Pooneryn defence complex until November 1993 overlooked the Jaffna/Kilaly lagoon and proved to be the nemesis for Tamil Tigers' free movement/logistics activities. 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. The secondary reason was to use the same T-59I 130mm howitzers the SLA used to shell the Tamil Tiger dominated Jaffna peninsula, for their own targets, i.e PALALY/KKS HSZ and any other target that falls within in its range spectrum.
Since the fall of the base the Tamil Tigers have put this sector to good use. The POONERYN sector has been used as a crucial launching pad for its sea tigers during its many assaults on Jaffna islets and during its failed Jaffna offensive of 2006. It is also being used as pointed out above to disrupt air traffic of PALAY base and for possible decapitation strikes against SLA top brass.
Out of these, intermittent shelling disrupting the vital air bridge and possible decapitation strikes against military top rungs are the main concerns springing from this sector for the SLA. There is much debate over over how to neutralise the howitzers in this sector especially among the lay public.
The first option is to use air recon and vector in the Kfir/MIG27 for air interdiction. During the Tamil Tigers' failed 2006 Jaffna offensive, heavy 130mm barrages were directed at the PALAY and KKS bases to cut off the air and naval bridge linking the Jaffna peninsula to the Southern mainland. During this period an AN32B transporter was used as bait to lure the Tamil Tigers to fire the two 130mm howitzers positioned at K-point while Beech B200T SIGINT was on a recon mission loitering above. Soon as the firing began the Beech picked up the heat signature through its FLIR sensors. Two Kfirs were scrambled on the 19th of August 2006 and successfully destroyed the two howitzers. Since this strike the Tamil Tigers have used their remaining howitzers sparingly and intermittently using a network of underground bunkers/tunnels to avoid detection. This is quite a similar tactic employed by Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi's Japanese during its siege of Iwo Jima during WWII. It was Iwo Jima that Japanese heavy artillery were concealed in massive chambers reinforced by steel doors built inside Mount Suribachi, to keep off projectiles from American bombardment.
The second option is to occupy the land and push back/capture the howitzers putting PALAY /KKS beyond its 27Km range. With troops currently operating in and around the Mannar rice bowl 54Kms South, the sole option for occupying the land is to insert troops in via the sea or air. With the POONERYN sector's geography being a mirror of the MUHAMALE/NAGARKOVIL/PALLAI sector the same reasons I explained earlier on should SLA make a move on EPS applies here.
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 making the need for armour ever more important since it involves breaking a fortified line.
However, what can be done is to reduce the defence in depth the Tamil Tigers possess in this sector. 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.
It is very easy to fall into the trap when planning an assault from sea. It is not just a case of getting troops to a coastal belt but also getting the troops to cross the shoreline and enter the hinterland. It is no good performing an assault via sea merely based on maritime supremacy. You need to break out and achieve the overall objective that led to the assault in the first place.
The battle planners must be 100% certain why the landing is being undertaken and what the immediate aims are. They must know what troops will face, not just enemy's strengths and possible reinforcements, but also the terrain of the target area and local factors such as tides, beach conditions and mud flats which might impact on the landings. The importance of such intelligence was magnified during the successful landing of Incheon during the Korean war when "Trudy Jackson" led by Eugene Clark relayed detailed intelligence on enemy defences, sea tide ranges, whether the beach could hold assault vehicles back to General Macarthur. On the other end stands the battle of Dieppe where the lack of intelligence led to the allied armour being stuck on the soft pebbled beach.
After having sufficient intelligence the landing takes place followed by the lodgement phase to secure the beach head for swift reinforcements and supplies.
Once the intelligence is in place they must consider the approach to the target beach head. The sea crossing could be just a few miles from surrounding islets or all the way from KKS with full naval supremacy in place. Prior to the landing the enemy defence must be softened up and breached. Troops must have the right equipment to proceed from sea to land while under fire. Subsequent to the landing lodgement phase begins to secure the beach head against counter attack and to ensure vital reinforcements and supplies start flowing swiftly and smoothly. Finally the troops must break out from the beach head and begin the next stage of the overall battleplan. It is critical to remember that assault from sea is rarely a battleplan just in itself. It is intended to be part of a larger military campaign.
Soon after lodgement troops need to break out to move to the next stage of the battleplan to avoid being pinned down.
To conclude, the failed operation Thrivida Pahara to relieve a besieged MULATIVU base in July 1996 can be brought up to show the importance of achieving the aforementioned objectives during a coastal assault battleplan. A coastal assault was the only way to reinforce the besieged base since it lies in close proximity to the shoreline. Special forces were airlifted from Trincomalee under the leadership of Lt. Col Fazly Laphir to secure a suitable beach head for troops that were just dispatched from KKS. These troops were also carrying vital supplies and were 20 miles away from the target shoreline. Due to heavy guerilla resistance the Special forces team were forced to make a landing 5Km South of MULATIVU at ALAMPIL. From there the team had to track North amidst heavy resistance. The all important naval supremacy for the reinforcing troops failed to exist due to Tamil Tiger sea wing and its homicide wing. One of the homicide boats managed to ram itself against the Shanghai class FGB SLNS Ranaviru killing 36 sailors on board. Due to heavy resistance the naval task force managed their landing only 3 days later and reached the base 7 days later since the raid, which by then the time frame to achieve the overall objective - relieving the siege on MULATIVU with vital supplies - had long gone.
Like General Macarthur General Holland Smith, and Lt. Gen Kobbekaduwa (Operation Balavegaya), get the tricky coastal assault right and you secure a stepping stone to ultimate victory. Get it wrong and you achieve massive loss of life, political and military disaster.
This is by no means 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.
Only time will tell...