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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

Geographical dimension of Operation Jaya Sikurui

25 May 1997

The army will soon resume Operation Jaya Sikurui to bring another part of the Vavuniya Jaffna road under its control. The Tigers have secured enough time to study the army’s build-up in the forward and rear areas and prepare their defences or counter strikes.

The first stage of Op. Jaya Sikurui has shown that the LTTE is in a position to take on the army on more than one front.

Ideally, the three main offensives into the Vanni should have sufficiently dispersed the LTTE’s strength, preventing it, thereby, from achieving the required concentration of forces to stall the rapid advance of the army on the road to Puliyankulam.

The Tiger high command was not only able to battle the army on the roads to Omanthai, Nedunkerni and in the clearing by the Kuruvikkulam jungles northwest of Vavuniya but was able to mass sufficient units south of Kilinochchi in anticipation of a fourth front opening up there.

This is in addition to the three thousand reserve troops said to be concentrated in and around the LTTE’s command centre in Mullaitivu.

The point here is that the Tigers have developed a capability to achieve this level of deployment in the Vanni while keeping the Charles Anthony Brigade quite active in the Trincomalee district. This certainly is a new phase in the Eelam War.

The degree of damage that the Tigers have been able to inflict on the army is also significant. This will be clear if one considers the correct geographical dimensions of Jaya Sikurui ’s advance on the road to Jaffna .

The little town of Omanthai is six kilometres from Nochchimoddai which, until May 13, was the army’s last point on the road to Jaffna from Vavuniya.

People had to walk two kilometres through a no-man’s land between Nochchimoddai bridge and the LTTE’s ‘customs’ complex at Manikkavalavu.

The LTTE had a barrier at this point to mark the ‘boundary’ of its territory. In 1995 there was also a board by this barrier which said “Thamileelam welcomes you”.

The LTTE’s office complex at Manikkavalavu was not a military post. The PLOTE, which had a point at Nochchimoddai ahead of the army’s defences until early 1996, used to frequently move into the no man’s land and take on Tiger targets in the Manikkavalavu area.

This was possible because the LTTE’s military positions actually began in the general area of Omanthai - the approach to which is at least two kilometres from the ‘customs’ complex. This area, as we noted earlier, is basically ‘soft’ terrain.

There is no tough terrain between Nochchimoddai and Omanthai. The dense jungles of the Vanni lie right ahead of Rambaikkulam (where the army has temporarily halted its advance) in the general area of Pannikkaniraavi, and from Nedunkerni to Mathiyamadu on the road to Puliyankulam.

The LTTE slowed the army’s thrust with a fierce counter strike at Narasimhar Koilady which is the exact boundary of the general area of Omanthai.

Hence, we can see that the real extent of the area for which the army had to fight hard from May 13 to 18 is not more two kilometres to the south and one kilometer to the north of Omanthai.

But, as any military analyst worth his salt would agree, the casualties and damage to hardware sustained by the army in the effort to secure this three kilometer stretch and the two kilometer approach to the town of Nedunkerni from Othiyamalai is exceptionally high.

The army has to capture about eleven kilometres of the Jaffna road to reach the Puliyankulam junction from its current position at Rambaikkulam. It has to bring twenty kilometres of the road from Nedunkerni before linking up with Puliyankulam.

Let us now take a brief look at the purported aim of Operation Jaya Sikurui which has been signified particularly by the capture of Nedunkerni.

The fall of this small town has taken the army one step closer to the LTTE’s strategic heartland (Ithaya bhoomi).

(It appears that the Tigers thought the offensive from Weli Oya was a diversionary move, as the one from Poovarasankulam, intended to disperse their forces away from the main path of ‘Jaya Sikurui’.)

The town has been within the reach of the security forces ever since the Kent, Dollar, Ceylon Theatres, and Cargo Boat farms were taken over by state in 1983-84.

After forcibly removing the Tamil people who were living in these parts, the army established a Sinhala colony and several camps which constitute the northwestern FDL of Weli Oya.

Nedunkerni lies less than eight kilometres from Gajabapura which is the main camp in that sector.

The old dirt road through Othiyamalai that linked the 18 farming villages in the interior which were destroyed for the purpose of establishing the Weli Oya complex has been the scene of many skirmishes and confrontations since 1985.

But Nedunkerni remained unaffected. In 1991, right after the Elephant Pass battle, the army launched a massive thrust directly north of Weli Oya, code named ‘Operation Thunderstrike’, into the dense jungles in which the so-called 1-4 base is supposed to have been be located.

The Tigers fiercely resisted the advance. The 1-4 base area, or the Ithaya bhoomi, lies only a few miles east and southeast of Nedunkerni in the high forests above the Thannimurippukkulam tank.

The army did not consider bringing the town under its control for long, despite its proximity to Weli Oya, most probably because it would not have had any strategic or tactical significance but remained a dangerously extended protrusion into Tiger country.

The capture of the town may be of some importance in what might be the government’s larger scheme in the Vanni.

Let us assume that the army will soon push north along the Jaffna road from its current position north of Omanthai to capture and consolidate its defences at the Puliyankulam junction; and that the troops here and the those currently at Nedunkerni (the strength of both substantially beefed up) will link up to bring the road to Mullaitivu, which branches off from the Jaffna road at the Puliyankulam junction in the northeast direction, under the government’s full control.

This will set the stage for the army to carve the vast region of the Vanni into three ‘manageable’ segments in a single stroke.

Once the security forces at Kilinochchi and at Puliyankulam (in this scenario) gain control of the sixty kilometer stretch of the Jaffna road between them, the LTTE’s heartland in the Vanni would be covered (or even constricted) on three sides with the sea to the east.

To the north will be the Elephant Pass - Vettilaikerni FDL running west to east; to the south will be the Puliyankulam - Nedunkerni - Weli Oya - Kokkuthoduvai FDL running west to east; to the west would be the Puliyankulam - Kilinochchi - Elephant Pass FDL on the north south axis.

The hope that lies behind this scenario is that this ‘constriction’ will eventually, with the kind of military pressure which one may be able to apply on the heartland from the three sides, make it less feasible as the key territorial basis of the LTTE’s war for Eelam. The rest of the Vanni will be carved into a large western sector and a smaller southeastern sector.

The former will be defined by the Mannar-Vavuniya road defense lines to the south and the Vavuniya-Jaffna road defense lines to the east and the latter will be defined by the Puliayankulam-Nedunkerni-Weli Oya FDL to the north, the Vavuniya-Trinco road defense lines to the south, the Vavuniya-Puliyankulam road defences to the west and the Weli Oya-Padaviya Sinhala settlements and military camps to the east.

It is also expected that this trifurcation will lead to a massive exodus of people from the Mullaitivu heartland into the western sector.

This, it is said, will leave the Tigers with less than forty thousand civilians in the northeastern ‘constricted’ sector, which in turn, is expected to create the conditions for the depletion of the LTTE’s manpower and other resources in the near future.

Hence, when Op. Jaya Sikurui resumes its thrust towards Puliyankulam from Rambaikkulam (two kilometres north of Omanthai) and from Nedunkerni, we can safely assume that the government’s aim is not merely the opening of a Main Supply Route to the peninsula through the Vanni, which would have been much easier and less costly through along the Mannar-Pooneryn road, but to confine and corner the LTTE and most of its military assets to a small and well covered part of the Vanni and deprive it of the population in the process of securing and maintaining the MSR.

But the holding operations for this scenario will be, to say the least, a tall order for the army. More and more troops and resources have to be found.

On the other hand, if the army were to simply go ahead along the road to Kilinochchi without linking Nedunkerni and Puliyankulam it certainly be a windfall for the LTTE.

The MSR, in this case, will be an utterly isolated long stretch through the Vanni exposed to regular assaults by the LTTE, sapping morale and numbers. It can also be a logistical nightmare. Camps in the Vanni interior like Kokkavil and Mankulam were pulled out in 1990-91 due to this problem.

The LTTE’s response to Jaya Sikurui makes it quite clear that its deployment capability and its power to inflict damage on the army have reached an unprecedented level.

I think that there are no reasonable grounds to assume that the Tiger leadership would be inclined to recklessly lose a significant part of this potential in preventing the army from capturing the road from Omanthai to Kilinochchi although it will certainly fight to stop Jaya Sikurui from achieving its goal.

It might therefore be sensible and judicious at this juncture to look at the trifurcation of the Vanni in this context, if it can be achieved in the coming months.

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