the late 1980's is the question raised by many people who are keen to know the latest developments in the ongoing military operations in the Wanni.


Lt.Col.Aruna Ariyasinghe, Lt.Col. Jaliya Senaratne, Lt.Col Priyantha Perera and Lt.Col. Chaminda Lamahewa discussing operational matters in Welioya Front. Pictures by Rukmal Gamage

The thick jungle terrain in Mullaitivu was the breeding grounds for LTTE cadres as these provided a safer haven for their terror activities and to train thousands of Tiger cadres unknown to the outside world. Even Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had chosen this thick jungle area as one of his hideouts during many phases of the Eelam War.

When the Indian Peace Keeping Force landed in Jaffna peninsula in the second phase of the Eelam War the LTTE decided to withdraw towards Kilinochchi and have their military bases in Mullaitivu. They dug underground bunkers inside thick jungle bases which had turned out to be impregnable bases in the successive battles in many phases of the Eelam War.

The history of the North East conflict provides many examples of how the LTTE turned of this strategic jungle patch into a killing field against the advancing troops at many occasions.

A major battle was fought in this Mullaitivu jungle patch when the Indian Peace Keeping Force was operating in the North-East to crush the LTTE activities there but they had to abandon their task after an entire battalion went missing in this killing field.

There were many battles in this jungle patch during the second phase of the Eelam War as troops based in Weli Oya sector launched Operation Akunupahara (Operation Thunder Strike) in 1991 under the overall command of Major General Denzil Kobbekaduwa to destroy Tiger military bases inside Mullaitivu jungles.

Brigadier Janaka Perera as the Brigade Commander of an independent Brigade and now Army Commander Sarath Fonseka then a Colonel as his Deputy conducted this operation for more than 30 days and destroyed Tiger bases in their advance from Gajabapura to Nityakaikulam but they withdrew from the jungle after destroying the Tiger bases.

Following those efforts troops continued to maintain military bases in Mullaitivu, Olumadu, Oddusudan to control Tiger activities to a certain level. However, the entire Mullaitivu area fell to the hands of the LTTE after they overran the Mullaitivu camp and troops withdrew from Oddusudan and Nedunkerni during the Wanni debacle.

Defending the Tiger bases in the Mullaitivu jungle has become the number one priority for the LTTE at this juncture as they are now losing many of their strongholds in Wanni which were earlier considered impregnable. First it was to maintain their prestige as a so-called liberation movement.

The second factor is the loss of jungle bases in the South of Mullaitivu will be a severe blow on the LTTE as this would affect their sea operations which are now confined to narrow stretch between Kokkuthuduvai to Chalai.

The loss of jungle bases in Mullaitivu means that the LTTE is losing Nayaru lagoon from which the LTTE used to launch attacks on Navy movements and to maintain their supplies to Wanni.


Munagam Base underground bunkers

Defeating the LTTE and destroying their military capabilities inside this thick jungle is also a key factor for the Security Forces in their bid to liberate the North in a similar effort they made in liberating the East by destroying their military capabilities inside the Thoppigala jungle.

Since the key assets of the Tiger outfit is hidden inside the bases inside this thick jungle terrain it is a must for the Security Forces to clear and dominate the area without leaving any room for the LTTE to reorganise themselves and counter-attack the Security Forces.

Due to these vital factors the battle now unfolding in the Mullaitivu jungles is now turning into one of the decisive battles in the current phase of the Eelam War.

Can Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran defend his jungle bases in the face of the fresh offensive launched by the Security Forces from the Weli Oya front is a big question mark before the public as well as the international community keenly following the developments of the battle front developments in the Wanni.

Therefore, the task before the 59 Division which was formed in January, this year under the command of Brigadier Nandana Udawatta has become a more challenging one as many predict that the fierce battles in the Wanni battle front are expected to erupt in the Weli Oya front advancing from Kokkuthuduvai to Kiriibbanvewa opening 12 kilometres long battle front.

So far the Security Forces have been successful in their efforts to crush the LTTE military capabilities in this jungle terrain. The troops attached to the 59 Division are now completely operating within the Mullaitivu district inside the Andankulam forest reserve south of Mullaitivu.

Three Brigades, 591 under the command of Lt. Colonel Aruna Ariyasinghe, 592 Brigade under the Command of Lt. Colonel Maneesha Silva and 593 Brigade under the Command of Lt Colonel Palitha Fernando and under the Acting Command of Lt. Colonel Jaliya Senaratne from three areas have advanced into the Andankulam forest reserve in the south of Mullaitivu is located in the Martime Pattu Division in the Mullaitivu district.

According to senior military officials from the three battle fronts now engaged in offensive operations in Weli Oya front, the Mullaitivu battle front would be the decisive front which can push the ongoing war into a turning point in the process of liberating the entire Wanni from the LTTE.

Though many experts predicted that the Mullaitivu jungle would be turned in to a killing field for the troops, the new concepts and strategies adopted by the troops in confronting the LTTE in this jungle terrain have made a vast difference in the operational methods of the Security Forces who are taking the upper hand in this jungle warfare.

Troops have adjusted to the jungle warfare pushing the LTTE into a desperate situation.

Due to the lack of manpower the LTTE is adopting explosives and trappings to delay the troops' advance rather than confronting the troops face to face in the battle front. The small team operations by the troops have been so far effectively used to capture Tiger positions inside the jungle.

Since the commencement of the operation in the Weli Oya front in some areas troops have advanced more than seven kilometres from the Kiriibbanvewa flank and three to four Kilometres from Janakapura facing the edge of Kokkuthuduvai while troops operating far ahead of these defences are confronting the LTTE in their defences.

The battle in the Weli Oya front has now increased its momentum as Tiger bases inside this Andanakulam forest reserve are falling to the Security Forces' fold one by one. The Munnagam Base in the West of Janakapura was the first Tiger Base that fell to the hands of the Security Forces.

The way the LTTE had operated in this thick jungle terrain has been clearly witnessed by the way they constructed massive underground bunkers with all the state-of-the-art facilities. Such an underground bunker was found inside Munnagam Base or Sutheshan base according to military officials who engaged in Operation Thunder Strike in 1991.

Troops are now fully dominating the supply route constructed by the LTTE in the North of Janakapura, from Kokkuthuduvai to Thannimurippukulam tank which has been used by the LTTE to supply food for cadres dominating the Forward Defence Line.

Tiger cadres amidst surprise attacks of the troops have now withdrawn further towards the north creating yet another strong defence creating a massive open area removing the undergrowth of the thick jungle, so that they can detect the troops' movement through this open terrain.

The entire LTTE defence line ahead of the open terrain was engaged on June 8 with the objective of crossing this open terrain with a huge number of trappings and mines.

But the troops attached to the 7 Gemunu Watch battalion under the command of Lt. Colonel Priyantha Perera, and 14 Vijayaba Infantry Battalions under the command of Major Laksiri Perera crossed this open terrain amidst stiff resistance from the LTTE on Sunday.

They were able to capture Tiger points after crossing this open terrain which was given wide publicity by the media as troops made their first attempt to capture the One Four Base of the LTTE.

Intelligence reports indicate that more than 25 LTTE cadres have been killed during this offensive operation and 35 others sustained injuries. Twelve cadres including a female leader in the self-styled 'Lt. Colonel rank' have been killed in this attack.

The impression among the public is that it was the entrance to the One Four Base, yet another massive military complex hold by the LTTE. The box story on this page will give a clear picture about the LTTE One Four Base.

Fierce fighting erupted in this open terrain even on Wednesday as Tigers made desperate attempts to recapture the bunker line which were captured by the troops on Sunday after crossing the open terrain. A number of Tiger cadres reportedly died during this attack. One soldier was also killed and another seven soldiers injured during the fierce battle that continued for more than one hour.

The LTTE is trying to create a killing field in this open terrain to delay the speedy advance of the troops to vital Tiger bases in this stretch of jungle. But troops are braving to cross this open terrain in their bid to capture other Tiger bases within this terrain.

According to ground troops the LTTE is heavily depending on strong bunkers and trenches in defending their territory and on female cadres for forward domination while keeping trained cadres as their reserve to send them as reinforcements.

The LTTE leadership is reportedly facing a crisis with the advancement of troops into their vital bases including the One Four base complex. More than 500 Tiger cadres along with reserve groups are operating in the LTTE defences. They may face further pressure once the troops reach Nityakaikulam and towards Kumulamunai located just nine kilometres ahead of the areas where the troops are now operating.

The most expected turning point in this war will be reached once troops are able to engage vital Tiger bases north of Mullaitivu after advancing into Kumulamunai area in the Nayaru lagoon. Tiger leader Prabhakaran will have to face his do or die battle or will have to resort to other tactics if they want to avoid this situation.

According to intelligence reports the LTTE leadership which is under heavy pressure due to this situation is left with no other option but to delay the advance of the troops by laying mine fields and traps as they have no manpower to defend their bases from the troops with many of the cadres fleeing from the Forward Defences in groups within the past few weeks.

The troops are now poised to enter this most vital Tiger territory in the coming months braving all these obstacles.

****

LTTE 1-4 base

The LTTE One Four Base in Mullaitivu jungles is a well known LTTE hideout in existence from early 1980's. Though people believed that it was a huge camp complex this picture is wrong. According to senior military officials the name originated as they found 14 Tiger bases within this Andankulam and Kumulamunai forest reserves in the early 1980's.

Security Forces believe the number of Tiger bases in this terrain would have been increased to more than 20 within the past few years. However, the Tiger bases are scattered inside this jungle terrain.

The Munnagam Base which was captured by the Security Forces a week back in the West of Janakapura is believed to be a part of the 14 Base inside the jungle. The Indian Peace Keeping Force also faced a major debacle in their effort to capture these Tiger bases with an entire battalion going missing in this thick jungle terrain.

During Operation Thunder Strike and operation Asaka Sena troops have captured Tiger bases including Sathish Base , Suganthan Base, Michael Base. Troops believe that the LTTE has further strengthened these Tiger Bases during the past few years with the intention of facing any offensive operation launched from the Weli Oya Front.

 

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