Friday, 26 December 2008

The Dilemma of the Tamil Tigers


On the aftermath of the capture of the entire JAFFNA peninsula in 1995 the battleplanners had drawn the blueprints to continue the series of operations into mainland Wanni with the main aim of extending the EPS defences up to KILINOCHCHI. With the intention of stalling these preparations the Tamil Tigers set about to dismantle the isolated MULLATIVU base on the 18th of July 1996 with Ceaseless Waves I.

Since the fall of the base the Tamil Tigers have been in control of the coastal littorals spanning from KOKKUTHUDUVAI to EPS. This coastal stretch for decades have been quite significant to the Tamil Tiger military machine especially to its sea wing. Millions of dollars worth of cargo have been unloaded along this coastal stretch and hundreds of Sea Tiger missions have been conducted along this belt against both the SLA and SLN. The lack of land routes through the dense WELIOYA jungles also meant that the sea route was the most viable and quickest to reach areas South of MULLATIVU. Furthermore MULLATIVU being strategically positioned midway along the East coast made it ideal to intercept the sea bridge connecting the Jaffna peninsula to TRINCOMALEE. The observation posts at SAMPUR/SUDAIKUDA used to relay vital intelligence of naval movements to the sea tiger bases littered around these coasts.

This heightened activity of the sea tigers along this stretch was the primary reason for the SLN to establish its doctrine of making a rendezvous point for the FAC escorts of COMNORTH and COMEAST just off the MULLATIVU coast and to conduct the now defunct Operation Waruna Kirana as a deterrent against weapons smuggling along the same waters.

With the establishment of the current politico-military machine in 2005, one of the main objectives highlighted in the first Security Council Meeting was to clip the abilities of the Sea Tigers and thereby starve the Tamil Tigers of its much needed logistics. Carrying on the tradition of securing the coastal belt before jutting inland which successfully secured the Eastern province, the battleplanners set about to implement a similar doctrine towards Wanni. While securing the Western belt fell on the THOPPIGALA heroes of TF1, the responsibility of the Eastern belt fell on the newly formed 59 Division.

Since the birth of 59 HQ on the 13th of December 2007 it has made serious inroads to the Tamil Tiger heartland maintaining roughly a 16Km front along the Eastern coast.

At the moment 591 Brigade who laid siege on ALAMPIL are moving along the coastline and are operating South of TANNIYUTTU/CHILAWATTAI areas. Knowing very well the 59 troops were converging on MULLATIVU the Tamil Tigers set about creating an extension to the L bund all the way from the IRANAMADU tank connecting KALMADU, VISUVAMADU, MULLIYAWALI and CHILAWATTAI. However due to forward operating elements of 591 the Tamil Tigers have failed to extend the bund up to the coast at CHILAWATTAI. Such forward operating exploitation forces are known to operate around areas hugging the lagoon and the Vattapalai amman kovil. Some recon teams have also managed to conduct Forward Observation (FO) of the MULLIYAWALI airstrip facility. Once 591 intercepts the A34 it would severe MULLIYAWALI from MULLATIVU and the coast.

Mulliyawali airstrip

Image of MULLIYAWALI airstrip. Note the paved North Eastern section and the unpaved but hardened South Western extension. Source- Jane's

593 Brigade meanwhile are heading towards the all important MULLIYAWALI area which holds important Government institutions such as the hospital and Vidyananda college. North of this buildup area holds the Tamil Tigers' latest air strip which has been undergoing a 1000m extension towards the South West. As highlighted earlier such a lengthy runway is not meant for the Tamil Tigers' Zlin/PC7 fleet but larger aircraft. Given its meager resources it is unlikely the Tamil Tigers would have invested so much time and effort on a white elephant. A similar guerilla organisation the FARC have had successful airdrops over Southern Colombia where aircrafts have flown over the Canary islands and Guyana dropping its cargo and flying through to IQUITOS in Peru's side of the Amazon river. Similar drops were to be made from KIGALI in Rwanda to the Alpha one base of UNITA rebels in Angola. The mercenary pilot who was recruited for the mission Brian 'Sport' Martin recalls him landing a Boeing 707 on a 'very narrow' 1800 yard runway with a landing weight of over 12 tonnes during a mission to Congo. In his interview he has said "Whatever else one may think of them, the crews involved in this clandestine world are consummate aviators who are able to fly in conditions beyond normal limits". It is indeed beyond normal limits to attempt a landing on a 1000m airstrip. Perhaps this explains why the Tamil Tigers are pursuing to extend the MULLIYAWALI runway up to 2000m. The 1000m extension may also serve any logistics aircraft with sufficient over-run area if it attempts a landing during the rough monsoons which will help the Tamil Tigers to exploit the instrumental limitations of the SLAF. And hence they will be in a better position to entice any interested mercenary aviator to take up the mission of illegally navigating to the Wanni. This also brings to light one hidden advantage the Zlin 'airstrikes' pose. Any takeoff of the Zlin aircraft and its return back to Wanni unscathed no matter how inaccurate the bombing run is; can still be used to display the infancy of the Sri Lankan air defence/interceptor capability to any interested mercenaries and support any recruitment of such mercenary pilots easily to the organisation. If the possibility of a successful interception was high with a high risk landing on a short runway with a heavy landing weight, the Tamil Tigers may find it hard to recruit any potential mercenary pilots who are skilled enough for the job. If that is the case the plausible option would be to air drop the cargo without making a landing.

Meanwhile 592 Brigade have made strides to prepare the ground for a possible link up of the 59 Division with two other Divisions, namely TFIII and TFIV. 592 augmented the efforts of the newly established TFIV by cutting off the MULLATIVU-NEDUNKERNI road from KODDALIKKALLU and are expected to intercept the ODDUSUDAN-MULLATIVU A34 road. This would render the Tamil Tiger resistance towards TFIII incapable of operating at full efficiency. The rapid movements of the daring commanders of this Division has made the Tamil Tigers to reposition the planned earth bund. According to captured/surrendered cadres the initial plan had been to position the bund defending the all important A34 which provides the Tamil Tigers a vital road link cutting through the dense jungles. However this was not to be.

With the possible fall of both MULLIYAWALI and TANNIYUTTU the guerilla stronghold PUTHUKKUDIYIRUPPU comes under immense threat since the road from TANNIYUTTU junction runs straight to PUTHUKKUDIYIRUPPU via VATTAPPALAI amman kovil and KEPPAPULAVU. However this road runs through an urban area. Given the fact that the modern SLA doctrine of exploiting as much as cover and concealment via circuitous routes, it can be expected for the SLA to employ concealed, dispersed, small unit independent manoeuvre techniques. This terrain offers plenty of cover but the useable dead ground is often irregularly shaped and irregularly distributed. Hence to make most of it careful scouting, mapping of minefields, MG posts, sites of fighting positions to fit the peculiarities of each unit's immediate surroundings is required. Long gone are the text book formations that marched towards the objective along open roads and then held onto the objective with formulaic defensive formations.

If the 57/58 Divisions are attempting to force the door on the Tamil Tiger heartland by assaulting KILINOCHCHI/PARANTHAN, then for those two divisions the areas surrounding MULLATIVU turns out to be the deep battle space where the Tamil Tigers are known to house its commanders/ammo dumps/supply routes/hospitals treating injured cadre and training bases for new recruits. Any strikes towards the rear reduces the command efficiency of the enemy, forces the enemy to restrict its movements and dents its aura of invincibility. Such strikes substantially increases the time the guerillas require to counter concentrate, move supplies or replacements of a sufficient force to the forward lines. This can also compel the enemy to disperse its stocks/fuel hence further slowing resupply and can seriously depress the enemy's operating tempos. Without a stable rear the guerillas can still continue to fight and offer resistance, however the performance will fall dramatically when they are denied the essential support and coordination that separates a military from an armed mob.

With 59 Division inching towards the Tamil Tiger rear the Sri Lankan forces have easy access to this all important deep battle sphere. With the NAYARU lagoon and ALAMPIL coming under Government's writ, the 59 commanders have been busy establishing additional fire support bases surrounding this area making Tamil Tiger strongholds that are known to hold many vital guerilla installations within range of the T59 130mm howitzers. Such a development is a serious concern to the Tamil Tigers since it allows the field commanders a real time strike capability. However the saving grace for the Tamil Tigers has been the high concentration of civilian population held up in this area which pose as a deterrent. Since the SLA have no precision guided artillery shells such as the XM982 Excalibur 155mm projectile, artillery fire have been directed towards targets that are assessed to pose less collateral damage. SLAF's arsenal of precision guided munitions (PGMs) will still continue to see action till concentration of the civilian population are thought to be reduced to 'safer' levels.

Furthermore is the fact that with every inch 59 forges ahead, is an inch the Tamil Tigers lose of their one and only coastal belt. Due to the rough seas that persisted during the last two months and SLN's instrumental limitations in such rough seas the Tamil Tigers had managed to unload significant amounts of supplies along the MULLATIVU coast. This was verified by civilians who managed to cross over into GOSL territory and surrendered cadres. Unfortunately this was also verified by the very high volume of indirect fire which some field commanders explained as the 'mortar monsoon'.

The fierce defensive battle the Tamil Tigers are conducting along the PARANTHAN/KILINOCHCHI/IRANAMADU axis according to the pro-tamiltiger pundits is a war winning battle plan. However the ground situation does not reflect this at all. As mentioned previously in the doctrine of a defensive battle plan, its main objective is to invite the enemy to attack, deter the enemy long enough and grind them till the defending commanders decide an opportune moment to launch their counterattack to completely reverse the present status quo. Such a counterstrike at any stage remains the crucial factor in the defensive battle, battleplan. It is almost always the last act. However, the great danger of this battleplan is that the defender may not really know the enemy's full real intentions. It very well might be the enemy who actually has the initiative intending to pin the bulk of defensive forces down and outflank them from elsewhere.

With so many avenues of approach, divisions and units available for the Sri Lankan battle planners to outfox the Tamil Tigers unlike in any other previous Eelam wars, they; and they only hold all the cards of surprise and dynamism to take any of the available avenues that may not be eagerly apparent to the enemy. As indicated by the last poll conducted in my portal, not even the diligent followers of the Sri Lankan war were able to predict what SLA's next objective was after POONERYN. As always only time told...

Thursday, 25 December 2008


My next brief...

Please accept my apologies for being unable to update regularly..


May I also take this opportunity to wish the Sri Lankan blog community a Happy festive season.


Image taken in Iraq 2006. Source: Blackfive.


Take Care all.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Crumbling of Muhamale


With at least two previous failures of a successful breakthrough through the Tamil Tiger Devil's garden along the KILALY/MUHAMALE/NAGARKOVIL axis, mainly due to indirect fire via anti personal/ anti-armor mines and arti/mortar units, battleplanners in this sector set about to destabilise the Tamil Tiger FDL using crumbling operations to force the enemy's defensive cohesion to flood away thereby destabilizing the FDL. Further as I have mentioned in an earlier brief lengthily such a series of crumbling operations allows the Sri Lankan battle planners to master their opening game as well as shore up the morale of its soldiers.

With the Tamil Tigers having more than 5 years to perfect their defences along the 7 miles stretch spanning from KILALY to NAGARKOVIL, this front provides the most fortified line in the current Sri Lankan conflict. The Tamil Tiger defences had provided them with concealment, cover, combined arms integration and more importantly a depth of 14kms towards EPS. The Tamil Tiger trenches and bunkers were irregularly distributed, formulaically interconnected, carefully camouflaged, combining ballistic protection with real concealment to withstand offensive fire. These positions were well fortified with anti-tank ditches, protective minefields and wire entanglements. Any cover the SLA could exploit were limited with interlocking fields of fire by positioning adjoining weapons so that each weapon can fire across the other's fronts. The defences were further strengthened with MG posts and mortars. Machine guns are direct fire-flat trajectory weapons and attackers can use directional cover by obscuring the line of sight (LOS). Mortars and artillery on the other hand can fire over intervening obstacles and engage targets without LOS. Hence working together, machine guns and artillery/mortars compliments for each other's weaknesses. Such interlocking fields of fire reduces the cover or dead space thus complicates things for the attacker to find and exploit concealed positions.

Classic military doctrine suggests that attackers need 3:1 ratio against defenders. Once the defender has integrated combined weapons tactics with fortified positions the force ratio required for a breakthrough increases. Hence against well entrenched positions it jumps to 5:1. It is very rare for any commander to have the 3:1 let alone 5:1 force ratio which military theorists consider essential to break a fortified line but it is possible to gather the necessary superiority at least locally by using deception, tactics and surprise.

Intermingled amongst these defences were observation posts and covering forces operating far from the main defences. The main defensive forces to the rear are to be warned by these cadres with warning of attack. Other than observation these covering forces are expected to carry out other functions such as intercepting SLA recce teams, slowing attackers' movements, canalising an assault and conducting their own reconnaissance. Even though it sounds straightforward in theory, this requires the cadres to often carry out orders from high command in the face of superior forces and in the case of a massive assault to manoeuvre and break contact with a superior attack force and fall back before being overrun while calling in reserves at the rear.

With constant Monty style crumbling operations causing daily attrition, the Tamil Tigers were compelled for a compromise.The Tamil Tigers knew their forward bunkers and observational posts were targets for such attacks hence they rationally reduced bunker manning levels leaving fewer on watch and relying more heavily on tactical warning to give units time to reoccupy bunkers in the event of a ground attack. Meanwhile the 57/58 Divisions were fast approaching the Tamil Tiger political capital and the environs of the JAFFNA lagoon. Urgent reinforcements were required to halt the enemy advance. This was another reason for unmanned bunkers due to overstretched cadre base where more reinforcements were required in defending the PARANTHAN-KILINOCHCHI axis. Hence much to the surprise of the attacking small units at MUHAMALE, men found a higher fraction of unmanned defending posts at the time of attack than would have been the case.

With the 58 Divisions occupying the strategic POONERYN peninsula on the 19th of November, battleplanners rapidly set about positioning indirect fire batteries and making 58's first move towards PARANTHAN. With the POONERYN peninsula gone, for the battleplanners it was one less Call-for-fire zone (CFFZ). CFFZ is an area in enemy territory that the commander wants suppressed, neutralized, or destroyed. This also meant the battleplanners Artillery target intelligence zone (ATIZ) was limited to areas South of MUHAMALE and the PARANTHAN environs. ATIZ is an area in enemy territory that the commanders wish to monitor closely. With these developments elsewhere the time was ripe for the National front to flare up and occupy the already crumbled Tamil Tiger FDL which lay just 500m ahead of them. This perfect coordination between 58/53/55 and the loss of strategic POONERYN meant the Tamil Tiger fortifications across the lagoon at MUHAMALE/KILALY were under fire from additional fire support bases. Further it also meant that its own howitzers stationed at K-point were no longer able to continue suppressive fire towards SLA's artillery batteries in areas such as KODIKAMAM/MIRUSUVIL and MSRs carrying reinforcements and medevac missions to and from the theatre of engagement.

This well coordinated movement of 58 and 53/55 not only made the Tamil Tiger ground cadre thin out, but also its limited indirect fire units. A fraction of these mortar/arti units which have proved to be anathema to the troops of 53/55 have been compelled to be diverted to suppress troops of 58 moving along the B69 KILALY lagoon. The reserves meant to defend the KILALY/MUHAMALE axis were drawn into an area where the same reserves will engage the 58 and 53/55 when the need arises. This thinning out greatly reduced the Tamil Tiger Force to Space Ratio (FSR) which is the number of troops per linear km. As said above it is very rare for any commander to have the 3:1 let alone 5:1 force ratio which military theorists consider essential to break a fortified line. With the Tamil Tigers moving a fraction of its men and assets to protect its rear, the battleplanners got the edge over the numbers they were hoping for; for an ultimate forward thrust.


Tamil Tiger grid maps of the MUHAMALE-KILALY axis

The breaching Sri Lankan armed forces made extensive Small unit manoeuvre, dispersion, cover and concealment thanks to modern tactics. The breaching effort was spearheaded by combat engineers operating under the cover of artillery, MBTs and smoke rounds with infantry support immediately available via Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) advancing immediately behind the echelon. The long and medium range artillery/MBRL support suppressed or destroyed enemy support fire bases until assault teams approached within around 300 meters whereupon 60mm/81mm mortars and direct fire from troops took over. Meanwhile fixed and rotary wing aircraft provided vital Combat Air Support (CAS) and electronic warfare units jammed Tamil Tiger communication systems and used Tamil Tiger radio emissions to provide targeting data of Tamil Tiger forward command posts. Such a combination of air and ground technology in which indirect fire served essentially a suppressive purpose - it induced the Tamil Tigers to take protective postures that reduced their ability to return fire, thereby reducing their effectiveness even without killing them directly.

Facilitated by extensive rehearsals this complex combined arms manoeuvre focused their efforts simultaneously on the objective area exploiting what little cover the terrain provided thus presenting the Tamil Tigers with few opportunities to engage isolated forward operating units on their own favourable terms. The paraded corpses of fallen soldiers in previous engagements within this sector were mainly of such forward operating men.

The extensive rehearsals conducted prior to the battle ensured that even junior soldiers were trained well enough to operate independently in small units, using their own tactical judgement to solve problems and keep the assault moving forward, for any bogged down strike team on unfavourable ground can leave the team and the mission highly vulnerable. The units engaged in battle were so professional that unit leaders on the scene were making their own decisions, seizing fleeting opportunities and exploiting idiosyncratic local conditions. Extensive battlefield rehearsals and intelligence gathering also meant the commanders were well aware of Clausewitz's culminating point. They very well knew that by halting their immediate operation with just one FDL under their occupation and fortifying the defences according to their requirements was suffice at least for the time being.

The reason why the culminating point was set just after this FDL and the main thrust halted with limited aims was this operation was NOT designed for a breakthrough. Rather this operation was intended to exploit the temporary advantage garnered by the series of coordinated crumbling operations carried over the last few months. By occupying this FDL the SLA have seized important terrain and major sections of the Tamil Tigers' prepared positions. This positional advantage can then be used in subsequent offensive operations; i.e more crumbling type operations to engage as many Tiger cadres as possible within this sector before engaging them in the dense jungles of MULATIVU where they might withdraw. In military parlance this is termed as Fixing attacks where the Tamil Tigers can be pinned into place at little cost to the attackers.

The main advantage of such operations holding limited aims is that it avoids over extension of troops and in the same time reduces its vulnerability to counterattack. In military doctrine any defender that holds a defensive depth as deep as 14kms (as the National Front) is expected to concede initial ground in the event of a forward thrust. Depth is a tradeoff for the defenders and 14kms of depth gives time for an astute defender in the likes of the Tamil Tigers to counterconcentrate troops in sufficient strength to grind the 53/55 military machine. Such depth also allows the Tamil Tiger battleplanners to rectify any miscalculations of their defence. To regain the lost ground which was lost initially, a counterattack is relied upon. Hence breakthrough attempts create such counterattack opportunities for the Tamil Tigers as seen previously. And with each counterattack, the attrition the Tamil Tigers will suffer to its experienced reserves is not easily replaceable since new junior recruits lack the experience, the morale, the skill and coordination to perform complex manoeuvres to push back the superior Sri Lankan forces.

With the commanders of 53/55 finding lesser resistance, barring the weather, it will not be long before the National Front will flare up again with assault teams adding pressure on the remaining FDLs of the Tamil Tigers. With 58 troops having breached the earth bund defending the PARANTHAN town limits, it will be not long before the Tamil Tiger reserves based around the EPS region be under severe pressure facing a dilemma similar to the troops of 54 Division faced in 2000. If the Tamil Tigers are to withdraw and lose EPS and PARANTHAN it is sure to abandon what's left of KILINOCHCHI as well because the KILINOCHCHI area will become a massive salient. A salient is a battlefield feature which projects into enemy territory and any Tamil Tigers within this area will become highly vulnerable.

There lies yet another strategically significant reason for the SLA commanders' need to push down from the National Front. If there was one counterstrike that could tip the balance in favour of the Tamil Tigers that would be the one to regain the Jaffna peninsula. Any daring counterstrike with the remaining cadre strength is sure to deplete the Tamil Tigers further of its cadre base and its assets, for with the current strength it will have to vacate its entire cadre base of the Wanni and mobilise it to accomplish the strike on Jaffna. Thus such a large scale ambitious counterstrike simply put; is a risky gamble for the Tamil Tigers. By doing so it is sure to lose the entire Wanni. This means it can choose only either Jaffna or the Wanni.

If it opts for Wanni as it is doing at present and launches a counterstrike with all its might to regain a region of the Wanni for example POONERYN; it may succeed with its entire cadre base being mobilised for this objective. However, whether it will be the Gordian knot for its woes is the million dollar question. POONERYN holds no population base hence the Tamil Tigers will not be in a position to recruit its lost cadre. It may manage to replenish a small fraction of its supplies across the Palk Straits however, it will fail to meet the requirement since annihilating 58 Division alone to reach POONERYN will not mean the Tamil Tigers have seen the back of the Sri Lankan armed forces. By having mobilised its entire cadre to regain POONERYN means it would have lost the entire Wanni barring POONERYN and will be staring down the barrel of the rest of the offensive divisions.

Therefore if the Tamil Tigers are to launch a successful counterattack, it has to be a region that holds a sizeable population base for new recruits and an area that is close enough to smuggle in vital supplies. Out of the entire Northern theatre of operations ONLY the Jaffna peninsula brings forth such rich dividends. Jaffna peninsula holds a population base of over 650000 compared to the sparsely populated Wanni which estimates are thought to hold less than 300000. And it is in close proximity to the Indian state of Tamil Nadu where many Tamil Tiger safe houses are known to exist. With the entire peninsula under its control it will have plenty of coastal belts to continue its smuggling operation with impunity.

By mobilising the 53/55 Divisions and making them go on the offense and force its way South completely negates the Tamil Tigers' ability to launch ANY counterstrike to get a foothold on the Jaffna peninsula - the cultural centre of the Eelam ethos. This is why earlier I briefed my avid readers that any counterstrike by the Tamil Tigers after 53/55 have been mobilised may come too little too late.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The March to Pooneryn and beyond

58 copy

Up until November 1993 the POONERYN defence complex formed a complementary defence mechanism encompassing EPS and the Jaffna islets in safeguarding the peninsula from the Tamil Tigers. Since the fall of the POONERYN defence complex, it has been of immense strategical value to the Tamil Tigers providing it with a base to disrupt the naval/air bridge connecting the Jaffna peninsula with the South using its T59I 130mm howitzers and coastal littorals to launch its Sea Tiger assets and smuggling operations.

Pooneryn defence complex used to overlook the Jaffna/Kilaly lagoon and proved to be the nemesis for Tamil Tigers' free movement/logistics activities in this sector. It also proved to be a hindrance for Tamil Tiger radio traffic between Wanni mainland and the Jaffna peninsula which, barring the PALAY/KKS HSZ, was under complete control of the Tamil Tigers. This was the primary reason for Operation Thavalai (frog) to take place to overwhelm this isolated defence complex. This land mass also provided a suitable base for the Tamil Tigers to use the T-59I 130mm howitzers to disrupt the vital air/naval bridge at PALALY/KKS HSZ and any other target that falls within in its range spectrum. It also proved useful for launching its sea tiger assets during its many assaults on Jaffna islets and during its failed Jaffna offensive of 2006.

With 58 Division making headway along the A32 bagging Tamil Tiger bases at VIDALATHIVU, ILLUPPAKADAVAI, VELLANKULAM, MULANKAVIL in a matter of weeks, the Tamil Tigers possibly borrowing a leaf out of Hindenberg's book set about to build their own Hindenberg line from PANDIVEDDIKULAM to AKKARANKULAM west, fortified with bunkers, deep trenches. The machine gun posts were positioned such that it severely limited the attacker's ability to exploit cover by providing interlocking fields of fire.

Despite its immense fortification, the troops of 58 many months ago succeeded in punching through certain points along this earth bund and held on while the rear was exploited. Such limited 'bite and hold' operations are means to exploit and seize terrain which were major sections of the Tamil Tiger's defensive positions and considered important by the SLA battleplanners. The advantage of such limited ops is that it avoids the SLA overstretching themselves hence reducing its vulnerability to an impending counterattack. Soon as the 58 Division troops took up positions, the Tamil Tigers using its elites launched its own limited counterattacks to regain the lost strongpoints along the bund, without any success. One such area was the KARAMBAKULAM area where the Tamil Tigers had used the tank bund of the defunct reservoir for its defensive purposes. This area was breached on the 17th of September 08 with much sacrifice.

Through the exploited KARAMBAKULAM area troops of 582 and 583  forged ahead. While 581 lay siege on the NACHCHIKUDA jetty from the South and the East, 583 moved North ahead of the earth bund and cut the A32 from the North of the NACHCHIKUDA base.

Meanwhile 582 concentrated on expanding the breach head. A narrow penetrative corridor such as the one at KARAMBAKULAM means that there are fewer smaller routes of access for supplies. Fewer smaller routes of supplies means the troops that poured in through the defences or exploitation forces in military parlance will move slower with slower commitment. A small supply route also means, it can only sustain a smaller exploitation force. Further such a narrow frontage means it increases the vulnerability of a potential counterattack for, the counterattacking Tamil Tigers require to only advance a short distance to cut the supply route.  Mobilising troops through a narrow breach of a formidable defence line without further expanding the penetrative corridor always inherently risky. This is the reason why troops of 582 along with 571 troops of the 57 Division set about to completely dismantle the Tamil Tiger earth bund by expanding their punch holes in pre-determined stages. This was a slow process.

In order to achieve the objective by destroying the hostile forces while preserving as much as SLA's own, increasing the ability to take and hold ground in minimum time; 582 ventured North towards MANNIYANKULAM, KUCHCHUKKULAM, NOCHCHIMODDAI and ANAIVILUNTHAN - North of KARAMBAKULAM to disrupt the flow of reinforcements and engage them North of the objective and make them battle fatigued by the time they reached the defenders at the earth bund.

There was another objective in this move. MANNIYANKULAM holds a five way junction located 4Kms North of KARAMBAKULAM. This junction from the West connects to the A-32 road at the 11th and 12th mile posts, from the North to the Pooneryn - Paranthan road and from the South to the Akkarayankulam road. Hence this area alone provides the 58 battleplanners many avenues of approach for the future.

One such avenue - the PARANTHAN-POONERYN road- bears the potential to cut off the entire POONERYN peninsula from the Tamil Tiger controlled Wanni and bring forth 58 Division's  long term objective - POONERYN. Once this road in under control it provides the SLA battleplanners the opportunity to enter the North of KILINOCHCHI town via PARANTHAN which once housed the outermost satellite camp of the EPS base complex.

With the fall of NACHCHIKUDA on the 30th of October, 58 Division can be expected to lay siege on the VALLAIPADU sea tiger jetty located North West of NACHCHIKUDA. The PALAVI jungle areas surrounding VALLAIPADU is ideal for SLA's small unit independent manoeuvres, making it effective for cover and concealment. Even though a direct route exists to VALLAIPADU from the VALLAIPADU junction located South of JEYAPURAM, the current SLA strategy involves small units to leave exposed land and roads and take circuitous routes. Such routes require accurate ground reconnaissance, advanced scouting to map out minefields, enemy positions and strongpoints, prepositioning and rehearsals. All this in reality accounts for more time than the actual assault. However if 58 forges ahead up the A32 up to PALLIKUDA the entire DEVIL'S POINT landmass will be cut off from the Wanni mainland. Such a move will also prevent the Tamil Tigers from fortifying its positions close to POONERYN and will render the VALLAIPADU jetty inoperable with no land route available.

The advantages to the military establishment of the fall of POONERYN is manifold.

  1. Opens up a land based MSR across the SANGUPIDDY-KERATIVU jetty linking POONERYN to the JAFFNA mainland.
  2. Thus reduces the workload of the Navy and SLAF in maintaining the bridge across the sea and air.
  3. The Tamil Tigers are set to lose its entire Western Coast and hence a logistical nightmare to its sea faring wing in smuggling its supplies from the TamilNadu warehouses.
  4. Provides the SLN to establish itself again at NAGATHEVANTHURAI overlooking the KILALY lagoon thus an observation point against Tamil Tiger infiltrations towards the Jaffna peninsula.
  5. And allows the SLN to block any refugee or fleeing Tamil Tigers cadres from entering Tamil Nadu.
  6. Provides the 51 Division which is based in the WALIKAMAM area to expand across the lagoon and perform holding duties.
  7. Puts the Tamil Tiger long range T59I 130mm howitzers out of the range of vital security establishments within the peninsula.
  8. Provides vital intelligence to the military establishment on Tamil Tiger artillery pillboxes at K-point
  9. Allows the 58 Division to concentrate on areas North of KILINOCHCHI along the POONERYN-PARANTHAN road
  10. Removes the Tamil Tiger artillery and W86 120mm heavy mortar pads that were within range of the operations sphere of 55/53 Divisions
  11. And provides the SLA additional fire support bases to conduct suppressive fire towards known enemy fire support locations.

Since the days the earth bund was pierced, the Tamil Tigers made sure they repositioned their long range artillery from POONERYN's K point. Currently they are stationed at a location East of PARANTHAN giving the Tamil Tigers the opportunity to engage 55 troops at MUHAMALAI, 57 troops operating at AKKARAYAN, 58 troops operating at NOCHCHIMODDAI and 59 troops IF they manage to enter areas North of the Nayaru lagoon.

If 58 Division decides to move East once it has achieved its objective and reaches PARANTHAN, the Tamil Tigers stationed at the former EPS complex may face the same harsh annihilation endured by the 54 Division troops at EPS in April 2000. That is of course, is if 53/55 commanders decide to position the 58 Division at PARANTHAN during their war gaming process. With the current mood among troops operating various crumbling operations at the National Front translating to something like "if we breakthrough, only 59 will stop us", the day the national front will flare up again is not far off.

As always only time will tell...

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Tamil Tigers' Defensive Gamble


Tamil Tigers' worst nightmare: A Counterstrike, too little too late

Defensive battle is always a gamble. Defending commanders have deliberately chosen to absorb an enemy assault they know is coming, inviting the enemy to attack where it might most effectively be destroyed. If the strategy works the weakened attacker is left with little force to resist a counterstrike, if it fails the defenders will be left with no alternative but surrender.

There are many facets of defensive battle. One is to entice an enemy towards you to maintain the initiative to give the enemy an idea of vulnerability but to draw them into a situation from which they cannot return and then to launch a spectacular counterstrike. Another is to worn the enemy off by building strong defensive positions that fighting against them would cause the enemy huge casualties and huge distress. In order to opt which of these is the ideal, the commander must have good and accurate intelligence on the enemy's intentions. It is vital to know what the enemy's intentions are, what their strengths are what their weaknesses are because a commander with such detailed intelligence can prepare not only to exploit the enemy's weaknesses but also prepare to strengthen his own weaknesses. With these intelligence at hand the commanders must have sufficient time to finalise their defensive battleplan and to prepare the ground on which the battle will be fought. At the start of the campaign the defending troops and the defensive positions must be able to stand up against and absorb the enemy attack especially when its at its ferocious and deter the enemy long enough and grind them till the commanders decide an opportune moment to launch their counterattack. Commanders must be realistic of their objectives of the counterstrike and not overstretch themselves. Such a counterstrike at any stages remains the crucial factor in the defensive battle, battleplan. It is almost always the last act.

However, this plan has two great dangers. First being, this requires significant and sometimes deliberate sacrifice of one's own soldiers. Therefore maintaining morale dictates that defending troops must not know they are part of a deliberately planned defensive battle. And the population might think of the defensive battle as a negative set back and not understand that it can be a part of a war winning plan. Secondly a defensive battle commander is inviting the enemy to attack him but he may never really know the enemy's full intentions. It very well might be the enemy who actually has the initiative intending to pin the defensive forces down and outflank them from elsewhere.

During the first World War, obliged to fight a war on two fronts- against Russia in the East and France in the West- the central powers, Germany and Austro-Hungary desperately required to preserve their dwindling manpower, for the horrific slaughters at Verdun and at the Somme in 1916 had exhausted the Germans as much as the French and the British. To shorten their defence line and thus economise on troops, the Central powers decided to build formidable fortifications across the vulnerable open country side of the Western and Central sectors of the Western front during the winter of 1916. This was named the Hindenberg Line. With this line German Field Marshall von Hindenberg was playing a longer game, preparing the central powers to absorb multiple British or French attacks until conditions changed and a counterstrike can be mounted. The Germans however also calculated that another campaigning season might see Russia collapse in the East. If that happens massive new forces will be released for a showdown in the West. To achieve this delay and free the forces pinned down in the East were the main objective of the Hindenberg line that ran for 90 miles from the north sea to Verdun. The Germans believed it was impregnable. Hindenberg hoped that this line was so formidable that it may persuade the allies not to attack buying him the time he needed.

If the Lucy ring operating off Switzerland which was part of the Soviet Red Orchestra spy network of disaffected German officers were passing on German plans of the Battle of Kursk, in 1917 Hindenberg did not have this level of intelligence on British intentions. He only knew that an allied offensive will come. Nevertheless Hindenberg's line held up well against a variety of allied assaults such as the April 1917 Arras offensive where wave after wave of allied assaults were conducted on fruitless attempts of a breakthrough. The French army suffered serious casualties and collapsed putting it out of action for the rest of the year as a result. Throughout 1917, Hindenberg's defensive battleplan had achieved its objective with the British still struggling at the Passchendaele ridge only 6 miles from where they started. This bought the Germans vital time. In the end, the wait paid off. At the East the Russian revolution was sweeping across Russia. By March 1917 the Czar abdicated and during July 1917 a final desperate Russian offensive was comprehensively beaten by the Germans.

In defensive battle the defending commander has an inherent advantage as far as intelligence is concerned. In particular he has the opportunity to gain intimate knowledge of the terrain over which the battle will be fought. Hindenberg's line was prepared over a year earlier. The section code named Siegfried in front of the town Cambrai where Haig had decided to launch his attack was 5.5 miles deep with excellent use of terrain. The defences incorporated thick belts of barbed wire, machine gun posts and trenches designed to stop tanks. Further behind these, to conserve troops Hindenberg established mobile reserves to reinforce whatever point the allies breached.

The key operational problem of most defending forces is to gather enough time to muster sufficient reserves to nullify the differential concentration. In military parlance this means that attackers usually employ a disproportionately high concentration of force employment against a small portion of the defender's lines by using the initiative and surprise. Traditionally in the 1915s an attack was preceded by days of bombardment. This warns defenders that an offensive is shaping up in the horizon, advertising the point of attack and provided the defender vital time required to shift its reserves from elsewhere and even the numerical superiority or the differential concentration. But at Cambrai the early morning of November 20th 1917 was silent. The Germans with prior experience of day long bombardments were not expecting an attack. At 0620 hours the British employed the modern tactic the Hurricane Barrage which included a 1000 gun barrage and the bombardment by 14 squadrons of the Royal Flying Core. 300 tanks leading 6 infantry divisions broke off their lines under the cover of this Hurricane barrage. This new infantry tactics surprised the Germans since they did not anticipate an assault for two reasons. First the approaching winter usually signaled an end to the campaigning season until the spring next year and Hindenberg did not expect Haig to attack his lines yet again in the same year. Second, due to the modern system tactics employed by the British - the Hurricane Barrage - enabled the attackers to begin the assault before the defenders could respond to the local differential concentration.

The British tanks tore through the seemingly impregnable defences. By 0800 hours the British had overrun the main Hindenberg line and by mid afternoon the British had advanced astonishingly over 6Kms. Such an advance was not accomplished in 4 months of fighting during the third battle of Ypres. At first it seemed the German defences were collapsing. However, Hindenberg's defensive battleplan made the British to be held up at the middle of the front with German field guns and machine gun posts that lay out of the range of the initial Hurricane Barrage. Hindenberg's defensive depth also meant that the British had to travel an increased distance through this 'Devil's Garden' to breakthrough completely. Once an attacker begins to break through such depth, its power progressively erodes. This entropic effect of depth, thus sets up the defender's reserves ability for a successful counterattack. In this process the British lost 179 tanks with 4000 casualties in just the first day. After 10 days since the beginning of the offensive the British were exhausted. Their lines of communication were stretched and they were still within the network of German defences. During this time the German defenders were slowing down the British advance enough to bring in the reserves for the next stage of Hindenberg's battleplan - the Counterstrike. They soaked up and entangled the British advance sufficiently enough for the counterattack phase.

Hindenberg's counterstrike concentrated on the Southern end of the British line where the British were at their weakest. Hindenberg launched an hour long barrage, while small infantry teams infiltrated through the British defences softened up by the hour long barrage and took out the British guns that were thought to be safe in the rear. These specialist counterattack infantry teams used innovative tactics such as machine pistols and flame throwers to neutralise the fire support bases. This German counterattack managed to push back the British some 8 miles into the Southern British sector well beyond the original British line before the November 20th offensive. However Hindenberg ordered his men to take the counterstrike far enough to return the frontline to its approximate positions before the British offensive.

Like Hindenberg commanders must be realistic about their objectives and not overstretch themselves. One of the most important aspects of the counterstrike plan will be how far that counterstrike should push before coming to its culminating point. The last thing a commander launching a counterstrike would want is to find himself at the end of a tenuous line of communication and vulnerable to a counterstrike himself.

Since the fall of the Eastern province, the Tamil Tigers have been conducting defensive battle on 4 main fronts. This defensive battle was either forced by the multi-axis fronts opened by the Sri Lankan armed forces, or planned deliberately by the Tamil Tiger battleplanners attempting to emulate what they did during the 1997 Jayasikurui campaign where they vacated large swathes of land. What is surprising in these series of limited operation conducted by the armed forces is the fact that, large scale counter attacks that reversed the campaign outcomes in a matter of days has not featured in the Tamil Tiger battle plan of Eelam war IV yet. With territory fast shrinking and vital supply bases and coastal belts falling into Government hands, how long the Tamil Tigers plan to conduct their defensive battleplan remains to be seen. Defensive battle is always a gamble and for the Tamil Tigers any miscalculation thereby a failure is quite catastrophic.

If the Tamil Tigers are indeed emulating the Hindenberg tactics, it surely is bound to fail for a number of reasons. If Hindenberg had a clear objective - to buy time by deterring the enemy for as long as his Eastern Russian threat was negated - with the current ground realities it is questionable as to whether the Tamil Tigers do have an overall objective. Like Hindenberg if the Tamil Tigers are buying time, it would either be hoping to seek international intervention or for the heavens to open up with the hope of driving the invading SLA to a muddy quagmire it faced during the last stages of Jayasikurui and during the early stages of the Wanni offensive last year to a lesser extent.

The heavily fortified NACHCHIKUDA-AKKARAYANKULAM earth bund is a good deterrent for any invading force. However it is geometrically permanent and allows to be easily surveyed from air and LRS teams thus allowing the SLA to build plans around it. It also fails to deliver defensive depth (unlike the Hindenberg line) to its key towns and areas of strategic importance such as POONERYN and KILINOCHCHI, hence a few punched holes in its defence presents the SLA's elite reserves to pour in towards the area behind this earth bund which is relatively undefended and wreak havoc among the Tamil Tiger supply chains. This renders the Tamil Tiger FDLs incapable of functioning at full efficiency. These are the objectives of the SLA attack teams - breakthrough and exploitation - gaining access to the rear which holds the guerilla supporting infrastructure. If Hindenberg's defenders managed to cause severe casualties and immense distress on the attacking British and the French, thus far the Tamil Tigers have not managed to inflict such levels of casualties on the marauding small strike teams of SLA divisions. (The tactics of such small unit independent manoeuvre will be briefed more in detail in a future brief of mine).

Yet another reason as to why the Tamil Tiger defensive battle gamble is poised to fail is its severe lack of intelligence. During the early days of the battles for ADAMPAN (ATTAMPANA) the Tamil Tigers had fortified the UYILANKULAM-ADAMPAN road expecting 58 Division to meet the defenders head on. Instead, meeting head on turned out to be a SLA tactic that pinned down the Tamil Tiger defenders with fixing attacks while the 581 and 582 had encircled the town with a double envelopment.  As mentioned above without vital intelligence defensive battle is a risky gamble. It very well might be the enemy who actually has the initiative intending to pin the defensive forces down and outflank them from elsewhere.

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The inherent risks of Defensive battle: It very well might be the enemy who actually has the initiative with the intention to pin the defensive forces down and outflank them from elsewhere.

If the Tamil Tigers are to launch a Oyatha Alaikal (Ceaseless Waves) type assault bringing its lost territory and pushing the FDLs to status quo ante, it surely is risking overstretching itself in the process and hence being very vulnerable to a potential counterstrike by the SLA themselves, for in the current theatre of operations the Sri Lankan battleplanners have made sure they have left no vulnerable salient for the Tamil Tigers to exploit as happened before. With a dwindling experienced cadre base and supplies, how long it can hold and continue such a counterstrike, if it opts to, remains to be seen. As mentioned above once an attacker begins to break through such depth, its power progressively erodes. This entropic effect of depth, thus sets up the SLA's reserves ability for a successful counterattack.

Perhaps this is another reason - not to overstretch itself during its counterattack - why the only form of counterattack the Tamil Tigers have thrown against the 57, 58 and 59 Divisions thus far has been limited attempts at re-capturing vital strong points or grounds of tactical importance. The majority of current limited counterstrikes have taken place along the Earth bund spanning across from NACHCHIKUDA to AKKARAYAN where Sri Lankan armed forces have pierced more than 3 points and have stationed themselves on this earth bund. In some positions the warring parties are positioned as close as a few yards.

As mentioned in an earlier brief there are many reasons why thus far the Tamil Tigers have not opted the final phase of a defensive battleplan - the countertsrike. Main among them has been SLA's superior intelligence apparatus, superior defensive tactics (which I will brief in the future), superior aerial surveillance platforms hovering above monitoring FDLs on a 24/7 basis and the Tamil Tigers' lack of leadership and SLA's pursuit of eliminating key Tamil Tiger field operatives. Not all commanders have the ability to launch a counterattack battleplan. As much as a commander that leads an offensive into enemy territory needs to be dynamic and bold, the commander who launches the counter strike needs to be even more dynamic and even more bolder often because he himself has just suffered a defeat and he’s just got to take on an enemy that’s just won a victory and exploit a certain success that might not be eagerly apparent to him. What he needs to do is to move quickly, he needs to be fast and above all, he needs to throw caution to the wind. With the Tamil Tigers losing its premier commanders with the likes of renegade Karuna, Balraj, Charles, Thamil Chelvan etc it is unlikely that the replacements will be able to emulate and deliver the same dynamic bold feats and charisma of these late commanders.

With a decisive counterstrike capable of returning the FDLs to status quo ante yet to materialise, the Sri Lankan armed forces, adhering to its own deadlines and tactics will continue to inch in further into Tamil Tiger territory, making it even harder for the Tamil Tigers to stage a comeback with supplies and cadre strength diminishing each day due to daily attrition. As each day passes by, as troops inch closer and closer towards KILINOCHCHI and POONERYN, the day the premier battle hardened offensive divisions 53 and 55 will unleash itself is not far off. Any counterstrikes afterwards may come too little too late for the Tamil Tigers.

Only time will tell...

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Farewell General Sir...


With eyes full of tears, she begged me not to go, for the sake of their future. However, I was determined to go. When Elephant pass and Jaffna were about to fall, the officers in Jaffna called me and said that they would perish unless I come and save them. This compelled me to ask for permission from General Weerasuriya to go to north. I told my daughter, that if I stayed back, one family would be pleased, but 32,000 security personnel would perish, leaving their families in woe and misery - Maj Gen Perera prior to taking over the post of OOC Jaffna, April 2000 (Excerpts from interview with Tissa Ravindra Perera).









October 6th, 2008 a dastardly act of terrorism took away one giant tower of strength of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Major General Janaka Perera who fought with valour and vigour for 34 years to safeguard his country from the scourge of terrorism is to take the journey to his last resting place today.

General Sir, you were a real officer and charming gentleman and above all a very professional soldier, who always had your subordinates in mind. Your daily radio addresses calling us "Maage abheetha weerodara puthanuweni (My brave sons)" and bunker hops made us feel we were secure and defeat a long way away. Most of all you made us feel we were all worthy; worthy enough to be your own son. You gave us hope when there was none.

The President said that she had sent Lakshman Kadirgamar to arrange Indian ships to evacuate the soldiers and asked for our opinion. The Defence Chiefs, Defence Secretary and the Defence Minister were at the meeting, but no one answered. I told the President not to do it and explained to her that we would not be able to save at least 10,000 soldiers, if this plan was carried out. I said that the only way left for us was to fight and that I would take up that responsibility. - Maj Gen Perera prior to taking over the post of OOC Jaffna, April 2000 (Excerpts from interview with Tissa Ravindra Perera).

General Sir, Sleep well. We shall meet again. Perhaps in the same land where terrorism will long be eradicated, where racial animosity will be a thing of history and where every citizen will treat each other with nobility and dignity irrespective of political clout. May you attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world 'This was a man!'

This was Janaka Perera...

Sunday, 28 September 2008

57 expands its tentacles

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After 57 successfully captured MALLAVI and UYILANKULAM on the 22nd of August 08, displaying immense flexibility and manoeuvrability the focus of 57 shifted to the A9 trunk road. The triple assault on the SFHQ-W on the 9th of September 08 at VAVUNIYA made the battleplanners shift their focus towards the A9, which was used to tow the Tamil Tiger heavy guns and possibly to make one of their Zling-143 aircraft airborne.

With the Tamil Tiger main defence line already running from NACHCHIKUDA to West of AKKARAYANKULAM, they set about with hectic preparations to extend their earth bund towards the East of AKKARAYANKULAM to prevent 57 from reaching the outskirts of KILINOCHCHI. To seize the initiative early on from the Tamil Tigers, troops attached to 571 were dispatched with two main objectives at hand:


2. Thereby cutting off any supplies running towards AKKARAYANKULAM, and encircle the AKKARANKULAM tank thus outflanking the staunch Tamil Tiger defences based west of AKKARAYANKULAM. This also relieves the pressure on 58 Division battling the same earth bund running between NACHCHIKUDA to KARAMBAKULAM.

While 571 is faced with these objectives, 572 from KOKAVIL and 573 from MANKULAM are tasked with cutting off the A9 to prevent the Tamil Tigers from exploiting the A9 to bring vital security installations under its artillery range and bringing in supplies to its VAVUNIYA front. With this move the 57 Division is very well poised to capture two major hubs of the Tamil Tigers. If KOKAVIL is of political value, MANKULAM is of the highest military value for it is a vital junction that connects the A9 to the A34 that runs through dense MULATIVU jungles towards the North East. The overall military gain of this move is the denial of the A9 from KOKAVIL to MANKULAM to the Tamil Tigers. With the cut off of the A9 from the North, the 56 and 62 Divisions further South battling the Tamil Tigers are expected to find a depleted resistance and ease through the territory once the Tamil Tiger defences flood away on its own due to the lack of vital supplies and medevacs.

With one of the priorities being to filter out civilians as much as from the Wanni hinterland before a final onslaught, thus far the battleplanners have left the A9 as a conflict free zone. This is to make sure the civilians moving towards the OMANTHAI entry/exit point to be free of hassle as well as to ensure the smooth flow of humanitarian aid.

With the current developments taking shape on the A9 from MANKULAM onwards, aid agencies are expected to take the A34 towards MULATIVU avoiding the current conflict zones. This move also highlights the likely areas where a major military thrust is likely to take place.

With the Tamil Tigers fast losing its vast swathes of territory it once had, its VIPs and valuable assets are now confined to a limited land area - namely the dense MULATIVU forest. Using the knowledge of Tiger guerilla doctrine, the capability of modern weapon systems/platforms and the laws of elimination, the day of the dreaded decapitation strikes for the Tamil Tigers that will eliminate their once invincible leaders once and for all is not far off. Only time will tell...

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Battle of El-Alamein: Lessons from the past


Image Courtesy of Noclador

Breaking a fortified line is what every soldier fears and a commanders last resort. It means attacking defences head on that are dug in, protected and cannot be outflanked. The enemy is well armed and well prepared and are expecting the attack.

The defender gets to choose the exact ground he wants to defend and he often has time to prepare and maximise his use of weapons. The attackers know that they will take heavy casualties thus the troops must be clear as to why they have been asked to sacrifice themselves. Therefore the most important aspect about breaking into a fortified line is morale. The infantry has to have the drive and morale to get through the obstacles. Otherwise if the attack bogs down they are as good as dead resulting in defeat.

Commanders who initiate to break a fortified line can have a range of objectives; either to simply seize ground, to destroy the enemy army in that position or to break through to begin a different type of battle. Once initiated commanders must seize the initiative and maintain that advantage from the first moment and must not allow their attack to stall or slow. They must keep it moving. They also must be flexible enough to cope with unforeseen problems or exploit unexpected advantages.

Such an example was the Second battle of El-Alamein where the German Field Marshall Rommel - the commander of the Deutsches Afrikakorps had made the allied 8th Army withdraw and setup a FDL at a point adjoining the Qattara depression and the Mediterranean sea. From here the allied 8th Army launched unsuccessful counter attacks at Rommel's africa corps. As a measure of defence Rommel too setup his own FDL facing the allies. This allowed his exhausted troops to regroup before a final assault. Even though he had planned for a regroup, constant allied raids were crippling his supplies across the sea by two thirds. Knowing very well the allies were regrouping with uninterrupted supplies, Rommel decided to breakthrough while the allied buildup was incomplete. However the allies managed to halt the advance at Alam el Halfa ridge. Expecting General Montgomery - the commander of the 8th Army to strike and capitalise on the victory, Rommel dug in a fortified line.

Rommel's frontline was 40 miles long. The desert ahead of the FDL was largely flat and open so any movement can be seen for miles. At the front lay a minefield 5 miles deep covered with barbed wire. This was code named devil's garden. Behind this were the formidable German anti-tank guns in well concealed positions designed to withstand heavy artillery and aerial bombardment. Following classic military doctrine Rommel's defences avoided being linear. Instead it was built to be a defensive web allowing the defender to fight at every direction. Behind this web Rommel concealed his armour to counter any breakthrough of his defences.

Classic military doctrine suggests that attackers need 3:1 ratio against defenders. Against well entrenched positions it jumps to 5:1. At El-Alamein Montgomery had 200000 men, 1000 tanks and 900 aircraft. Against him Rommel had 100000 men, 500 tanks and 350 aircraft. This is in addition to the minefields. In military parlance minefields are known as a combined arms weapon. They are designed to channelise armor and men into predetermined kill zones. To deal with mines the offender has to slow down and that makes him very vulnerable for the enemy. To avoid the enemy counter fire he needs to speed up, but this makes him vulnerable to mines. But this did not deter Montgomery. Despite the heavy odds, he and his men had no other choice. A flank was not available to exploit. From the South was the impassable Qattara depression and from the North was the Mediterranean sea. Montgomery was also not comfortable with the superiority of the force ratio. But he was getting his supplies freely through the Mediterranean whereas Rommel's supplies were successfully intercepted by air strikes. Montgomery also enjoyed the intelligence advantage with Enigma decoding German transmissions.

It is very rare for any commander to have the 3:1 let alone 5:1 force ratio which military theorists consider essential to break a fortified line but it is possible to gather the necessary superiority at least locally by using deception and surprise.

First General Montgomery takes a bold decision to attack the line from the North when his earlier predecessors attempted at the South thereby trapping the enemy against the Mediterranean coast. This was while his deception battleplan set about to convince Rommel that he was indeed following his predecessors and was attacking the South. He positioned dummy trucks and tanks. A dummy oil pipe was built from El-Alamein to the South slowly enough to convince Rommel that the allies will not initiate an assault (on the South) till the pipe was complete. False radio traffic made the German listeners focus on the South. In the North immense efforts were underway to camouflage troops and tank concentrations. The deception was so successful that Rommel left for Germany for medical attention with just a month before Montgomery's D day.

On the approach to D day Montgomery conducted an diversionary attack on the South to pin down half of Rommel's forces. At the north in Operation Lightfoot infantry were tasked with cutting two corridors through the devil's garden. Engineers were to clear a path under the over of artillery for tanks and mark them with white tape and hooded lanterns. The objective of the two tank divisions was to cross the devil's garden by dawn and strike.

On October 23rd 1942 at 2140 hours under the cover of a barrage of 1000 guns, the Allied infantry advanced towards their objectives. The artillery and infantry advanced in a creeping barrage. In military parlance it mean artillery moves 100 yards every 3 minutes with the infantry following. In a creeping barrage coordination has to be precise. At the battle of El-Alamein the 51st Highlanders advanced too fast, running into friendly fire from the allied barrage. Nevertheless Montogomery's initial assault had gained sufficient impetus until the tank divisions were to churn along the route cleared by the engineers. Unfortunately the path cleared by the engineers was only one tank wide. Once the first tanks were hit by 88mm anti-tank weapons, the entire pathway was blocked trapping the tanks within the devil's garden. The gun flashes of the incoming troops made picking up the targets easier for the Germans and battered the bogged down tanks with artillery. As the sun rose the advance faltered. The tanks had failed to clear the minefields and make headway to support the infantry who had crossed the minefields by dawn. Instead of moving on without losing momentum, they were forced to dig in. Within a few hours Montgomery had lost the impetus to Rommel. During the first 48 hours of battle Montgomery lost over 200 tanks and he called off operation Lightfoot.

One of the key requirements in breaking a fortified line is not lose the momentum created by the initial impetus and to be flexible in changing tactics when their plans go wrong or to exploit advantages when they go right. All attacks lose impetus with time. Clausewitz wrote about this as being the Culminating point. The key is to be smart enough to recognise that point, rapidly refuel, rearm and get your men moving again towards the objective or re-plan the assault.

Once Montgomery called off his large scale offensive, he switched to a series of small scale assaults on enemy strongpoints along the defence line code named crumbling. Montgomery was the master of deliberate attack. His crumbling attacks were aimed at getting amongst the enemy and to force the enemy's defensive cohesion to flood away. He also used his force ratio supremacy of the air. He used over 800 bomber sorties and over 2000 fighter bomber sorties each day on pre-identified targets.

With these crumbling attacks, Rommel's forces were pinned down with supplies running out fast, giving Montgomery room to manoeuvre. Trying to assume Montgomery's next move, Rommel moved a large part of his Africa core over to the Mediterranean. But the allies learn this through intelligence intercepts and plans the assault further towards the South than planned. It is code named Supercharge.


Monty's Supercharge Image courtesy of Noclador

By the time - November 2, 1942 - Supercharge is begun, Montogomery has 800 tanks left with plenty of fuel. Rommel was left with only 102 tanks with fuel and ammo critically low. Despite the initial breakthrough as before, Montgomery lost some 200 tanks at the day's end due to heavy resistance and mines. The attrition had however reduced Rommel's tanks to less than a 100 and at breaking point. Once the line was broken, despite Hitler's orders of not to retreat, Rommel orders his men to retreat and take up defensive positions 60miles to the rear to counter the break out stage of the Allied 8th Army.

The Sri Lankan theatre:

If General Montgomery had a stretch of 40 miles to manoeuvre his units deceptively or otherwise, the Sri Lankan battleplanners have only a narrow stretch of only 7 miles to successfully manoeuvre its units. With no available flank - at least on ground - they have to meet the Tamil Tigers head on. The narrow stretch also makes it far more easier for the Tamil Tigers to coordinate their fire support.

With the Tamil Tigers having more than 5 years to perfect their defences along the 7 miles stretch spanning from KILALY to NAGARKOVIL, this front provides the most fortified line in the current Sri Lankan conflict. Like Rommel the Tamil Tigers have tried their best to increase their force ratio using minefields, trenches, camouflaged boobytraps, highly mobile artillery and mortar units which have littered the coastline spanning from KILALY to POONERYN. They have used the minefields successfully as a combined arms weapons, channelising the armour units of the 53 and 55 Divisions to take the path through pre-planned kill zones. The largely open flat area of no man's land means, any troop movement is easily spotted by the Tamil Tigers. On these kill zones the Tamil Tigers on previous occasions were known to employ the box barrage where the artillery/mortar would rain on 3 or 4 barrages forming a box thus trapping troops within. Such a barrage can only be conducted on pre-registered locations and was successfully conducted to trap 1GR and 5VIR during the April 08 offensive. This is the Sri Lankan Devil's Garden.

As my previous briefs have mentioned, the biggest challenge the Sri Lankan forces face in this sector is the neutralisation of the enemy indirect fire support. One method is to conduct suppressive counterfire at targets identified by their trajectories (ie firefinders). The second method is to use close air support by the SLAF using its superior platforms to target mobile artillery/mortar units and the third is to thin out the enemy's limited resources by conducting a multi axis approach. With the Sri Lankan armed forces moving steadily within the KILINOCHCHI district towards the sectors that houses the artillery/mortar units - POONERYN/PARANTHAN/KILALY axis - the Tamil Tigers may be forced to deploy some of its assets which otherwise could be used to halt an advance in the MUHAMALE sector. The effects of this method is already evident since the Tamil Tiger commander who was based at MUHAMALE was known to be appointed in charge of defending the KILINOCHCHI district from the 57 and 58 divisions.

Emulating the crumbling operations of General Montgomery, the 53 and 55 Divisions have been carrying out successful small scale assaults on the Tamil Tiger FDL on a constant basis. The main aim of such attacks is to destabilize the FDL defences causing the cohesion and morale of the defenders to flood away. Further such a series of crumbling operations allows the Sri Lankan battle planners to master their opening game as well as shore up the morale of its soldiers. In addition they have been conducting daily training exercises, honing their coordination and skills.

Just like General Montgomery successfully used his superiority of the air to enhance his force ratio, the SLAF too needs to be taken into consideration for future battles in this sector since it can significantly increase the force ratio of the Sri Lankan armed forces within this sector. The intention of SLAF air strikes are to cause widespread destruction with the aim of depleting target numbers thus reducing the number of forward targets for the infantry to engage. This is particularly important for areas that are out of SLA's artillery range i.e the deep battle space where ammo dumps, transit camps for reinforcements etc are likely to be located. Further it can also reduce the number of fire support assets the Tamil Tigers may have access to.

Lastly the commanders must be skilled enough to recognise the all important Clausewitz's culminating point - the point at which the force is unable to perform well enough to achieve its objective - as well as be flexible with the overall battleplan. The last thing a commander requires is his strike force to stall or slow in the midst of a Devil's garden as happened during April 08 when 55 were ordered to stall till 53 caught up. The only way this culminating point be recognised early on, is through experience and practice. The War Gaming process is important in this aspect since it allows the battle planners to test their operational plans without committing troops thus allowing the planners to determine high pay-off targets, define critical events, rectify any flaws in planning and coordination, synchronize fire support with other battlefield operating systems and gives a rough estimate of the expected casualties.

Breaking a fortified line was always an option of last resort when sacrificing waves of soldiers was a choice commanders couldn't avoid. In the Southern Wanni the armed forces have been breaking fortified line after line till they met the NACHCHIKUDA-AKKARAYANKULAM line. The fact that differentiates this line from the rest of the lines is the one single fact that this line falls perfectly within the defensive umbrella of the Tamil Tiger artillery/mortar units - the same units that have proved anathema to the combi of 53 and 55 Divisions elsewhere since October 2006.

With territory shrinking thus limiting space for manoeuvrability to shoot and scoot and with superior SLAF platforms dedicated to hunt such units prowling day and night, tougher testing times are ahead for these dedicated Kutti Sri Mortar units of the Tamil Tigers. Only time will tell...

PS: To get a better understanding of the battle from a logistics and general strategy point of view, I would highly recommend reading Mr. Bailey's Racing against the clock: The LTTE's logistical gamble

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Double Siege of Thunukkai and Mallavi

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Soon after NADDANKANDAL 16Km Northeast of PERIYAMADU was taken by the 57 division on the 11th of July 08, battleplanners set off to lay siege on two heavily populated areas in Western Wanni - THUNUKKAI and MALLAVI. These two towns are of immense strategic importance since the fall of these areas brings the SLA heavy weapons dangerously close to the Tiger Heartland.

Expecting the inevitable advance of the 57 troops the Tamil Tigers set about to heavily fortify the towns and its suburbs. Main among the defences has been the earth dam built parallel to the Paliaru which runs from Vavunikulam tank to VELLANKULAM. This runs parallel to the VELLANKULAM - MANKULAM road which runs through THUNUKKAI. Despite the staunch defences overlooking an open area, several units of 57 have managed to breach it at several points.

At the moment 571 Brigade is operating on the Western flank of the 57 Division and is expected to reach TENNIYANKULAM and cut off the THUNUKKAI-NACHCHIKUDA road in the process. 572 currently are located in the general area of KALVILAN just South East of THUNUKKAI. 573 meanwhile are expected to cut off the MALLAVI-MANKULAM road just North of VAVUNIKULAM.

The loss of the VELLANKULAM-MANKULAM route in several places has resulted in a serious logistics nightmare for the Tamil Tiger organisation as this is the primary MSR to smuggle in military items inland from South Indian safe houses. The smuggled items were known to be taken directly to MANKULAM or either to KILINOCHCHI via KOKAVIL.

As mentioned during an earlier brief - As long as modern warfare presents with a well entrenched enemy, a battle planner will always consider to build up his force, conceal the main thrust, attack from the flank and finally encircle his enemy minimising his own casualties, for public opinion will not allow for a nation's troops be thrown head on against a well entrenched enemy. This time is no different...

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Counterstrike: The last gamble of the Tamil Tigers

Counterstrike is an integral part of war; get it right and it can reverse the course of a conflict and save the homeland, get it wrong and it can mean a quick defeat. Counterstrike has been the preferred battleplan of aggressive commanders who finds themselves fighting on their own territory. Such battleplans are littered throughout history – Robert E Lee in Virginia in the mid 1860s, Napoleon towards the end of his career while defending France are some of them.

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The first and classic example of a counterstrike in the 20th century: the Battle of Tanenburgh

The plan for a counterstrike implies that you know the enemy is going to attack which relies on intelligence. The importance of intelligence was seen in the 20th century’s first and classic example of counterstrike; the battle of Tanenburgh on the eastern front during WWI. In September 1914 the Germans faced their greatest fear; a war on 2 fronts against France and the allies on the west and Russia from the east. The German battle plan relied on intelligence estimates that Russia will be slow to mobilise. But Russia mobilised 2 large armies in just 2 weeks. They advanced into the German eastern province of Prussia in a pincer movement threatening to cut off the single German army left to defend the region. The combined strength of the Russians amounted to 375000 men vastly outnumbering the Germans. The German intelligence misreading of the situation put their country in huge peril. But they made good of their blunder by an extraordinary intelligence cue, they intercepted a message from the General of the northern Russian army saying he can do nothing to support any action of that in the south. Even though they are still vastly outnumbered this new intelligence gave the confidence to the Germans that they could use the full force to destroy the Russian southern army without fear of attack.  Germany’s great WW1 leadership team Generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff had picked off the opportunity to take on the Russian southern army on its own. They moved quickly one core of their small army South by railway to take up positions on the west flank of the advancing Russians. A 2nd core was moved to the North East of the Russian advance. The Russians were totally unaware of these moves. Then the Germans struck. One core slashed across the Russian rear while the 2nd pushed down to link up and squeeze the Russians back. The threat to Germany's eastern border, thus ended.

As much as intelligence holds the key to a successful counterstrike, so is one's force strength - translated in military terms as force ratio which is your strength compared to that of the enemy. The strength is calculated not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of factors such as sophistication of equipment, training and morale. The importance of force ratio is clearly seen in Joseph Stalin's counter strike against Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. Even though Stalin held sufficient intelligence on the impending German offensive towards Russia, Stalin decided against a pre-emptive strike or a counterstrike once the Operation Barbarossa had crossed the Russian Eastern border. It was at the earliest stages of the operation the Germans at their weakest. If the Soviets were going to launch a counterstrike it had to be in those early stages. But the Soviets opt not to. In just over 2 weeks the panzers cut more than 300 miles into the Soviet Union opening up the routes to Leningrad, Stalingrad and Moscow. With the soviet winter fast approaching by December the Germans were just 19 miles off Moscow with the golden towers of the Kremlin within their sights. The main reason behind Stalin's decision to withhold any counterstrike in defence was he did not meet the required force ratio to meet the German challenge. In 1930s Stalin had wreaked massive purges in the red army. Before he can do anything to confront Hitler he had to build up his army again. Further, at outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 both Hitler and Stalin shared the same fear; war on 2 fronts. In Hitler's case it was war against the allies at the west and the Soviet union to the East. For Stalin and his generals it was Hitler on their western border and against Japan on their eastern. They cannot throw all its forces against operation Barbarossa because they have to keep an substantial force in the east to cover a possible attack by Japan. So in the summer of 1941 as the Germans moved deeper into the Soviet Union the balance of force ratio at the west is beginning to shift in Germany's favour. It is at this stage the Russian spy in Japan Dr. Richard Sorge passes on the intelligence Stalin had been waiting for. Sorge confirmed Japan will go to war, not north and west towards Russia as Stalin feared but South and East giving Stalin the opportunity to mobilise his 40 Eastern and Siberian Divisions to the West to meet the German threat thus meeting his requirement of force ratio for a successful counterstrike.

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The land that eluded Jayasikurui

When Operation Jayasikurui was inching ahead along the A9 with heavy casualties the Tamil Tigers prior to recommencing their ceaseless waves series of attacks, carried out a series of six devastating counterattacks on SLA defences. These operations were less known since they did not involve holding land, but to incur maximum damage to the foe and to stall the main advance and drive the focus of the battleplanners away from their main objective.

The first of the series came on the 9th of June 1997 where the Yearlong Jayasikurui campaign began - Vavuniya's THANDIKULAM entry/exit point and NOCHCHIMODAI defences- while 55 and 53 were on the verge of an all-important link-up at PULIYANKULAM. Karuna and 600 of his men/women stormed the defences flank West from 3 points between THANDIKULAM and KOKKUVELIYA cutting off 55 from its rear support base. They held onto a 3Km stretch between NOCHCHIMODDAI to THANDIKULAM for one whole day. It was not until Wednesday when troops backed by commandos managed to link up the lost stretch of the A9. The casualties added up to over 200.

The second counter offensive came on the 24th of June. This time the offensive broke through the Eastern flank of the 55 division at PANNIKANIRAVI isolating 551 from the rest of the Division. Simultaneously to this attack, the Tamil Tigers struck at PERIYAMADU to pin down the 53 division thus preventing it from sending reinforcements to the 55 Division. Since the two divisions were yet to link up at PULIYANKULAM, the Tamil Tigers exploited the gap between the two divisions to manoeuvre its fighting units to strike the Eastern flank of 55 despite 53 positioned on a wider eastern flank to 55. The Tamil Tigers who breached the Eastern flank then went onto breach the Western flank to make their exit, leaving a trail of destruction. Casualties on this occasion added to over 100. The third counter strike saw defences between PULIYANKULAM and OMANTHAI fall on 1st of August 1997 leaving over 70 casualties. By this stage, the Jayasikurui campaign was yet to bring PULIYANKULAM under its control.

By September the commanders realised on how futile it has been to strike PULIYANKULAM head on. Instead they decided to make 55 bypass the town and emerge at the A9 North of the town linking up with 53 in the process. By doing so it would envelope the town cutting off supplies. Towards the end of September 55 achieved its objective by holding a small stretch of the A9 just North of PULIYANKULAM. However, as planned 53 failed to link up due to the 4th Counter offensive by the Tamil Tigers. 53 came under attack at KARAPPAKKUTTI - North East of PULIYANKULAM leaving over 50 casualties. With this set back 53 continued their thrust on a wider flank encompassing PULIYANKULAM and cutting off supply routes from MULLATIVU to PULIYANKULAM.  While one column of troops were moving parallel to the A9 at KARUPPUKUTTI, 53 were moving ahead from NAINAMADU towards KARUPPADDAMURIPPU. This was the setting for the 5th Counterstrike that took place on the 5th of October 1997. 533 commando brigade and 552 both came under fire at South of KARUPPADDAMURIPPU. This initial strike was a diversion to the main strike that took place further South of KARUPPADDAMURIPPU at KARUPPUKKUTTI and SINNA ADAMPAN. Fighting continued for 3 days and as before, caused the troops positioned South of KARUPPADDAMURIPPU to be isolated from the supporting columns further South. The casualties were over 50 on this occasion with a huge haul of military hardware falling into guerilla hands including the air conditioned mobile command post (MCP) of GOC 53 division.

The 6th Counter strike came on the 4th of December barely 3 weeks after the Jayasikurui campaign finally managed to capture PULIYANKULAM (on the 14th of November 1997). Troops broke out of PUTUR and moved towards the strategic MANKULAM junction/town. The strike took place at KANAKARAYANKULAM just North of PULIYANKULAM that led to over 140 casualties mostly of which were commandos.

The big hallmark of each of these counterstrikes has been the extensive use of mortar/artillery fire to support the forward columns of the Tamil Tigers. The intelligence estimates suggested by 1997 the Tamil Tigers had extensive stocks of shells for 81mm and 120mm calibre mortar/artillery. The 81mm were mostly courtesy of the 32400 mortars it managed to divert from Zimbabwe Defence Industries, while the Mulativu defence complex housed over 6000 120mm shells when it was over run in 1996. This is in addition to the regular shipments it received during the same period continuing onto 2000. In addition to the vast volumes of indirect fire, the primary reason for SLA’s failure during these years has been its inability to counter/suppress such fire. One such contribution towards this inability has been the lack of sufficient platforms in SLAF’s arsenal. By the year 2000 SLAF were in possession of only 5 Kfir C2 aircraft with only two combat worthy. More effective ground attacking platforms such as the Kfir C7 and the MIG27Ms saw service within the SLAF only in July 2000. In addition to superior platforms SLAF have also been strengthening its array of available munitions particularly to target large numbers of loose formations of combatants. Prior to 2000 SLAF only used unguided low drag iron bombs and unguided rockets on such loose formations/waves which is very ineffective.

When SLAF for the last 6 years have slowly increasing its capabilities to counter mass waves of Tamil Tigers and its support fire, so has the SLA with almost triple the amount of artillery assets and fire locating radars than it previously had during the late 1990s and early 2000. The most notable of the additional assets has been the RM-70 MBRL with its superior rate of fire it can suppress enemy fire and movement for a considerable period. The lack of any successful military campaign since the capture of EPS in early 2000 especially the battles to capture Jaffna in September 2000 and August 2006 speaks great volumes of the effectiveness of the new fire power of the Sri Lankan armed forces.

The other dimension to the Tamil Tiger failure on such a counterattack has been its lack of leadership and SLA's pursuit of eliminating key Tamil Tiger field operatives. Not all commanders have the ability to lanch a counterattack battleplan. As much as a commander that leads an offensive into enemy territory needs to be dynamic and bold, the commander who launches the counter strike needs to be even more dynamic and even more bolder often because he himself has just suffered a defeat and he’s just got to take on an enemy that’s just won a victory and exploit a certain success that might not be eagerly apparent to him. What he needs to do is to move quickly, he needs to be fast and above all, he needs to throw caution to the wind. With the Tamil Tigers losing its premier commanders with the likes of renegade Karuna, Balraj, Charles, Thamil Chelvan etc it is unlikely that the replacements will be able to emulate and deliver the same dynamic bold feats and charisma of these late commanders.

The Sri Lankan armed forces with its multi-pronged approach to Wanni since the liberation of the Eastern province has surely put the pressure on Tamil Tiger battleplanners to turn the tide in its favour. With no successful offensive since the year 2000 Ceaseless Waves III coming forth and with three bloody noses - twice in Jaffna (2000 and 2006), once in MUTHOOR/TRINCOMALEE in 2006 - the onus is on the Tamil Tigers to fulfil the aspirations of its ever dwindling Diaspora support base. Only time will tell...

Monday, 16 June 2008

Overview of the front from the men themselves

Major General Chandrasiri



Brigadier Gunaratna



Brigadier Udawatta


Wednesday, 14 May 2008

The successful siege of Adampan

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With Adampan under siege for over 5 months, courtesy of the 3 prongs of 58 division, it was always hard to guess for the Tamil Tigers as to which prong might take the initiative to wrest control of this all important urban area.

The good news came courtesy of 582 brigade on Friday the 9th of May 2008, which around a week earlier made indications that it would advance along the A32 towards PAPPAMODDAI from THIRUKETHISWARAM kovil. Tamil media released a news item on how its defensive units thwarted this 'major thrust' when all the time it was one clever deceptive move by the 58 divisional battle planners.

583 brigade which were pinned down at PALLIKULI for over 2 months made its move bypassing the town and reaching the ADAMPAN town junction via NEDUNKANDAL.The ground work for this move was laid on 22nd of March 2008 when PARAYAKULAM and ILANTHIVAN were brought under Government control.

Meanwhile at the time of posting 581 are involved in wresting control East of the Adampan box which otherwise would leave the Eastern flank open for possible Tamil Tiger counter attack. This move also aids the now captured MADHU sanctuary area.

As I said in my earlier brief

With the ADAMPAN box firmly within its grasp, the SLA has the opportunity of joining the all important A32:

  1. From North of ADAMPAN junction via MULLIKANDAL and MINUKKAN towards PAPPAMODDAI
  2. From North of ANDANKULAM junction via KANNADI and PARAPPUKADANTHAN west

Whatever option SLA takes, it will not be welcome news to the Tamil Tigers. With the supply sea routes fast shrinking with its overseas arms network in close scrutiny than never before, it will attempt to defend its sea bases tooth and nail. One such base of particular interest to the SLA is VIDULAITIVU, notorious for its sea smuggling operations conducted to and from TamilNadu safe houses. Unfortunately for the Tamil Tigers this base lies in close proximity to the A32 making any siege against the sea base fall perfectly in line with SLA's long term goals.