War strategy flop costs thousands their hospital

[TamilNet, Saturday, 02 February 2002, 15:09 GMT]
The bombed out shell of the Kilinochchi District hospital stands mute witness to a failed Sri Lanka army strategy. The hospital was the largest government medical facility in the Vanni until Sri Lanka Air Force jets destroyed it in bombing raids in early 1996. Dr.S.Vigneswaran, the District Medical Officer, says rebuilding the Kilinochchi hospital would cost more than 150 million rupees (approx- 1.6 million USD. 1 USD = 93 LKR). He now runs the hospital out of a small medical centre in the interior village of Akkarayan south of Kilinochchi.

The SLA bombed the hospital on the strategic presupposition that its destruction would deny the Liberation Tigers a vital component of their conventional war fighting capability - the medical facility to handle large-scale battle casualties.

The Kilinochchi hospital was hit in several SLAF bombing raids targeting it in early 1996 soon after the Liberation Tigers pulled out of the Jaffna peninsula.

It was apparent in July that year that the loss of Jaffna had not critically debilitated the LTTE's ability to effectively field conventional battle formations against a well defended and entrenched SLA brigade when the LTTE overran and destroyed the large Mullaithivu garrison on the island's northeastern coast.

Hence it became imperative for SLA strategists to deny or seriously undermine the means the LTTE required to sustain and regroup its conventional battle formations.

According to a retired army officer in Colombo, the SLA mapped its strategy, among other things, on the assumption that no modern armed force can expect its troops to engage efficiently in conventional warfare unless it has a medical system in place both behind the lines and close to battlefield to care for its casualties.

The Kilinochchi hospital had more than 200 beds. On emergency rotation it could handle more than a battalion of war wounded. The hospital was centrally located in the LTTE held northern Vanni.

Hence it had to be "taken out", according to the retired SLA officer.

A section of the Kilinochchi hospital destroyed in SLAF bombing raids.

The hospital was partially damaged in SLAF initial bombing raids. Cries from Tamil civil society groups to spare the Kilinochchi hospital were ignored by Colombo. It was completely destroyed when the SLA moved on the northern town in September 1996.

The hospital staff salvaged whatever equipment they could from the wrecked buildings and moved to Akkaryan.

The SLA's strategic assumption about the Kilinochchi hospital was proved wrong as the Liberation Tigers steadily escalated the intensity and scale of their conventional offensives in the north after September 96, culminating in their advance on Jaffna with a spearheaded of two brigade groups.

But for six long years the people of the Vanni have paid dearly for the SLA's botched strategy.

"The Kilinochchi hospital was treating more than three thousand out patients a day. Now we struggle to find drugs and qualified medical personnel to manage a thousand out patients. We are always short of drugs - even aspirin for children shivering from the pangs of Malaria", Dr. Vigneswaran said.

"The government has lifted the ban on medicines and drugs. But the supply division of the Ministry of Health is still demanding clearance from the Ministry of Defence to release us a limited quantity", he added.

Medicins Sans Frontiers, the French medical organisation, has rendered invaluable service to partially fill the void after the Kilinochchi hospital's destruction, sources said.

Peripheral medical units in Mulangavil, Akkarayan, Uruththirapuram, Pooneryn, and Jeyapuram absorbed part of the patients' population in northern Vanni.

"But they are understaffed small dispensaries which are perennially short of drugs", Dr. Vigneswaran said.

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