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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
Why Prabha would reduce resistance
4 January 1998
The Voice of Tigers said on Wednesday night that a ship with weapons from China is on its way to Sri Lanka to strengthen Operation Jaya Sikurui's final push towards Kilinochchi.
The radio said that the Deputy Minister of Defence Anuruddha Ratwatte has instructed the chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force that the offensive to capture the remaining part of the A9 three days after Thai Pongal and that he was confident the road could be brought under control within 20 days. The VOT said that an additional 10,000 troops will be deployed with the 25,000 presently engaged in Operation Jaya Sikurui in the Wanni. The radio added that troop strength in Trincomalee has been greatly reduced as a result of redeployment in the Wanni.
The veracity of the VOT report need not be our concern here. The VOT report is, in my view, the LTTE's way of saying that it is not prepared to buy the speculation inspired by some military sources that the road to Jaffna cannot be opened before February 4, this year. The LTTE's heavy artillery attack on Olumadu on Thursday in which seven soldiers were killed and twenty wounded and the shooting down of the airforce Mi 17 on Friday appear to be pre-emptive strikes. Olumadu is the closest the army has been able to get near Mankulam junction in eight months.
Reports from Vavuniya on Monday and Tuesday indicate that large military convoys are on the way to the forward areas of the Jaya Sikurui operation. The army has about thirty days to complete the operation if the government is taking a do or die approach to opening the A9.
"Confident the road could be brought under control within 20 days"
The monsoons are yet to cease. The northeastern monsoons are unprecedented this year in the Wanni. The large Iranamadu tank filled up twice and its spill had to be opened to prevent the waters from breaching its bunds and flooding the larger part of Kilinochchi. The only road linking Mullaithivu east to the western sector of the Wanni that is currently open for civilian traffic runs along the Iranamadu spill and hence had to be closed. Recently, the irrigation engineers enabled emergency traffic by closing the spill for a few hours. But heavy rains this week has raised the level to a risky 28 feet again. Five tanks in several other parts of the Wanni have breached their bunds.
And the Jaya Sikurui's main positions to the east of the A9 are located by the Kanakarayan Aaru- a minor jungle stream which swells into a torrent when the rain waters south and south east of Kanakarayan Kulam drain into it.
As long as the army's objective remains the old Kandy road, it has to hold on to its positions along the Kanakarayan Aaru. The Old Kandy road branches off from Kanakarayan Kulam junction and passes through Katkidangu, Karuppatta Murippu and then directly north towards Mutaliyakulam and Old Kokkavil (which is east of Kokkavil).
The monsoon usually decreases in force from mid January. The army's obvious strategy requires that it has a viable alternative supply route close to the A9.
This is ideally provided by the old Kandy road. The problem is that positions which the army may capture beyond Karuppatta Murippu on this road are liable to get flooded as the Kanakarayan Aaru swells with greater fury in these parts with the excess waters of the Iranamadu tanks catchment area.
The LTTE repaired and rebuilt this road for its own military use in the early nineties. But it had a problem maintaining it during the monsoons.
This is why I will not be surprised if Prabhakaran reduces his resistance to let Jaya Sikurui's advance along the Old Kandy road for another, say, ten kilometres north of Karuppatta Murippu and pin the army down for another six months by harassing the rear and launching very selected counter attacks on the forward areas.
It should be emphasised here that the retreat of the monsoon is not going to be a solution to all the army's current woes in the Wanni.
All reports indicate that Jaya Sikurui's rear, the Puliyankulam - Nedunkerni axis, has been quite thinned out. Displaced civilians are now able to cycle to their villages near Nedunkerni which were captured by the army during the second phase of Operation Jaya Sikurui.
The army is able to detect them only once in a while as it appears to be operating in these parts only in platoons.
Destabilised Jaffna: 'will be a great headache'
Some displaced civilians have been bold enough to venture as far as Nedunkerni recently. And they have reported back that the Sinhala settlers from Weli Oya are removing timber from their houses and cutting down trees in their gardens.
The areas south west and south of Oddusuddan are now quite porous as the army has had to concentrate forces in and immediately behind the forward areas of Operation Jaya Sikurui.
The army apparently believes that the LTTE cannot achieve a sufficiently large concentration of forces in the rear areas of Operation Jaya Sikurui, specifically in those parts immediately north east of the Puliyankulam - Nedunkerni road. This is only an assumption.
The Tigers appear to believe that the Jaffna elections might be a trap to make them disperse their forces from the Wanni. They continue to insist that they will not get drawn into a major operation in the peninsula to disrupt the local government elections and eliminate candidates of the other groups. Even preparations for minor hit and run attacks are costly in Jaffna. In the nine days from Dec. 11 to 19 the LTTE has admitted that it lost twelve of its cadres, including a 'Lt. Colonel' and a 'Major' in the Vadamaradchi sector alone.
Disrupting the Jaffna elections in a way that will have substantial political impact would require at least one 'battalion group' of the LTTE. This force has to be precariously and dangerously dispersed in the peninsula to achieve the desired result.
Despite the LTTE's current ability to bring significant number of armed cadres into two key sectors of Vadamaradchi, there seems to be caution on the part of the organisation's high command that it should not get drawn into an expanding guerrilla operation in the peninsula based from the eastern and south western sectors of Vadamaradchi. A destabilised Jaffna might be a greater headache to the government as it is politically more important than the voter-less jungles of the Wanni.
But Jaya Sikurui remains the LTTE's main target. The forests of the Wanni hold many more surprises to the war weary troops of Jaya Sikurui. It is not the state of the Army, but February 4 that is the PA's concern now.