Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Should SLA make a move on EPS?


EPS - Elephant pass, known for its impregnable defences comprising sophisticated chain linked plexi glass blended by natural defences fell to the offensive LTTE ceaseless waves III formations on the 21st of April 2000. Since then Tamil Tigers have flooded into the Jaffna peninsula.

EPS till 2000 remained as a permamnent impregnable cork to the Tamil Tigers alowing SLA maintain supremacy over the thin neck of land dominating all land communications between the LTTE's Wanni bases and Jaffna. The EPS defences extended from Vettilaikerny and Iyakachchi in the North to Paranthan in the South and was spread well over 70 square kilometres complete with man made satellite bases with well complimented natural obstacles of lagoon and sea fronts forming a tactically complementary fortification. It was home to the 54 Division. In addition over two Divisions were deployed for its defence. How formidable and tactically sound these defences were established by the LTTE's failed attack on that area in July-August, 1991, when it was under siege for nearly two months.

It still stood tall to wave after wave of tamil tiger cadres during the initial thrusts of ceaseless wave III until the MSR was cut off from Muhamale to Pallai. Although the base fell on April the initial assault on EPS began as early as November 1999. If the guerillas took on EPS in 1991 in a conventional style operation, ceaseless wave III saw EPS being cut off its MSR prior to commencement of the full frontal assault.

Because it secured the gateway to Jaffna - the cultural centre of the Eelam ethos, the victory of Elephant Pass is considered as the greatest victory ever in the history of LTTE in its struggle for the separate homeland, Tamil Eeelam. With the fall it gave the LTTE's sea arm - the sea tigers unprecedented access to the coast spanning from Kokkutuduvai to Vettileikerni that facilitated them a greater capability of offshore movement to sustain maritime operations and logistics.

With the reversal of fortunes on the back of a revamped strategy there is much demand from the gung-ho Sri Lankan lay camp for a forward march towards EPS and bring the famed base back to its former glory. With just over 2 months away for the 8th year since the fall of EPS, with the current theatre of operations in mind; how feasible is it to march, hold captured ground and rebuild the formidable fortifications? Most of all, by doing so what strategic advantage would it bring to SLA?

Kilaly - Muhamale - Nagarkovil axis since 2001 has been the 'national front' or the new EPS of the security forces. The defences constructed along this axis is pretty much similar if not stronger compared to the defences existed at EPS.

With the advent of the divisions 57, 58 and 59 based at Southern Wanni the SLA have managed to put pressure on the LTTE's southern front spanning from the Mannar rice bowl from West towards Kokkutuvai in the east.

The aim of continued marauding raids from the North and subsequent return to original lines means that it deprives the LTTE a much needed stable launching pad if the need arises to storm the Northern defences in a bid to capture Jaffna.

In August 2006 saw one of the bloodiest, fiercest multi-pronged fighting courtesy of the LTTE - code named ceaseless waves IV. It began with the LTTE concentrating on assault landings on Jaffna islets thereby using those as springboards to land at the coast of Jaffna thus flanking the Jaffna defences. At the same time another assault group was deployed to outflank the SLA defences of Muhamale and Eluthmaduval by assault landing at Kilaly.

For such a large scale operation the LTTE requires massive man power as well as large stocks of ammunition, especially indirect fire ammunition. This is something the LTTE are not enjoying at present. Thanks to marauding small scale group attacks the LTTE are pinned down all the way from Mannar to Welioya. Likewise by creating an ever hostile environment from the Northern front the SLA has managed to pin down the LTTE's Northern formations in a defensive posture. This is always welcome news for the Jaffna command. Ever since the dawn of Eelam wars, this defensive posture of LTTE is something the SLA has never enjoyed.

Unlike in the East and Southern Wanni, the Northern FDLs are fixed with each facing the other across a no man's land. This makes it a conventional FDL. If the SLA are to move ahead of their FDLs as they did on the 29th of January aiming to hold ground and subsequently march towards EPS, they need to negate the indirect fire threat positioned along the Pooneryn-Paranthan axis. One needs to bear in mind that the LTTE does not require its long range 130mm type 59 howitzers to target the area spanning from Muhamale to EPS. All it needs are its 120mm heavy arti mortars. One shell landing in close proximity to troops can account for 8-10 deaths. Hence to account for 100+ casualties all it takes is a dozen of such rounds. SLA have learnt their lesson the hard way especially on October 11th 2006. In my opinion before such a ambitious operation takes place SLAF and SLA's artillery batteries needs to neutralise these indirect fire support of the Tamil tigers more than anything else. Given the fact that the lTTE has in possession over 100 of such T-86 120mm mortar guns and their past successes of the shoot and scoot manoeuvre, relying on neutralising such fire for the forward march is tactically unsound.

The other reason as to why it is hard for such a forward march is the fact that this sector is flat open land which provides no cover to advancing troops. The land is so barren that only small ground hugging twigs and isolated palmyrah trees grow. This makes conventional warfare the only tactic available for the men of 55/53 divisions. The highly successful unorthodox 8 man guerilla team tactics are suicidal on such barren open land. They can easily fall prey to ever so vigilant LTTE spotters (thereby mortars), snipers and booby traps. The thin isthmus of land also means that the tigers can employ bottle neck tactics where superiority by numbers does not account for anything. Even if SLA manages to dislodge the tamil Tigers from their first FDL (as they did on October 11 2006) they have to prepare themselves for the impending counter attack with little or no defensive cover making the hunter become the hunted. By opening up one single front allows the LTTE's artillery/mortar units to cue its fire power on one area. The conventional tactics the SLA are forced to employ also means that this area is expected to hold a large concentration (troops/ground area ratio) of infantry men. Hence even if the Tiger mortar/artillery lacks proper accuracy it can still cause considerable amount of splash damage casualties thus stalling the forward thrust. This makes the front line armour run the risk of being isolated by the supporting columns. Moreover even if the forward thrust was successful in securing EPS, the thrust will have to continue up to at least Paranthan as part of its former impregnable defences in order to take out LTTE mortar units out of range.

This is the reason why an assault landing brought about rich dividends to both warring parties - first to Lt. gen Kobbakaduwa in 1991 and last to Balraj and his fighting formation who landed successfully at the Vettileikerni corridor (Part of the Vathirayan box) outflanking the enemy defences. Unless a similar feat could be pulled off, the EPS base will remain elusive for the SLA for years to come. Only time will tell...


Skywalker said...

Long ranger,

Thanks for contributing on SL defence related articles. keep up the good work.

Good Luck on your attempt. Write more and spread the word..!!

TropicalStorm said...

Is there a pressing need to take E'Pass when the greater need is to route the tigers in the vanni?

Once that is done, we can leasurely starve the bastards in EP until they eat each other.

Long-Ranger said...


Thank you for the comment. I will do my best to contribute. The number of Defence related portals on the Lankan conflict has risen during the last year or so. This is yet another indication, in my humble opinion, that the Tamil Tigers are receiving a beating like no other.


Thank you for your comment.

Once the current attrition war is over a time will come for a pressing need for SLA to secure its fallen bases. Bringing the environs of rebel capital KILINOCHCHI within artillery range of Sri Lankan forces is a must if the current military balance is to be further tilted towards SriLanka.

Hope to see more contributions :-)

nemesis said...

Long ranger,

EPS apart wouldn’t pooneryn be a more worthy target in light of the current situation.

The attrition campaign will eventually yield strong results, but at a strategic level, would the breadth and reach of the pooneryn offer the Army a better means of opening a new front (if a new front is needed that is). If done it could be the biggest amphibious operation by the army so far. How feasible is this in your view?

Fully agreed on the 120mm Mortars, it’s a comforting thought that the tigers have still not got( to our knowledge) the NORINCO copy of the Russian 82mm VB9 automatic mortar!


Nandimithra said...

Long ranger,

Thanks for your most valuable contribution on defence matters. Keep it up. We need more people like you to defeat tigers. We are not only fighting and defeating tigers in the battle field; We have to beat them in the media too. This is the psychological war fare which tigers enjoyed for a long time because of our peoples inaction. Fortunately things have changed. Write more and more.

Most of us believe trying to take over EPS is costly and it is strategically useless. It is better to continue with what we doing now, repeated hit and run attacks from national front; Hit their big guns by SLAF and distroy them systematically.That way tigers get exhausted. Once we advance from south and capture killinochchi EPS will fall automatically. That day they all will bite their Cyanide capsule.
Thanks again.

Long-Ranger said...


Welcome to my portal.

What difference would it make to make an assault landing at K-point and march downwards, where as the same march downwards towards EPS can be achieved sans the assault landing?

The same principles I highlighted why the march towards EPS is futile at this stage applies to any attempt at Pooneryn. The land again is open and barren with little or no cover for any troops that would have landed in attempting to secure the beach head. The open stretch of land further necessitates the need for the armoured cavalry, which again needs to be brought in from mechanized landers. For it to be successful at least 100 such units are necessary and the deployment has to be in real quick time (Bear in mind that landing crafts of SLN can achieve only a max of 20 knots) to drive home the element of surprise and to ensure the beach head remains out of Tamil Tiger mortar range. Also worth to note is that the Tamil Tigers had positioned cadres loyal to its former political head specifically to defend this sector. Which means one should expect significant amount of defence along this coast.

However, what can be done is to reduce the defence in depth the Tamil Tigers possess in this sector. Let me give a small example.

The independent brigade led by late Brigadier (then Colonel) Percy Fernando landing at the Eastern coast of Jaffna to capture the jetty during Riviresa II. This landing took place while 532 brigade was moving from the ground towards Jaffna East and air mobile brigade had landed to secure the Jaffna fort. In this instance the Tamil Tigers were deprived the defence in depth for the simple fact that their defences was thinned out and just weren’t able to muster any anti-amphibious defences.

This is not to say the Pooneryn sector is not earmarked. The A32 is a very good prospect and is ideal as a MSR from Illupaikaduwai, Pooneryn to Jaffna across the Sangupiddy ferry till the A9 is liberated from Omanthai to Muhamale. Unlike the A9 the A32 route needs to be defended from only one flank (East), which is a major advantage in my opinion.

Again, only time will tell :-)


Welcome. Thank you for your comments.

Your analysis is spot on I must say. Compare the current scenario to an interrogation scenario. Softening up tactics are employed first hand BEFORE the interrogation begins. Once the captive is softened up and broken, its all about tea and biscuits after that :-)

Point: Once the FDL is destabilised it does not take much effort to capture it. It only took a mere 48 hours for troops to storm the VAHARAI hospital. :-)

Take Care.

Nandimithra said...

Long Ranger,
Have you got any news about the latest situation?
Please give us an update.

Long-Ranger said...


My sincere apologies for the late reply. Soon your wish will be granted and I hope to include a map of the general area of PARAPPAKANDAL/ADAMPAN to supplement my forthcoming post.

Stay tuned and take care. :-)

Rajarata said...

LN mate, can ya do a timeline on EPS 2 Fiasco mate ? I really enjoyed this one ! Good work bud !

Shan said...

Long Ranger

it's a long time since someone commented on this article but the relevance (as in Adampan) and curiosity (that killed the cat) makes me ask whether SLA can't make a move with SLAF primed and ready to take on LTTE heavy guns. What I read re the recent attempt was that one column or unit (please forgive me ignorance of military parlance) was late to start off and the link up was delayed. I also read how a C 130 was used as bait to take on a artillery piece at Pooneryn. so wouldn't good tactics combined with better co-ordination allow a push on the Muhamalai tiger FDL's. We have an army that is motivated and high on morale and very well equipped not forgetting brave filed command.

one more on Mannar - how far off is SLA with Artillery range to Killi

thanks mate and keep up the high standards