LOOKING BACK ON EELAM WAR IV.
Posted on June 15th, 2016

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The west invented the myth that the LTTE could not be defeated. The army took a different view. We could have defeated them long before.   We had a well trained, well motivated armed force and our leadership and soldier fighting skills were superior, said Gotabhaya Rajapakse . In 2006, for the first time ever, the government decided that it was going to win the war. The military seized the opportunity and developed a ‘workable plan’.

The armed forces were enlarged and strengthened. Seniority and protocol were ignored and key positions given to persons handpicked for their capabilities. Salaries were increased and training upgraded. The infantry were trained in first aid, marksmanship, handling high explosives and in calling in artillery support and air strikes. Instead of the large formations used in the past, they were trained to fight in small teams of four and eight and to go forward on their own.  .

The army had seasoned veterans who had been fighting the LTTE for years.  .We knew our enemy very well”, said Gotabhaya. The army .followed an unhurried, step by step strategy in conducting the war.  Initially the army did not go for territory but went for the LTTE itself, killing and injuring as many as possible.   LTTE   lost their most experienced fighters and also their morale. Then the army went for territory. The strategies used by the army varied. At Kilinochchi, the army came in through the jungle, taking the LTTE by surprise. If the army had attacked the town first the LTTE would have melted into the jungle where they had stockpiled weapons. .  At Nanthikadal the army used a pincer movement which reduced the LTTE territory to 400 square meters.  The cornered LTTE leaders had tried to hide in marshy land. ‘Our military plans were superior’ observed the army.

Success was due to many factors. There was superb coordination between the .army, navy and air force.  They had lacked coordination earlier .Fighting units were allowed to use their initiative .They could coordinate missions with field commanders   and take ‘clutter free’ decisions.  Pilots selected their targets for bombing…Machines which had not been used effectively earlier such as the Israeli Kfir aircraft, were utilised to the maximum.  Territory taken by the army was handed over to the other forces to hold, leaving the army free to go forward.   Air force was sent into the jungles, the navy to the coastal belt along Trincomalee. STF took over the A9 road from Omanthai.   Civil Defence Force was sent to Mavil Aru and Nanthikadal lagoon.

The LTTE fought a cowardly war. Almost every inch of LTTE territory was mined and booby trapped. Mines were designed to ensure that the leg was blasted in such a manner that it was impossible to fit prosthesis to it later.  At Muhamalai, there were 25,000 mines in a 400 square mile area.  LTTE   also tried to get airborne surveillance stopped using the Ceasefire Agreement. They breached the Kalmadukulam tank hoping to drown the advancing troops. Troops climbed trees or fled to high ground to escape the sudden gush of water. .LTTE tried to mask one of their attacks, by craftily used a tape recording of women talking loudly and children crying, to give the impression that civilians were passing through

LTTE   fortifications were intended to trap and kill soldiers. Soldiers took up the challenge. LTTE had constructed   embankments 12-15 feet high with ditches 8 -10 feet deep, with supporting trenches and other defenses on the beaches and lagoons from Chundikulam to Pudumattalan. .The army took every one of these bunds, attacking from trenches which they dug at night. It was exhausting and laborious work, drinking water every 15 minutes.

The navy transformed itself from a ceremonial navy into a fighting navy. Navy commander stated that the Sri Lanka navy had combated the LTTE without the destroyers and combat ships used in sea battles. . The oldest vessel had been 44 years old and the newest was 19 years old.  Some of the boats carried 30 mm weapons while the normal gun used in sea combat is 75 mm or larger. One of the guns had been used in World War II.  Despite this, the navy stood up to the LTTE attacks. It fought 21 major sea battles in 2006, each lasting over 12 hours and in some instances over 15 hours. It went after the eight LTTE   floating arsenals   and destroyed them very successfully.

The navy improved its aging vessels, through innovation and ingenuity.  They also constructed their own small boats at Welisara and built its own version of the Israeli fast attack craft, in Colombo Dockyard. The navy integrated Bushmaster guns into the Israeli Dvora by themselves. It cost us just the price of the guns; we did not have to pay the price of integration,”  the navy fought with fast attack craft (FAC), offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) and gun boats operated by the  Special Boat Squadron,(SBS)  and the Rapid Attack Boat Squadron. Both squadrons possessed high levels of physical fitness and training.  The navy’s elite force, the SBS had advanced training in both land and sea warfare. It was used for  surveillance, reconnaissance and land strike missions.

Air force provided close air support continuously during day and night even in unfavorable weather. They modified the MiG 27 to carry out night raids as well.  Sri Lanka pilots are the only users of MiG 27, to do this. The pilots   developed their own tactics and manoeuvres.They also used the MI 24 Hind for night operations. This too was a manoeuvre not attempt by many air forces. The surveillance and intelligence gathering missions of the air force, (UAVs, Beechcraft) provided valuable information to the service chiefs and to the front line group commanders. The pictures came direct to them.  The intelligence was very good. . It helped pilots study each target carefully and decide which type of weapon to use. After a campaign, the damage was viewed and based on this, they attacked again.

 

Civil Defence Force was upgraded, provided with automatic weapons and deployed very imaginatively. Together with army, CDF was used to provide security from Negombo to Panadura   to prevent LTTE attacking Colombo Port and other targets. CDF also watched over the routes used in Colombo by VIPs targeted by LTTE. CDF was deployed day and night on the stretch leading from the airport at Katunayake to the Peliyagoda city limits.  This resulted in some useful military detections. . Petty crimes in the areas also declined a little.  CDF had a special strike force, ‘Nandimithra’, made up of men and women with special commando night training as well as armed and unarmed combat tactics. They operated in groups of four. They were very effective in protecting the villages. They also provided vital information to the police and security forces. .It was the CDF that alerted the Air Force about the three propeller driven LTTE aircraft heading for Colombo. They gave information of its movements. (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=8607)

 

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