Sri Lanka Army push stalled
[TamilNet, Saturday, 02 August 1997, 23:59 GMT]
A renewed Sri Lankan attempt to capture the town of Puliyankulum was stopped on Thursday night, the LTTE said Friday. The sudden lunge towards Puliyankulum comes several weeks after the Sri Lankan operation 'Jaya Sikuru' stalled following two fierce LTTE counter attacks. The Sri Lankans said there had been fighting in the area, but did not admit to a renewed push being stopped.
On Thursday night, Sri Lankan troops in armoured vehicles and backed by
artillery had launched a sudden push towards Puliyankulum town. The LTTE
said its troops had "hit back decisively, halting the invading forces in
Puliyankulum is meant to be the linking up point for two Sri Lankan
columns that had pushed out of the Vavuniya and Manal Aru military
complexes. The thrust from Vavuniya was intended to capture Omanthai
town, and Nedunkerni town was the target for the other Sri Lankan column.
Both were captured after weeks of intense fighting.
There was a lull in the fighting as the Sri Lankans 'consolidated their
defences'. The SLA said its progress was slow as the Sinhalese troops
were taking all precautions to prevent infiltration by Tamil Tiger units.
Despite the precautions, the LTTE did infiltrate in battalion strength to
smash the SLA 55th Brigade HQ, killing over 300 Sinhalese troops and
destroying two massive ammunition dumps and 5 tanks, while losing 80
Another pause followed as the Sinhalese troops attempted to regroup and
reorganise their offensive. Almost immediately after the operation
resumed, the LTTE launched a second fierce counter attack on a newly
established firebase, overrunning it after opening a 2.5 km breach in the
SLA flank. At least 100 Sinhalese soldiers were killed and the Tigers
withdrew taking captured artillery, mortars and vehicles with them. 85
Tigers also died in the attack.
When the second counter-attack was initiated, the two Sinhalese columns
were said to be converging on Puliyankulum from the south and the
north-east respectively. In fact the Sri Lankan Army spokesmen announced
in Colombo that the two columns had already linked up within the town.
The LTTE counter attack brought the operation to a grinding halt with the
two columns short of reaching Puliyankulum. The gap between the two sides is
said to be wide enough for the LTTE to comfortably march battalion-sized
Thursday's sudden offensive would have been timed to catch the LTTE off
guard and allow the armoured column to punch through Tamil lines to link
up with the other column. The LTTE are loath to launch hastily prepared
counter-strikes in the dark, especially with insufficient intelligence,
and prefer to stage a limited defence and avoid head-on confrontations
until sufficient reconnaissance has been done.
However, an LTTE official told us that a Sri Lankan thrust had been
anticipated due to increased Sri Lankan shelling in the area and observed
Sri Lankan troop movements, adding that the LTTE had zeroed in artillery
and mortars on likely approach routes to Puliyankulum.
When the Sri Lankans moved out of their forward lines on Thursday night,
the Tiger gunners had laid down a barrage, targeting these approach
routes, and the Sri Lankans had been forced to fall back to their lines
before launching a ferocious shelling of the surrounding areas in a bid
to seek out the Tamil guns.
The Sri Lankans acknowledged that heavy fighting had occurred in the
area, but claimed they had repulsed an LTTE attack on their positions
instead. The Sri Lankans claim their troops had exchanged artillery fire
with the Tigers, and called in helicopter gunships. The SLA says that 17
soldiers were killed and that 'ground troops confirmed 50 Tigers were
The Sri Lankans did not say how their troops were able to 'confirm' Tiger
casualties given the distance and the darkness. Following exchanges of
artillery fire, the SLA routinely claims that LTTE gun positions were
'neutralised' by helicopter gunships. However the Tamil guns fall silent
simply because the Tigers relocate the weapons to prevent the SLAF
from destroying them.
The LTTE now has at least three 122mm howitzers, two of which were
captured last July and another this July. The Tigers have deployed these
weapons as well as 120mm and 81mm mortars with deadly effect in the past
year. For example, several months ago, the LTTE launched an artillery
attack on Vavuniya air force base, slamming 28 out of 30 rounds into the
airbase buildings and runway.
Sri Lankan analysts believe that the Tiger howitzers are fired from
mobile platforms, thereby making their 'neutralisation' extremely
difficult. The Tigers have been able to slow Sri Lanka's operation 'Jaya
Sikuru' by simply dropping a handful of shells into vulnerable staging
The Sri Lankan military also said that their troops continued to
'dominate areas ahead of their defences'. This is an euphemism for
launching heavy artillery barrages into the surrounding areas to deter
LTTE infiltration or attacks. The LTTE said that shelling of the
nearby towns of Kanakarayankulam, Karipattamurippu, Oddusuddan and
Puliyankulum had continued till late into the Thursday night.