Battle on A9: a battered theory of war
12 October 1997
The simple cake walk strategy of Jaya Sikurui when it began in
May has inevitably evolved into a tactically complex operation in
the Wanni. The original plan for trifurcating the Wanni into
three manageable segments by Div 55 and Div 53 linking up at
Puliyankulam and then swiftly moving up the A9 trunk road to
Kilinochchi has run into major tactical difficulties now.
The LTTE claimed on Friday that it was engaged in search and destroy
operations in the Kanakaryan Kulam, Sinna Adampan sector and
yesterday it said that it captured from the army's supply depots
fourteen 81 mm mortars, twenty two 60 mm mortars, a pair of 50
calibre heavy machine guns, over a million 7.62 ammunition, 6785
rounds for 81 mm mortars, 4394 60 mm mortar rounds, 1684 ,RPG - 7
rounds, 5300 hand grenades, 1684 40 mm grenades and two South
African Buffle APCs. The fighting in the dense jungles of the Wanni
It is not difficult to trace the stages by which the Jaya Sikurui
turned into a sticky complication. In the first phase, a tactical
approach which appeared logically sound was adopted after it became
apparent that the direct push through Puliyankulam on the A9 had
become impossible. This was to outflank the LTTE at Puliyankulam by
Div 55 taking a detour to the west through Puthur and linking up
with Div 53 on the A9. This could not be done after the advance of
Div 55 was intercepted by the LTTE at Puthur. Then in the second
phase, the army attempted a link-up between Div 55 and 53 on the A9
at Kanakarayan Kulam. This failed when Div 53 came under heavy
attack in the thick jungles east of that small town on A9.
The third phase was to move further north through the dense jungles
in the Mullaitivu heartland and capture a section of the road which
runs from Mankulam to Ottisuddan. This ideally was expected to deny
the LTTE its last viable access route to Mullaitivu and also to
eventually help the army isolate Mankulam. None of the tactical aims
have been achieved.
Instead Jaya Sikurui has turned into an operational complication in
the Wanni heartland compounded by difficult terrain, lack of hard
intelligence and logistical problems. One example would suffice to
illustrate the problem. The LTTE's artillery and mortar fire on army
positions are generally accurate. This is mainly due to familiarity
with the terrain , effective spotters and ample hard intelligence.
The army lacks in all this.
As we have pointed out time and again it is intelligence blind in
the Wanni. The army's artillery and mortar fire falls into paddy
fields killing a lot of cattle.
And when the Tigers can be seen they are so close in combat that
long range artillery and mortar fire are ineffective - and so is
aircover. The Tigers attacked Div 53 at Katkidangu and Karuppatta
Madu. The army's vital forward supply depots at Karappukkuththi and
Vignanakulam were overrun by them on Sunday, according to a
statement released by LTTE in Mullaitivu.
Later they also announced in the Wanni that they have a column of
Div 53 surrounded near Karuppatta Madu. Operation Jaya Sikurui
cannot tactically achieve anything towards its goal unless it
captures and consolidates Puliyankulam, Kanakarayan Kulam or
Mankulam. If it doesn't, then the very costly tactical operations in
the rough rectangle defined by Puliyankulam-Mankulam -Ottisuddan and
Nedunkerni can be meaningless. In addition to this, it should be
also taken into account that the 'depth' of this theatre of
operations is far out of proportion with its geographical size. A
proper understanding of the 'depth' of a theatre of operations
should be reached in the early stages of a battle. If not, one loses
men and material without achieving one's tactical goals. Military
history provides numerous instances of this.
Then we have to consider the fact that tactically cutting off the
only access road to the Mullaitivu heartland left in the hands of
the LTTE today does not mean much. (The other two access roads which
branch off from the A9 at Paranthan and at Puliyankulam have already
been cut off by the army) Why ? The LTTE's logistical system is not
predicated upon a road network as it is in the case of a
I have mentioned in these columns earlier how Prabhakaran
re-designed LTTE's logistical system in the Wanni into small local
units. Further, the theory of cutting off the only access road to
Mullaitivu left open to the Tigers today with a view to debilitating
their logistical system wrongly assumes that all their supplies
emanate only from that region. Here we have to take a look at the
original goals of Op. Jaya Sikurui mainly on the basis of the
question as to why the Vavuniya-Kilinochchi road (A9) was preferred
over the Mannar-Pooneryn road as the Main Supply Route to Jaffna.
The latter, it is understood, had been strongly recommended by the
Directorate of Military Intelligence as the best option to give
'depth' to the army's position in the peninsula. But the A9 was
apparently selected for the following reasons:
a) denying the Tigers the main population centres and
infrastructure, including medical facilities, located on the A9.
b) most parts of the vital eastern zone of the Wanni above the
Puliyankulam-Nedunkerni axis would come within range of heavy
artillery positions along the A9 which would not be the case with
the Mannar-Pooneryn road.
This, therefore, could enable effective operations into the western
and eastern sectors of the Wanni.
c) because of reasons (a) and (b) the LTTE would throw in most of
its precious manpower into blocking the army's advance on the A9.
This was expected to give the army a singular opportunity to
annihilate a substantial portion of the LTTE's manpower with its
superior firepower. This was originally a gung ho scenario. The army
moved swiftly to the outskirts of Puliyankulam and it appeared that
a large number of Tigers were getting killed.
Logically therefore, the LTTE, after losing a substantial portion of
its manpower in trying to 'desperately' defend territory it
considers vital to its existence, should have melted away into the
jungles of the Wanni, reduced to a guerrilla band.
The army spokeman's position that the LTTE is on its last legs in
terms of manpower is a conclusion quite logically derived from the
military principle that when you threaten something vital to an
enemy by achieving a concentration force against it, he would be
compelled to throw most of his military assets into its defence and
thereby weakening himself.
The problem here is that this is a well known and simplistic
principle found in most of the military classics and books on war
strategy written for laymen.
So the LTTE knew from day one precisely what it has to avoid while
the army continues to believe that this principle, one of the
premises on which it has based the largest operation it has ever set
in motion, works.
The principle does not work because everyone, including the
Prabhakaran, knows about it. The LTTE, it should be understood, is
throwing its troops against Jaya Sikurui with a clear idea of
effectively managing its manpower in the northeast.
Even a brief overview of the LTTE's current deployment potential
will make it clear that Jaya Sikurui's second strategic objective
(first is MSR) is unrealistic.
a) The rate of LTTE military actions in Jaffna went up last week.
Attacks took place in the course of the week in Mandaan, Sarasalai,
Pt. Pedro town, Madduvil Sivan Kovil, Tharaiveli in Thenmaradchi,
Karanavai etc.,. This is attributed to an increase in the number of
Tigers militarily active in the peninsula.
b) Attacks on Kaluwanchikudy and Arantalawa last week by large
groups of Tigers. This shows that the LTTE maintains sufficient
cadres in east to continue with its military and administrative
c) In defending Puliyankulam, it has mounted four counter attacks on
Jaya Sikurui, and has engaged in three major interception attacks on
Div 53 and 55. Three attack groups, each comprising 600 cadres led
by Anpu, Jeyam and Bhanu engage in the day to day to day operations
against Jeya Sikurui.
The Leopard commando unit and the Jeyanthan 'brigade' remain in the
background taking part in counter attacks. Then there is
Prabhaharan's personal security reserve of 3000. This is the ground
reality today. It might , however, still be possible for the army to
disregard all this and bulldoze its way to Kilinochci - like
Napoleon's march to Moscow.