|'Yet Another Historic Blunder of SLA at Muhamalai'?'
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|Author:||Guest [ Sat Jun 28, 2008 7:09 pm ]|
|Post subject:||'Yet Another Historic Blunder of SLA at Muhamalai'?'|
The Tigers' Trap
'Yet Another Historic Blunder of SLA at Muhamalai'?'
For the 3rd time in less than two years, an over-confident Sri Lankan Army (SLA) has walked into a deadly trap laid by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Muhamalai area near Jaffna. Sources from Colombo indicated that 88 soldiers were killed and 39 were missing in action. Around 475 soldiers were injured, of whom 160-200 were in the categories of P1 and P2. This is not the first time that a military operation to advance the Northern Forward Defence Lines ended with heavy casualties. Yet, lessons from past mistakes appear to have little effect.
@ Agencies / Nation/ LMN
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
Sri Lanka Army (SLA) units attempted to break the Forward Defence Line of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in Ki'laali, Mukamaalai and on several other positions in the wee hours of 23rd of April 2008. According to LTTE, SLA was forced to retreat, leaving behind dead bodies of their troopers.
Heavy fighting lasted till 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The SLA has suffered heavy casualties as the Tigers put up stiff resistance.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakara in Colombo said 15 SLA soldiers were killed and 74 wounded. He attributed a higher casualty on LTTE side, claiming that 52 Tigers were killed and that the SLA had advanced into LTTE territory, but said the offensive was launched by the Tigers and not the SLA.
According to the LTTE, it was a major push launched by the SLA to break into their territory and the SLA operation, launched around 3:30 a.m. along the Northern Front FDL was fully thwarted at 12:30 p.m.
On the day before (April 22), Main Battle Tanks (MBT) and Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) of the Army’s Mechanised Infantry Division (MID) 53-4 advanced towards the south and south-east in a fan-like formation between Kilaly and Muhamaalai. The MID, commanded by Col. Ralph Nugera, was formally raised in February last year. The LTTE has its own anti tank and armoured unit named after Victor, the former Tiger commander for Mannar. The LTTE has reportedly dug deep and long and wide trenches to combat and contain the MID.
There was no deep advancement into Tiger territory by the MID and Tiger artillery fired back at the advancing armoured vehicles. A Chinese built APC was hit by a RPG-7 fired at close range by members of the Victor Unit. The APC was put out of action. Thereafter, the MID withdrew.
It was at around 2:30 a.m. on 23rd the military operation commenced. It was initially a stealth operation.
The 53 Division commanded by Brig. Samantha Sooriyabandara was to break out in two formations from Kilaly and South Muhamaalai and proceed south of the A9 or Jaffna-Kandy Road. The 55 Division commanded by Brig. Kamal Gunaratne was to break out from Nagar Kovil on the east and proceed north of the A9.
The 55 Division was set a comparatively formidable task as it had to move through the marshy land called ‘Kandal’ in proximity to inlets of the Jaffna lagoon. Both divisions were to set out at 2:30 a.m. and proceed. After breaking through, they were expected to move towards the centre and link up with each other.
Once the breakthrough and link-up was effected, a seven kilometre stretch was to be secured as phase one of the operation.
For reasons that are yet to be known, the 53 Division under Brig. Sooriyabandara was late and broke out only around 3:30 a.m. while the 55 Division began proceeding at the stipulated time of 2:30 a.m.
There seems to have been a breakdown in communications. The 55 Division clashed with the LTTE in the ‘Kandal’ marshy lands and invaded into LTTE territory. The forces advanced more than 500-600 metres into Tiger territory and took over the LTTE’s first line of defence in that region.
While around six LTTE cadres were killed in a bunker, most of the remaining Tigers retreated from the first defence line. By 5:30 a.m. the 55 Division had accomplished its preliminary task and was preparing to take on the second line of defence. Effective linking up between both divisions was delayed because of the 53 Division’s delay.
When the 55 Division tried to proceed further towards the second line of defence, the troops found themselves facing stiff resistance. The Ponnammaan Mines Corps of the LTTE had set up its mines and booby traps in key locations. They began to take a toll.
There was also another nasty surprise. Unknown to Military Intelligence, the LTTE’s Kittu Artillery Unit and Kutty Sri Mortar Unit had set up an artillery pad at Soranpattru.
From this position, the LTTE began firing with deadly accuracy on targets that were just a few hours before part of its first line of defence. Several soldiers were killed in the bunkers and trenches along this line.
Unable to link up with the 53 Division, the 55 Division soldiers were deprived of support from the 53-4 Mechanised Infantry. There was also no air support.
It appeared that the Tigers had enticed the 55 Division into their territory by withdrawing rapidly from positions along the first line of defence. It was a trap set by the Tigers.
While this was going on, the 53 Division, with its bungled start, was not faring well either. LTTE cadre resisted their advance fiercely. The LTTE used mortars, mines and snipers in many places to cause damage.
While the LTTE relied more on mines, booby traps artillery and mortars against the 55 Division, there was a lot of intensive combat with the 53 Division.
Support for the LTTE came from its tactical rear base set up between Pallai and the Puthukaadu junction. This base, code-named Tango One, was the virtual headquarters with senior northern commander ‘Col.’ Theepan stationing himself here.
Fighters from the Charles Anthony, Jeyanthan, Imran and Pandiyan Infantry Divisions, Sothiya Women’s Brigade, Kittu, Victor, Kutty Sri and Ponnammaan Units and snipers from the Leopard Commando Chiruthaigal were moulded together into a viable defence.
‘Col.’ Lawrence was Commander of the Tiger cadre engaging the 53 Division and Lt. Col Muhunthan was in charge of the fighters resisting the 55 Division. Three senior Tigers directing operations at the frontlines of Kilaly, Muhamaalai and the ‘Kandal’ areas of Nagar Kovil were Kutti, Jerry and Kumanan respectively.
Since the operation was initially meant to be one of stealth, the MID had not proceeded at the front of advancing troops. The MID came up at the rear at one stage and began firing. Subsequently it moved up front.
But the Victor unit engaged in counter strikes. According to some reports, two T-55 tanks were destroyed. Four other battle tanks were damaged.
As the morning sun got hotter and hotter, it became clear that the surprise operation was no surprise to the Tigers at all. The surprise, if any, was to the Army and quite shocking at that!
Mortar and artillery fire had been stepped up; the troops holding the captured bunker lines had sustained considerable damage. Their reinforcements had been cut off by the rain of mortar and artillery fire. Some were running short of ammunition. They had met with stiff resistance from the Tigers guarding their secondary bunker line.
With resistance mounting, they decided to pull back. During the withdrawal, with so many wounded waiting to be evacuated, they were compelled to leave the dead.
From around 10 a.m., the 55 and 53 Divisions began withdrawing. By 11:30 a.m., the soldiers had gone back to their earlier positions. At about 12:30 p.m., there was an air strike over Soranpattru where the Tiger artillery pad was located.
There was also an intensive artillery barrage towards the Pallai area for nearly five hours from 11:30 to 4:30. Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher (MBRL) fire was directed against the Tango One base. One MBRL can fire 40 rounds at a time. All comunication from Tango One ceased at about 2:30 p.m. It is unclear whether it was hit or whether the Tigers adopted tactical silence.
According to circles close to the Defence Ministry, more than 5,000 shells were fired by the security forces during all stages of the fighting. Though both sides downplayed their casualty toll, there is no doubt that the combined losses were heavy.
A special transit facility was set up in Palaly to accommodate the injured before being sent by air to Vavuniya, Anuradhapura and Colombo.
The LTTE also used its vehicles and also two buses to transport its dead and injured. All public transport along the A9 between Kilinochchi and Pallai and on the Paranthan-Mullaitivu Road was curtailed for six hours to facilitate LTTE casualty evacuation.
Apart from receiving treatment from the Thileepan Medical Unit, many serious cases were admitted to the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Hospitals.
The LTTE announced initially that 16 of its cadres were killed. Later it revised it to 25. The figure for injuries was not released by the LTTE officially. Informed Tamil sources revealed that 55 to 60 Tigers were killed in the fighting. The sources also said that around 80 LTTE cadre were injured. About 10-15 of these were serious cases.
The LTTE-controlled radio Tamil Eelam National Radio broadcasting from Kilinochchi stated that 178 soldiers were killed in the fighting. It said that 143 bodies were taken to Colombo in body bags by the authorities. The LTTE radio also said that 35 bodies were recovered by the LTTE, of which 28 bodies were handed over to the ICRC.The radio also claimed that more than 500 soldiers were injured. Of these, 286 were undergoing intensive care, 20 were in critical condition, and 51 had lost their legs or feet.
As far as the security forces were concerned, the official version stated by the Army’s Media Director Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara to the BBC was that 149 LTTEers were killed and 196 LTTEers injured. The figures for the Army, according to Nanayakkara, were 43 dead, 33 missing in action and 163 injured. Of the 53 Division, one officer and 24 soldiers were killed; one officer and 35 men were reported missing in action; and five officers and 184 men were injured. Of the 55 Division, 20 were dead; six officers and 114 men were injured; and there were none missing in action.
According to these sources, 120 of the injured were P1 (serious) and P2 (less serious) and 169 of the injured had been brought to Colombo.
However other sources from Colombo indicated that 88 soldiers in all were killed and 39 were missing in action. Around 475 soldiers were injured, of whom 160-200 were in the categories of P1 and P2.
Meanwhile, the LTTE returned 28 bodies of soldiers to the International Red Cross at Kilinochchi. The bodies were displayed to the public at Kilinochchi in a violation of norms.
The bodies were displayed to the public at Kilinochchi in a violation of norms.
Muhamalai debacle: The shocking story
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