Operation Yal Express Derailed
The Sri Lankan Army's grandiosely codenamed 'Operation Yal Devi ' (after yesteryears
express train to Jaffna) was stopped in its tracks by determined resistance by the
Liberation Tigers after four days of heavy fighting in late September/early October.
The Sri Lankan offensive was launched at the crack of dawn on 28 September
and was accompanied by indiscriminate bombing of civilian population centres in
the Jaffna peninsula.
The Sri Lanka offensive, which was reportedly on the drawing boards for about three
weeks, was launched in the aftermath of the successful attack by the Sea Tigers on the 300
million rupee Sri Lankan DVRO Fast Attack Craft on 29 August and the loss of more than 50
million rupees worth of weapons and ammunition to the LTTE in Janakapura Camp attack on 24
The objective of the offensive as spelt out in the operations order, was to destroy the
fleet of boats and the Sea Tiger base in Kilali from which the LTTE moved men and material
for its guerilla campaign in the East. In the end, the Sri Lanka Army, unable to hold
Kilali, retreated back to its Elephant Pass Base.
It was a case of back to square one for the Sri Lanka army - but with more than a
hundred Sinhala soldiers dead, almost two hundred wounded and millions of rupees of
weapons and ammunition lost to the LTTE.
The Defence Correspondent of the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times commented:
''Day one (of the offensive), with little or no resistance from the (LTTE) buoyed hopes
and fuelled visions of a major victory. So much so, media accounts are glowing. But, just,
the second day suffered a major set back. Colonel Sarath Fonseka was advancing with an
infantry column from Pooneryn towards Chavakacheri when they faced an unexpected ambush.
This was after they had moved four kilometres out of Elephant Pass.
They were attacked in strength. The men who moved on foot protecting the advancing
Czechoslovak built Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) were fired upon, many of them at close
quarters.. As they dropped dead, the Tigers took on the isolated MBTs. As women LTTE
cadres provided fire support, their male colleagues fired Rocket Propelled Grenades
Two tanks were soon ablaze with the men inside. One more was damaged but was still
battle worthy. This single encounter left more than 70 soldiers, all from the same
battalion, dead. An equal number including Col. Fonseka were wounded. As the battle hotted
up, Tigers also attacked a moving column from the flank...
Besides the two MBTs that were destroyed, security forces lost among others, ten
machine guns, four light machine guns, 72 personal weapons, four RPGs, two 16mm mortars,
grenade launchers, grenades and a large quantity of ammunition... With the serious debacle
on the second day... top brass at the command room were soon rethinking on the original
aims... The result was a withdrawal at 6 p.m. on 4 October.
At midnight on the same day, the LTTE resumed activity at Kilali. The next day SLAF
reconnaissance flights spotted more than 300 boats. It is now known that the Tigers had
removed a large number of boats from the area presumably on the advance knowledge that
they would come under attack...
The security forces expedition to Kilali has been at the expense of 111 dead, 187
wounded and seven missing in action. Apart from human casualties, they have lost equipment
worth several million rupees. The loss of equipment is costly not only in terms of money
but also of the gain to the enemy.''
The Editorial Comment of the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times revealed the concerns
of the Sinhala establishment:
''The main question that is being asked by the people is why this operation was
launched... When the troops finally reached Kilali on Thursday (30 September) and
temporarily sealed the LTTE sea route, the army faced the option of proceeding to
Chavakacheri or returning to base at Elephant base because it lacked the men and material
to hold captured territory.
Military analysts say that the army command had asked for more brigades from the East
to join the force on the thrust to Chavakacheri. But the political decision was that
troops could be transferred from the East only if the army could guarantee that the East
would continue to be safe for proposed elections in February next year. Due to lack of man
power, the army could not give such a guarantee for the East...
Consequently Operation Yal Devi was called off and the troops returned to Elephant
Pass. There is information that another factor which led to the derailing of Operation Yal
Devi was the presence and possibly some pressure from the European Parliamentary
delegation now in Sri Lanka.
While we appreciate their concern for human rights and peace in Sri Lanka, we would
like to ask them why West European Governments have joined the United States in playing
political games while hundreds are massacred in Bosnia.''