B. Muralidhar Reddy
KILINOCHCHI: The Sri Lankan military captured Kilinochchi, the administrative and political capital of the LTTE, after a 20-month-long arduous campaign; but, the fight is not over yet.
The Army, which encircled Kilinochchi after neutralising LTTE bases along a 60-km route, has now set its sight on the remaining LTTE bases at Elephant Pass and Muhamalai at the mouth of the Jaffna peninsula and the Mullathivu jungles.
On Monday, troops claimed to have reached the southern outskirts of Elephant Pass, the southernmost LTTE stronghold in the Jaffna peninsula, after a series of heavy clashes with LTTE cadres.
Standing on the main street at the Paranthan Junction on the outskirts of Kilinochchi, captured just before the dawn of 2009, GOC of the 58 Division Shamindra de Silva pointed out at the tanks heading in the direction of Elephant Pass and Mullathivu to a group of visiting foreign and local journalists.
“The soldiers riding on the tanks are on their way to Elephant Pass and Mullathivu. The march would continue till we neutralise all the remaining bases of the Tigers in the Wanni. Fall of Elephant Pass is imminent. And we would hunt down the cadres and leaders of the LTTE in the jungle bases of Mullathivu,” he said.
In the course of formal and informal conversations with journalists, the officers and soldiers conceded that the LTTE cadre put up a good fight throughout the campaign. The LTTE did not spare any effort to defend Kilinochchi and it took the military 45 days in the last phase to capture the town.
The brief from Colombo to the troops was not merely to capture the territory but to cause maximum “attrition” to the Tigers. In other words, their task was to kill as many cadre and destroy the LTTE infrastructure to the maximum extent possible.
Troops from two divisions reported the death of 4,974 and 2,000 LTTE cadre. However, the total number of Tiger bodies handed over by the two divisions to the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) was under 600.
“There is little doubt that a large number of Tigers were killed in the campaign though not all the bodies were recovered by the troops. Some of the bodies which were badly decomposed were buried by us. As per our reckoning, at least 10 cadres of the LTTE were killed for every soldier dead in the battle,” asserted Jagat Dias, GOC.
Recounting the details of the last phase of the battle for Kilinochchi, Lieutenant General Dias said an unusually fierce monsoon and the all-out effort by the Tigers to save Kilinochchi were the two main reasons for the delay in capturing the LTTE’s symbol of prestige.
As the troops neared the town sometime in the last week of November, the Tigers raised a 40-km ditch cum wall stretching from Kilaly to Kilionochchi. “We must concede it must have been a Herculean task to raise such an obstacle measuring, at places, up to 12 to 15 feet. They kept raising new earth walls as the military march progressed from different directions. The LTTE could not have raised such a ditch and earth wall without help of heavy machinery and thousands of manual labour. We are sure that the thousands of civilians must have been deployed for the job for weeks,” said the General.
The field officers at Kilinochchi said the troops gained total control over Kurinchattiv village located on the eastern bank of Jaffna lagoon and entered the Thamilamadam area in their forward march.
They believe that the fall of Kurinchattiv gives a tactical advantage to the forces engaged in taking on the remaining bases of the Tigers in Elephant Pass, Kilaly, Muhamalai and Nagarkovil areas.
According to the field officers, Kurinchattiv, with its higher ground, adds advantage to military manoeuvres as troops will be able to concentrate heavy gun fire in all directions.