Sunday, April 5, 2009

How the war was won

Shamindra Ferdinando documents the history of the current phase of the military campaign that has boxed the LTTE to a small sliver of territory on the Mullaitivu coast.

Last Thursday’s bloody battle at Anandapuram on the eastern flank brought an end to organized LTTE resistance in the Puthukkudiyirippu area in the Mullaitivu district. The 58 Division troops had fought their way into heavily defended Anandapuram after 53 and 55 Divisions sealed off the area the previous day. The latest loss of territory would thwart any attempt on the part of the LTTE to hold off the army outside the civilian safety zone on the Mullaitivu coast.

By Thursday evening, the army collected bodies of 31 LTTE cadres along with 50 T-56 assault rifles, two rocket propeller grenade launchers, two multi purpose machine guns, one M-16 rifle, two radio communication sets, one GPS device, and one map. The army also recovered one armour plated truck and one speed boat.

The 53 Division and Task Force VIII Friday extended their forward positions into the remaining LTTE enclave in Puthukkudiyiruppu East. After day long clashes, the army recovered debris of 130 mm artillery piece recently destroyed in a Kfir strike along with one multi purpose machine gun (MPMG), one crew cab, two motorbikes, five T-56 assault rifles, and one radio communication set. Had one bothered to study the entire list of arms, ammunition and equipment seized from the LTTE, last week’s recoveries wouldn’t mean much.

But recovery of five vehicles including one bullet proof limousine used by LTTE leaders, including Prabhakaran, north-east of Puthukudirippu on Friday surprised defence circles. The army also came across an air-conditioned bungalow following a series of bloody confrontations in the Puthukudirippu and Analankulam areas. The bungalow and vehicles had been set ablaze before the LTTE retreated.

Had the army, navy, airforce and police failed in the drive against the Tigers, the Rajapaksa administration would have been in severe trouble as the economic crisis, waste and corruption would have taken centre stage.

Last week’s battle also wiped out the LTTE’s much touted ``conventional fighting capability.’’ When the Tigers overran the army at Elephant Pass in April 2000, interested parties including the media were quick to assert that the Tigers had acquired conventional fighting capacity. Although the then army Chief Lt. General Srilal Weerasooriya played down that defeat, the army never really recovered from that humiliation until Lt. General Sarath Fonseka took the army’s command from Lt. General Shantha Kottegoda shortly after the last presidential election in November 5, 2005.

The bloodiest phase of the Eelam war didn’t prompt Fonseka, undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s most successful army commander, to even consider withdrawing from the country’s UN-led force deployed in Haiti.

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