Forces’ success in the East to influence further military action

* Def. Secy. slams INGOs over  shielding LTTE
* Sacks of rice used to reinforce strong points

by Shamindra Ferdinando


Defence Secretary Colonel (retd) Gotabhaya Rajapakse yesterday said that the success of the ongoing security forces operations in the East would influence further action.

Speaking to The Island immediately after his return from the recently captured Vakarai region, Rajapakse asserted that the enemy suffered sizeable losses due to security forces action spearheaded by Special Forces and Commandos.

"What we have achieved in the East is significant," the retired infantryman said. Fielding questions, he said that a change of tactics was crucial to forces’ unprecedented success. "We adopted a strategy to suit the terrain and in the end it facilitated a successful assault on key LTTE bases," he said, adding that the LTTE was on the run.

Dismissing claims of indiscriminate military action, the veteran soldier emphasised that the forces took every possible measure to minimize losses among the civilians as well as the fighting units. "We were not in an indecent hurry to smash their bases,"he said.

Unlike in previous occasions, the LTTE, he said had failed to carry out a phased out withdrawal. "They fled in disarray, leaving behind a large quantity of arms, ammunition, explosives and vehicles. They simply didn’t have the time and they may have expected us to call off the action," he said. The army denied them the opportunity to remove some of their precious armaments including two 152 mm artillery, one 120 mm mortar, two 12.7 mm anti-aircraft weapons and two 30mm weapons. The recovered armaments were among the largest single recovery made in the eastern theatre.

The Defence Secretary said that the army and the Special Task Force (STF) conducted operations under extremely difficult conditions. Inclement weather had seriously affected the progress. In some instances troops had been forced to delay their push, he said. But troops fought vigorously to overcome obstacles, he said.

He acknowledged that one of the biggest impediments was the presence of large groups of civilians in the midst of the battle-field. The forces had been also concerned about the possibility of an accidental artillery strike on Vakarai hospital, he said.

The LTTE had a major base adjoining the hospital, he said. He accused the Scandinavian truce monitors, the ICRC and other international organisations of turning a blind eye to the LTTE activity near the hospital. Contrary to reports and statements issued by various interested parties, there had been ample food stocks and medicine in the area. According to Rajapakse, the LTTE had used sacks of rice to reinforce their strong points. Troops had also recovered sizeable stocks of fuel.

He slammed a section of the media for being biased. The same could be said about some of the international organisations. They desperately sought to impede military operations by shedding crocodile tears over the suffering of the civilian population. In fact, they prolonged the suffering of the masses by shielding a ruthless terrorist group which unashamedly manipulated the international opinion with the help of a set of crooked people.

In the Ampara District the STF had forced the LTTE to vacate over a dozen of its bases. The STF offensive had coincided with the army action directed against the LTTE in the Vakarai region. The STF operation, the biggest STF offensive carried out since the Oslo-arranged ceasefire agreement came into being in February 2002 had virtually forced the LTTE out of their permanent bases. Although the LTTE side-stepped the STF offensive thereby avoided heavy casualties, commandos destroyed their facilities that included a sizeable stock of arms, ammunition, explosives and vehicles.

Rajapakse said that the LTTE’s presence in the East had been considerably weakened. He admitted that Kockadicholai in the Batticaloa district remained under LTTE control. He indicated that security forces would go all out to wipe out the remaining groups. For them there was no option. They must either surrender of face the consequences, he said, sounding a warning to the LTTE based in the Vanni.

He explained the action initiated by the navy with the support of the Airforce to prevent the LTTE from bringing in fresh consignments of arms, ammunition and equipment. They played a crucial role in facilitating the ground offensive, he said. Israeli-built Kfirs launched from Katunayake inflicted sizeable losses on the enemy, he said. In fact, a direct air strike on a major LTTE base at Verugal believed to be occupied by self-styled Colonel Swarnam hastened their collapse. He also acknowledged that due to successful naval action the LTTE had failed to replenish units deployed in the East. He pointed out that the Sea Tigers too suffered substantial losses. They had been also evicted from their bases on the Batticaloa-Trincomalee coast.


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