Saturday, September 1, 2007

Army Captures Arippu and Silavathurai South of Mannar

The Sri Lanka Army began a medium-scale offensive from Murungkan towards Arippu and Silavathurai in Mannar District on 30th August 2007. Units have consolidated positions in Arippu and have captured Silavathurai. Arippu and Silavathurai are situated south of Murungkan. Units advancing in small groups from several fronts directed artillery and MBRL strikes at LTTE Artillery and Mortar Launching-Pads and other offensive positions. The Operation concluded without severe confrontations. It is evident that the LTTE may have been caught off-guard by the Operation, though military action was forthcoming in the Mannar North area, The Army changed their tactics and attacked Mannar South. Troops from the Air Mobile Brigade were heli-dropped into jungle areas while Special Forces Units engaged in reconnaissance missions behind LTTE lines. Two LTTE leaders have been killed in the fighting so far. The coming days and months will testify to the guerrillas' response to the latest military capture. The Tigers would use Wilpattu Jungles as base for launching such attacks. Meanwhile LTTE has claimed it had no Forward Defence Lines in the area and had vacated Arippu and Silavathurai prior to the Military Operation.

Silavathurai and Arippu were used as base for attacks inside the Wilpattu Wildlife Sanctuary and bordering villages. Civilians, including holiday-makers were killed in several of these attacks. On 10th September 2005, LTTE arrested three policemen and one police woman in the General Area of Arippu while investigating the activities of a British Pedophile. The Women police officer was released but the three policemen were detained for a considerably long period of time in the LTTE camp in Arippu. However the area posted the greatest threat to the Navy, more so than the Army or the Police. Arippu was once famous for its Pearl Fishing which brought in enormous revenue prior to the war. The Military vacated Silavathurai many years ago and the LTTE moved in and the area came under the LTTE's de-facto 'government'.

The LTTE has been drawing the Military into a confrontation for the last several months along the Mannar, Vavuniya and Mulaithivu border. The Army's response to neutralize LTTE offensive positions in Mannar comes as no surprise. The Military had advanced upto seven kilometers in some places in small group operations prior to these clashes. This was to remove the element of surprise in an LTTE attack. The majority of the clashes have occurred in Mannar and Vavuniya Districts. On 8th August, Security Forces claimed it killed ten LTTE cadres in Madhu, when troops ahead of the FDL challenged a group of LTTE cadres who were about to engage the Security Forces manning the Mannar FDL. On the same day, an attack on a police post at Mamailankulam in Vavuniya resulted in the death of a soldier and a Home Guard.

LTTE attacks and Security Forces retaliations in Mannar,Vavuniya and Mulaithivu border, continued uninterrupted in the month of August. Five policemen were injured when LTTE attempted to overrun five police posts at Settikulam, along the Mannar-Medawachchiya road on 14th August. One soldier was killed and eight others injured in an LTTE attack west of Omanthai on the 19th of August. The Army claimed it killed seven Tigers in the clash. On the same day the Army managed to kill two LTTE cadres at Piramanthikulam in Vavuniya but a soldier was killed in a mortar attack on the FDL in Vavuniya. A soldier was killed in an LTTE Mortar attack at Thampanai on 20th August 2007. On the same day, LTTE cadres disguised as Government Officers killed four Police Personnel and one civilian at a road-block on the Nelukkulam-Neriyakulam road in Vavuniya. On 21st August the LTTE fired mortar rounds at Troops from Kaduruvitankulam area injuring nine soldiers. Troops were able to repulse an attack on 22nd August and kill one Tiger at Periyathampanai. Two soldiers were killed in a 60mm Mortar attack launched by the LTTE from this area. They were also able to intercept groups of LTTE fighters near the Mannar-Vavuniya border as recently as the 26th of August.

The Sri Lanka Army, in anticipation of fresh clashes, had taken steps to strengthen its forces in Mannar and Weli Oya in recent months. The Army established the Mechanized Infantry Division as its 57th Division in Mannar three months ago. The terrain in Mannar is considered 'ideal' for operations by mechanized units due to the relatively firm soil and open terrain. The Mechanized Infantry Division comprises of battle-hardened soldiers and officers from other established Divisions of the Army. The Sri Lanka Army also raised its 58th Division in Weli Oya.

The push towards Silavathurai comes in the wake of the successful capture of Sampur and Vakarai, which areas were used successfully by the LTTE for offensive and logistical purposes in the past. Silavathurai and Weduthalthivu areas provide refuge to the Sea Tigers who operate small attack-craft and suicide boats in the area. Several Navy Craft have fallen victim to these suicide boats in the past. On 20th April 2007 the Navy launched a limited sea operation to intercept LTTE boats allegedly harassing fishermen. The LTTE also allegedly runs a human and weapons Smuggling Operations from the area. Silavathirai and Weduthalthivu are useful launching-pads for sea-borne attacks and offensive infiltration into the North Western and Western Provinces of Sri Lanka. The Sea Tigers from Weduthalthivu launched a devastating attack on the Naval Detachment in Mannar Town last year in which a number of sailors, including members of the elite Special Boat Squadron were killed.

Tigers from Sea Tiger bases in Mulaithivu can also be deployed in Weduthalthivu and vice versa as and when the need arises. The Sri Lanka Navy is handicapped in its firepower as it is unable to operate its elite Dvora FAC fleet in the shallow waters off Mannar. Instead they operate smaller Inshore Patrol Crafts with less firepower.

On 28th July 2007, the Navy intercepted two Sea Tiger Boats escaping towards Weduthalthivu. They were detected while hiding inside a cluster of Indian fishing boats. In June 2006, Three LTTE Frogmen were arrested from Pamunugama after their suicide mission to attack the Colombo harbour using magnetic mines and IEDs was foiled by chance. It later transpired that one of the cadres had received training in Under-water Demolition in Southeast Asian Countries. Some of these cadres had arrived in Negombo, disguised as fishermen from Mulaithivu via Weduthalthivu and Silavathurai.

The capture of Arippu and Silavathurai by the Army means that the government would be able to reopen the Mannar-Putlam road and also the Putlam-Murunkan road. The road from Mannar to Putlam and Murungkan to Putlam meets at the Silavathurai junction where a now dilapidated sleepy town can be seen. From Silavathurai, the road moves southwards to Putlam through Pasithenraal, Vannamodai and Palaikuli. The Wilpattu wildlife sanctuary lies along this road on the land-side. This road, once fully restored, would reopen Mannar and reduce traffic on the Putlam-Anuradhapura road and also on the Medawachchiya-Mannar road.

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