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Navy Chief assesses Navyís role in the Forcesí successful campaign to eliminate LTTE terrorism

ďIt is matter of months now,Ē says the Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda commenting on the pending victory of the Security Forces against the LTTE. The Navy Commander says that their successful deep sea operations contributed for the ground operations as they could destroy a massive amount of arms and ammunition bound for the LTTE in floating warehouses. The Navy Commander in an interview with Daily News explained how they achieved those successes and the way they are preparing for the future expansion of the Navy. The following is the full interview the Daily news had with the Navy Commander at the Navy Headquarters.

Q: Sri Lankan Security Forces engaged in offensive operations against the LTTE for the past two years and achieved many successes against the LTTE. What was the role played by the Navy in combating the LTTE during the past two years?

A: The Navy has a number of important tasks in respect of the ongoing war. The first one is to deny the enemy of their supplies. The second task entrusted with the Navy is to ensure that the sea lines of communication are maintained particularly from Trincomalee to Jaffna and Colombo to Jaffna.

The third one is ensuring the security of the harbours. The forth one is the humanitarian assistance to population in Jaffna by way of assisting their food supplies and other material and various other requirements in order to ensure that they go on with their day today lives. These are the four important roles the Sri Lanka Navy play in respect of the war.

Q: The Sri Lanka Navy played a vital role in denying the enemy of their supplies. How has the Sri Lanka Navy succeeded in this endeavour particularly in destroying LTTE ships?

A: In fulfilling our first task we patrol all around the island. During these two years we have developed ourselves from a Brown Water Navy to a Blue Water Navy. If I explain that a little earlier we were waiting for LTTE to bring their stuff or their logistics to Sri Lankan waters and take them on.

In this process, we destroyed 11 trawlers which were bringing artillery rounds, mortar rounds and various types of warlike materials particularly into South of Mannar area. Then certain human and technical intelligence gathered from the destruction of these trawlers we realised that their main armoury was somewhere around Indonesian waters some 3,000 Kilometers away from Sri Lanka.

We collected more information about the floating armouries and decided to take them on because capturing trawlers carrying small quantities of warlike material will be a never ending task. So we decided that we go for the big fish and we planned accordingly.

After about nearly one year of collection of information and preparation we launched our deep sea operations starting from 2007. We set sail to far away locations looking for these LTTE floating warehouses. At the beginning we were not lucky.

Our ships came empty handed on one or two occasions but subsequently with better information and better analysis of intelligence we were able to start destroying them one by one commencing with the first one approximately 360 Kilometres South of Sri Lanka on February 28, 2007.

The next two ships were dealt with on March 18, 2007 nearly 1,400 Kilometres South East of Sri Lanka close to Indonesia. Then the next three vessels were destroyed within a span of 24 hours on September 10 and 11, 2007. For this our vessels went 3,000 Kilometres South East of Sri Lanka passing Indonesia and close to Australia. The last ship of that lot we destroyed on October 7, 2007 again nearly 2,900 Kilometres away from Sri Lanka close to Indonesia.

We were able to go for these major vessels by changing our tactics during this period instead of playing a waiting game. The enemy kept on the run instead of us waiting for them to come close to our shores. By doing so we destroyed nearly 10,000 tonnes of warlike material which included over 80,000 rounds of 152 mm and 130 mm artillery rounds and over 100,000 rounds of 81 mm and 120 mm mortar shells, three aircraft in knocked down condition, a large amount of underwater equipment such as swimmer delivery vehicle, jet skis, diver delivery vehicles, diving scooters, torpedoes, explosive, electronic items, different capacities of outboard motors for their attack craft and suicide craft, night vision devices and radar. All these were destroyed during this period.

This was a huge setback for the LTTE and would definitely assist the ground troops in their offensive against the LTTE.

Q: How did the Sri Lanka Navy fare in keeping sea lines of communication facing the LTTE threat in the Eastern and Western seas?

A: When we talk about keeping sea lines of communication, in the year 2006 we had over 21 encounters in the sea. They existed nearly 12 hours starting in the evening. Gradually we changed our tactics and we introduced a new concept of using indigenously built small craft by the Sri Lanka Navy. We called them the Special Boats Squadron and the Rapid Action Boat Squadron. Both these squadrons were located in strategic locations in large numbers from the beginning of the 2007. With the introduction of this new tactics, we were able to neutralise the LTTE threat to the sea lines of communications very effectively.

As a result the number of encounters from 21 in 2006 was reduced to 11 in 2007 and we were able to capture one of their large attack craft on 17th of June 2007 with lot of arms and ammunition. We got a lot of intelligence with the capture of these boats.

In 2008 the number of encounters reduced to three particularly on the Eastern sea board. This shows that the LTTE Sea Tigers have been destroyed to a great extent and their threat to the sea lines of communication had been minimised to a grate extent and it is almost diminishing now. We will continue to develop this new concept which has been proved very effective.

Q:How did Sri Lanka Navy managed the challenging task of ensuring the security of vital harbours in the country ?


Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda Pictures by Rukmal Gamage

A: In respect of harbours we safeguard the Colombo, Trincomalee, Galle and Kankesanthurai harbours. In Colombo harbour there was an attempted attack by three suicide craft on January 29, 2007. We were able to thwart that attempt. We destroyed all three boats which came for that. In fact, we managed to destroy one boat five kilometres away from the harbour, and the other one was chased up to 18 Kilo meters away and destroyed. The third one was chased up to 32 Kilometres and destroyed. The fourth boat which guided the LTTE boats from Negombo area was captured by the Navy.

Q: The Naval troops also fulfilled a big humanitarian mission during the two year period specially in the process of ferrying essential goods to Jaffna peninsula. How did the Navy manage to fulfil this task while being engaged in warfare ?

A: In respect of assisting the civilians in Jaffna peninsula the Sri Lanka Navy repaired and restored the unloading facility in Milady and Karainagagr harbours and also constructed piers at these two places and also at Kankesanthurai harbour. As a result we facilitated the speedy unloading of goods and items into Jaffna peninsula and we are capable of unloading ships at any given time. At the same time the Sri Lanka Navy assisted the Commissioner General of Essential Services to bring normality to Jaffna in respect of food supplies and other supplies.

Now there is no shortage of food or any other essential items in the Jaffna peninsula.

Apart from these activities in relation to the ongoing war we played a major role assisting fishermen in distress, local as well as foreign. There had been many a occasion our vessels came to assist local fishermen and Indian fishermen who were distressed in Palk Bay. We also assisted the illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh who were stranded in midsea. We were able to rescue them and repatriate them back to Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In fact the Sri Lanka Navy assisted evacuating civilians stranded in Jaffna peninsula when the A-9 road was closed on August 11, 2006. We facilitated the up and down movement of civilians from Jaffna in Naval vessels. This was the time the ICRC refused to escort the merchant vessel and also the passenger vessels transporting civilians to and from Jaffna. At this time the Navy came forward and looked after the security of these passengers and we monitored the safe passage of the passenger vessel that was called Green Ocean II.

Q: You mentioned that the Navy destroyed almost all the vessels that belonged to the LTTE. Can you give an assurance that the LTTE is incapable of transporting their arms and ammunition to Sri Lanka with the destruction of these vessels?

A: I donít believe that. The LTTE has money and their international network is still functioning effectively in certain countries although countries like Australia, America, Thailand and Indonesia had taken steps to arrest a number of their leaders. But a large number of their top level activists are operating freely.

I think the LTTE would have purchased one or two vessel by now and would be searching for arms and ammunition for these vessels, because the arms and ammunition and other warlike material which were destroyed in the floating warehouses destroyed in the deep seas were collected by the LTTE for more than seven to eight years.

Therefore, it is not an easy task for them to collect arms and ammunition, in the way did that earlier as they are facing difficulties when collecting arms and ammunition for these ships. It was due to the measures taken by the present Government to educate the international community about the arms smuggling operations of the LTTE.

Therefore, it is very difficult for them to operate internationally. But nothing can be ruled out. They might get chances to purchase weapons. Though they have purchased ships the process of collecting arms and ammunition will get delayed due to the difficulties they have to face due to alertness of the countries.

I think they will make an attempt. Therefore, we are on constant vigilance about their activities and in the process of gathering intelligence about such attempts. We have a plan to counter such attempts and we are confident that those ships too will have to face the same destiny like the other ships which were destroyed by us.

Q: What is your assessment on the Sea Tiger capabilities? Can you explain to which extent the SLN has been able to destroy their Sea Tiger fighting strength?

A: In fact, they donít now face us and they donít confront us any more. And they have been weakened to such an extent. Now they try to set traps and draw our craft into them. We are well aware of their tactics. And the bare fact they are not confronting us in the sea shows how weak they are at sea. We are very mindful about their tactics.

Q: Can you elaborate on the current Sea Tiger capabilities comparing the strength they had earlier and the strength they are having now ?

A: We estimated and we have seen in battle conditions the LTTE had about 25 large attack craft and another 30 to 40 medium size attack craft. The number of their Sea Tiger cadres were around 2,000 to 2,500. Now we believe their large attack craft has been reduced to six or seven.

Medium size attack craft has been reduced to 10 to 12. At present, most of the time they use normal fishing dinghies with single Horse Power out board motors for their operations.

They never the face Navy at sea and flee when the Navy craft approach them. The number of Sea Tiger cadres, now we estimate is around 500 to 750. This includes the Sea Tiger cadres operating on the ground.

Q:With the loss of Silavathura and Viddattaltivu where the LTTE had their major Sea Tiger bases on the Western coast, from where are the Sea Tigers operating now ?

A: From the North Western coast they lost Sea Tiger bases in Viddattaltivu and Illuppakadavai. But they still have Nachchikuda, Kiranchi and Valaipadu. Very soon they will lose them also with the Army advancing into these areas. Already they have shifted most of their major craft to the Eastern coast. These people do not keep their craft in the sea they always keep their craft in the land and only when there is any requirement they bring them to the sea.

Q: You said that the LTTE used to transport warlike materials in Multi Day Fishing craft earlier. Is this still happening ?

A: They transported warlike material in Multi Day fishing craft. That was in 2006 when Silavathurai and Arippu were not under Government control. Now these areas are under Government control. We are continuously patrolling these areas and strengthened the surveillance. I am positive nothing is coming into the country except from the Indian side where Indian trawlers are giving diesel to the LTTE in Palk Bay area. This also we have stopped to great extent. But this is a very sensitive area. Therefore, we are acting with lot of restraint in respect of the Indian trawler issue.

Q: There had been a lot of discussion on the Indian Fishing Trawlers issue at higher levels. What was the outcome of these discussions ?

A: We are making lot of headway in this regard following these discussions. In fact following these discussions the Indian Government made lot of arrests in Tamil Nadu. Very recently they arrested three leading LTTE operatives James, Thambi Anna and Wasid Master.

Q: The major challenge before the Sri Lanka Navy was the suicide missions of the LTTE. What is the current position of these LTTE suicide threats ?

A: That is the only weapon they are having now. Our officers and sailors are working with a good understanding about this situation. They made a number of attempts to launch suicide attacks targeting our Dvoras. But we were able to chase them out or destroy them. For the last time we were able to destroy one of their suicide craft very recently. The LTTE is aware that they cannot trap us very easily.

Recently, they tried to draw us into a trap posing as fishermen in distress and launch their suicide craft. Now they try to attack us in the guise of civilians fleeing from uncleared areas into Pulmudai.

They made such an attempt on August 28. We were able foil that attempt too very effectively.

Q: The Navy has to be involved in ground operations too with the liberation of territory by the Army. How you are gong to face this situation ?

A: We are facing this situation very effectively. We are deploying Navy personnel to hold the ground liberated by the Army as they need more manpower to engage in offensive operations. So we are maintaining the security of these areas by deploying our Navy personnel. Some of these areas we hold are without s civilian population and some areas are with civilian population. The Air Force too is controlling some ground areas.

The ground operations are not a novel thing for the Navy as we were in ground operations since 1998 during Jaya Sikuru operation. We undertook the security of Kayts, Mandativu, Pungudutivu and Delft island to release the Army troops operating there when the Jaya Sikuru operation was on progress. We also undertook the security of Thalaimannar island in late 1999. Since 2000 in we undertook the areas in the North of Trincomalee. Now we are operating in Sampur, Silavathura, Arippu, Vankalai, Nanaddan after deploying our Navy personnel.

Q: The LTTE attacked Trincomalee Navy Dockyard using their aircraft last week. Why did the LTTE target the Navy dockyard? Is their any special reason for them to target Navy dockyard in Trincomalee?

A: We believe their target was the Jet Liner which was transporting Security Forces troops to and from Jaffna peninsula going on leave and those who are reporting back to their duties.

But the LTTE failed in their attempt. The Sri Lanka Navy has a special plan to protect this ship from air threats.

We effectively implemented our security plan when the LTTE aircraft were arriving there. Due to the implementation of that security plan effectively, we were able to change the route of the aircraft and chase them out.

It was during their return journey they dropped few bombs to Naval dockyard. But they could not damage any of our craft or reach the Jet Liner.

It is unfortunate that few of our sailors sustained injuries. But they failed in their mission since they missed their target after exposing their aircraft after almost one year.

Q: The Sri Lanka Navy has changed its role from a Brown Water Navy to Blue Water Navy. What are the future challenges before the Sri Lanka Navy ?

A: There are a few challenges before us. In the year 2009 we are going to claim the Extended Economic Zone surrounding Sri Lanka. Apart from that it was confirmed that there are oil deposits in the Western coast of the country.

Already these areas has been demarcated for international companies to start drilling. Once they start drilling for oil deposits the Navy will have to undertake the task of providing security for this sea belt and also the drilling platforms. We are in the process of getting ready to undertake this role.

The Sri Lanka Navy has already changed from a Brown Water Navy to a Blue Water Navy following the deep sea operations we conducted last year to destroy LTTE ships. Internationally this has been recognized. Even countries like United States and India were surprised with the missions undertaken by a small Navy like us to destroy LTTE ships in the deep seas with our limited resources.

Q: What were the obstacles you faced when undertaking your responsibilities in the Sri Lanka Navy ?

A: The lead time involved when purchasing items especially from certain countries was an obstacle for us.

Apart from this certain countries imposed restrictions on us. These have become an obstacle for us. If these restrictions are not there we would have done much more.

Q:The Sri Lanka Navy is expanding resource wise and manpower wise. How do you plan for these expansion ?

A: We are improving infrastructure not only for the increasing manpower but also for increasing the number of Naval craft. For example we need jetties to keep these Naval craft. The Civil Engineering Department of the Sri Lanka Navy itself is constructing these piers to facilitate this process. Currently we have constructed nearly 200 meters long piers in the Trincomalee Dock Yard. By doing so we have saved over Rs.1 billion for the Government.

We have also taken steps to provide all basic needs for the youth who are joining the Sri Lanka Navy.

I firmly believe that we should provide all the basic needs of the sailors who joining the Navy to engage in their duty without worrying about their basic needs.

Q: The Security Forces engaged in offensive operations for the past two years. In your view can they win this war ?

A: Definitely. I have been maintaining this position all the time. Now the LTTE is on the retreat. And the total domination of the total land area by the Sri Lankan Forces is very near.

It may be a matter of months. We could achieve this due to the correct political leadership given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

If we cannot win this war at this stage we will never win this war.

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