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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Battle on A9: a battered theory of war

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

 

Battle on A9: a battered theory of war

12 October 1997


The simple cake walk strategy of Jaya Sikurui when it began in May has inevitably evolved into a tactically complex operation in the Wanni.  The original plan for trifurcating the Wanni into three manageable segments by Div 55 and Div 53 linking up at Puliyankulam and then swiftly moving up the A9 trunk road to Kilinochchi has run into major tactical difficulties now.

The LTTE claimed on Friday that it was engaged in search and destroy operations in the Kanakaryan Kulam, Sinna Adampan sector and yesterday it said that it captured from the army's supply depots fourteen 81 mm mortars, twenty two 60 mm mortars, a pair of 50 calibre heavy machine guns, over a million 7.62 ammunition, 6785 rounds for 81 mm mortars, 4394 60 mm mortar rounds, 1684 ,RPG - 7 rounds, 5300 hand grenades, 1684 40 mm grenades and two South African Buffle APCs. The fighting in the dense jungles of the Wanni continues.

It is not difficult to trace the stages by which the Jaya Sikurui turned into a sticky complication. In the first phase, a tactical approach which appeared logically sound was adopted after it became apparent that the direct push through Puliyankulam on the A9 had become impossible. This was to outflank the LTTE at Puliyankulam by Div 55 taking a detour to the west through Puthur and linking up with Div 53 on the A9. This could not be done after the advance of Div 55 was intercepted by the LTTE at Puthur. Then in the second phase, the army attempted a link-up between Div 55 and 53 on the A9 at Kanakarayan Kulam. This failed when Div 53 came under heavy attack in the thick jungles east of that small town on A9.

The third phase was to move further north through the dense jungles in the Mullaitivu heartland and capture a section of the road which runs from Mankulam to Ottisuddan. This ideally was expected to deny the LTTE its last viable access route to Mullaitivu and also to eventually help the army isolate Mankulam. None of the tactical aims have been achieved.

Instead Jaya Sikurui has turned into an operational complication in the Wanni heartland compounded by difficult terrain, lack of hard intelligence and logistical problems. One example would suffice to illustrate the problem. The LTTE's artillery and mortar fire on army positions are generally accurate. This is mainly due to familiarity with the terrain , effective spotters and ample hard intelligence. The army lacks in all this.

As we have pointed out time and again it is intelligence blind in the Wanni. The army's artillery and mortar fire falls into paddy fields killing a lot of cattle.

And when the Tigers can be seen they are so close in combat that long range artillery and mortar fire are ineffective - and so is aircover. The Tigers attacked Div 53 at Katkidangu and Karuppatta Madu. The army's vital forward supply depots at Karappukkuththi and Vignanakulam were overrun by them on Sunday, according to a statement released by LTTE in Mullaitivu.

Later they also announced in the Wanni that they have a column of Div 53 surrounded near Karuppatta Madu. Operation Jaya Sikurui cannot tactically achieve anything towards its goal unless it captures and consolidates Puliyankulam, Kanakarayan Kulam or Mankulam. If it doesn't, then the very costly tactical operations in the rough rectangle defined by Puliyankulam-Mankulam -Ottisuddan and Nedunkerni can be meaningless. In addition to this, it should be also taken into account that the 'depth' of this theatre of operations is far out of proportion with its geographical size. A proper understanding of the 'depth' of a theatre of operations should be reached in the early stages of a battle. If not, one loses men and material without achieving one's tactical goals. Military history provides numerous instances of this.

Then we have to consider the fact that tactically cutting off the only access road to the Mullaitivu heartland left in the hands of the LTTE today does not mean much. (The other two access roads which branch off from the A9 at Paranthan and at Puliyankulam have already been cut off by the army) Why ? The LTTE's logistical system is not predicated upon a road network as it is in the case of a conventional army.

I have mentioned in these columns earlier how Prabhakaran re-designed LTTE's logistical system in the Wanni into small local units. Further, the theory of cutting off the only access road to Mullaitivu left open to the Tigers today with a view to debilitating their logistical system wrongly assumes that all their supplies emanate only from that region. Here we have to take a look at the original goals of Op. Jaya Sikurui mainly on the basis of the question as to why the Vavuniya-Kilinochchi road (A9) was preferred over the Mannar-Pooneryn road as the Main Supply Route to Jaffna.

The latter, it is understood, had been strongly recommended by the Directorate of Military Intelligence as the best option to give 'depth' to the army's position in the peninsula. But the A9 was apparently selected for the following reasons:

a) denying the Tigers the main population centres and infrastructure, including medical facilities, located on the A9.

b) most parts of the vital eastern zone of the Wanni above the Puliyankulam-Nedunkerni axis would come within range of heavy artillery positions along the A9 which would not be the case with the Mannar-Pooneryn road.

This, therefore, could enable effective operations into the western and eastern sectors of the Wanni.

c) because of reasons (a) and (b) the LTTE would throw in most of its precious manpower into blocking the army's advance on the A9.

This was expected to give the army a singular opportunity to annihilate a substantial portion of the LTTE's manpower with its superior firepower. This was originally a gung ho scenario. The army moved swiftly to the outskirts of Puliyankulam and it appeared that a large number of Tigers were getting killed.

Logically therefore, the LTTE, after losing a substantial portion of its manpower in trying to 'desperately' defend territory it considers vital to its existence, should have melted away into the jungles of the Wanni, reduced to a guerrilla band.

The army spokeman's position that the LTTE is on its last legs in terms of manpower is a conclusion quite logically derived from the military principle that when you threaten something vital to an enemy by achieving a concentration force against it, he would be compelled to throw most of his military assets into its defence and thereby weakening himself.

The problem here is that this is a well known and simplistic principle found in most of the military classics and books on war strategy written for laymen.

So the LTTE knew from day one precisely what it has to avoid while the army continues to believe that this principle, one of the premises on which it has based the largest operation it has ever set in motion, works.

The principle does not work because everyone, including the Prabhakaran, knows about it. The LTTE, it should be understood, is throwing its troops against Jaya Sikurui with a clear idea of effectively managing its manpower in the northeast.

Even a brief overview of the LTTE's current deployment potential will make it clear that Jaya Sikurui's second strategic objective (first is MSR) is unrealistic.

a) The rate of LTTE military actions in Jaffna went up last week. Attacks took place in the course of the week in Mandaan, Sarasalai, Pt. Pedro town, Madduvil Sivan Kovil, Tharaiveli in Thenmaradchi, Karanavai etc.,. This is attributed to an increase in the number of Tigers militarily active in the peninsula.

b) Attacks on Kaluwanchikudy and Arantalawa last week by large groups of Tigers. This shows that the LTTE maintains sufficient cadres in east to continue with its military and administrative activities.

c) In defending Puliyankulam, it has mounted four counter attacks on Jaya Sikurui, and has engaged in three major interception attacks on Div 53 and 55. Three attack groups, each comprising 600 cadres led by Anpu, Jeyam and Bhanu engage in the day to day to day operations against Jeya Sikurui.

The Leopard commando unit and the Jeyanthan 'brigade' remain in the background taking part in counter attacks. Then there is Prabhaharan's personal security reserve of 3000. This is the ground reality today. It might , however, still be possible for the army to disregard all this and bulldoze its way to Kilinochci - like Napoleon's march to Moscow.

 

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