Air raids continue as Rajapaksa raps Army for fiasco
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Air raids continue as Rajapaksa raps Army for fiasco

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan supersonic Kfir jets continue bombing over territories held by the Tamil Tigers, writes PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2006 14:26 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran

Sri Lankan supersonic Kfir jets continued their bombing sorties over territories held by the LTTE on Saturday, as President Mahinda Rajapaksa rapped the Army for Wednesday's 'fiasco' in the Muhamalai front, reports said.

Alarmed by the worsening ground situation, the international community is mounting pressure on the two sides to go for talks as planned on October 28 and 29 in Switzerland.

In Colombo next week will be Richard Boucher, the US Assistant Secretary of State; Yasushi Akashi, the Japanese Special Envoy; and Jon Hanssen Bauer, the Norwegian Peace Broker.

But in a move that may dampen the world's ardor, the LTTE Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran has refused to give an appointment to Ambassador Akashi, giving security concerns as the reason.

As Kfir jets dropped48 bombs on Muttayyankadu, 10 kms from Pudukudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu district in North Sri Lanka on Saturday, the Sri Lankan media had begun taking stock of the situation in the country after the 'fiasco' at Muhamalai.

Writing in the pro-government daily The Island the veteran defense correspondent Shamindra Ferdinando said: "A furious President Mahinda Rajapaksa is believed to have rapped the top brass over the fiasco."

"The military is under pressure to take urgent counter measures to prevent the LTTE from exploiting the crisis caused by Wednesday's debacle," Ferdinando added.

Diplomatic sources told Hindustan Times in Colombo that during his visit to Jaffna on Friday, Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka lambasted the local top military brass for their failure to attain the set objective of capturing Elephant Pass.

The sources also said that by November 27 (the day on which the LTTE Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran makes his Heroes' Day speech) the Army might be required to avenge the humiliation at Muhamalai.

A determined effort would be made to take the hitherto elusive objectives, namely, Elephant Pass/Pooneryn or Vaharai, they speculated.

Losses substantial

Both sides suffered heavy casualties on October 11. According to the Army, it lost 129 men and 234 were injured.

But unofficial figures put the number of Army dead at 200 plus and the number of injured at 400 plus.

The LTTE had not given its figures. But according to the Army, the guerillas had lost 196 fighters and 312 were injured.

Diplomatic sources said that five to 10 soldiers might have been taken prisoner by the LTTE, though only one prisoner has been acknowledged.

But the Army's losses in terms of material should be of greater concern.

This is because, as compared to the LTTE, which is a guerilla group, the Army depends more on equipment in both quantity and quality.

According to The Island the Army lost four T-55 tanks, six Armoured Personnel Carriers, and two BMPs.

The other shocking part was the ineffectiveness of the Air Force and the Navy on that critical day.

The defense system conceived and built by the LTTE's field commander "Col" Theepan had enticed the Sri Lankan troops into coming into the LTTE-held areas.

It then subjected them to an unprecedented volume offire from mortars, 122 mm, 130 mm and 155 mm artillery. Shells rained on the attacking Sri Lankan troops and those in the rear, the whole day.

Troops and vehicles went helter-skelter but only to go into areas bristling with "monster mines" The Island said.

Informed sources added that many of the deaths were due to mines. The IPKF had the same horrifying experience between 1988 and 1990.

The terrain in Thenmarachchi was completely unsuited for the kind of operation the Army had undertaken. The Thenmarachchi area is a very narrow strip of land between two lagoons. Whencornered, troops have no place to run.

Moreover, thedefenses of the LTTE in Thenmarachchi had great depth extending up to Elephant Pass and well beyond.

The LTTE also stayed put and fought, though the three-pronged Sri Lankan offensive was formidable in terms of men and firepower.

The LTTE fighters were apparently under instructions to stay put and fight to the last man.

Offensive lacked surprise

The Army offensive lacked the critical element of surprise. The massive build up had been noticed by the LTTE.

Besides taking meticulous steps to meet the threat, the LTTE had complained to the Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission and the Norwegian peace broker about the Sri Lankan build up, days ahead of the ill-fated offensive.

Needless quest for control over land

The Daily Mirror defense correspondent Sunil Jayasiri wrote on Saturday that a cardinal error the Sri Lankan politico-military establishment had been making for long, was to put undue emphasis on capturing and then holding territory instead of going after the LTTE's manpower and equipment.

When fresh territory was captured, a lot of manpower and equipment had to be used to hold it and administer it, he pointed out.

But the LTTE always withdrew and came back to hit and run in a debilitating war of attrition.

In 2000, one of the reasons for the LTTE's impressive success in the Wanni, was the way the Sri Lankan troops were spread out there.

Since the individual Army camps were too small, they could be easily over-run. And when camp after camp started falling, men in the rest got demoralized and started fleeing.

Over emphasis on Elephant Pass

Analyst Jayasiri cited military experts to say that there had been an over-emphasis on capturing and holding Elephant Pass, the thin strip of land separating the Wanni from the Jaffna peninsula.

Maj Gen Gamini Hettiarachchi, former GOC 53 Division, had warned in 1999 that it would not be worthwhiledefending Elephant Pass after losing Ponneryn, Jayasri recalled.

Having Pooneryn was necessary to defend Elephant Pass, Hettiarachchi had argued.

But the powers-that-be did not listen to him. With the result, the LTTE attacked Elephant Pass from the North and the Eastin a coordinated land and sea operation and took it by storm.

The LTTE had also simultaneously destroyed the Iyakachchi water tank which supplied water to the Army base complex. Many of the deaths were due to dehydration.

According to Jayasiri, the 2000 debacle saw 600 Sri Lankan soldiers being slaughtered and the loss of many valuable artillery pieces. The artillery had been taken intact by the marauding Tigers.

First Published: Oct 14, 2006 17:23 IST