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Mankulam regained, progress on Jaffna front

Mechanised infantry in action
Night air raids
targets neck of Jaffna peninsula
59 Div takes Kumulamunai

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Close on the heels of the Task Force I (TF I) capturing Pooneryn to reach the Jaffna lagoon along the north-western coast, the recently raised Task Force III (TF III) yesterday afternoon overran Mankulam, situated 30 kilometres north of Vavuniya.

The TF III fought its way towards the strategic Mankulam town. Troops backed by armoured fighting vehicles entered the town after a series of heavy battles caused losses on both sides. The army inducted the TF III on November 3 which carried out a multi-pronged offensive to cut off Mankulam, one of the strongest LTTE bases before launching the final assault yesterday.

Army headquarters said that troops had cut off the road stretch between Mankulam and Kilinochchi at Pannikkankulam along the A9 and also the road stretch between Mankulam and Oddusudan before they moved in.

The Army said that LTTE units fighting at Mankulam had been cut off from west, south, east as well as north.

The liberation of Mankulam would be as important as recapture of Pooneryn, a senior military official told The Island, asserting that it would facilitate ground operations carried out by the 59 Division on the eastern flank.

The Army acknowledged that troops were facing heavy resistance. "We are operating in close proximity to the Mankulam township," Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told The Island at 2. 45 pm shortly before the LTTE abandoned their positions.

The army abandoned Mankulam on November 5, 1999. The LTTE captured Mankulam along with almost a dozen bases in an offensive which at one time threatened to overwhelm Vavuniya. The loss of Vanni bases paved the way for a massive assault on the Elephant Pass base late 1999 which the enemy overran in April 2000.

A Court of Inquiry found the senior officers in charge of the fallen Vanni bases guilty of gross negligence and the disgraced top brass were forced to retire prematurely. Navy infantry units deployed alongside the army east of the A9, too, were evicted by the LTTE.

On the Jaffna front, the army had destroyed sections of an earth bund cum ditch, in operations carried out over the weekend at the northern lines of control at Pallai, Muhamalai and Nagarkovil.

The 53 and 55 Divisions had seized control of sections of the LTTE defences, the army said, adding that the aerial attacks facilitated ground operations. The mechanised infantry, too, had been brought into action. The Mechanized infantry operating ahead of Muhamalai frontline Sunday (16) afternoon had engaged an LTTE bunker killing at least four terrorists.

In support of ground troops, SLAF jets had carried out two night attacks on LTTE positions about one kilometer north-east of Pallai junction. SLAF headquarters said that jets struck an ammunition storage facility at 7.30 pm and a transit camp at11.30 p.m also about a kilometer northeast of Pallai on information provided by the army.    

Meanwhile, the 59 Division on the Weli Oya front had brought Kumulamunai, a fishing village northwest of Nayaru lagoon, about 13 kilometres south of Mullaitivu, under its control. The army captured a part of the village last week.

The army also engaged an LTTE vehicle and recovered one body, two T 56 assault weapons, one RPG launcher and one communication set.

In a separate assault carried out at Thanniurippukulam, troops overran three LTTE bunkers and recovered three claymore mines, three fiberglass boats, wire rolls and ammunition rounds.

Troops operating north of Anandakulam Monday (17) morning recovered three LTTE bodies. Earlier in the day, troops captured an armour plated TATA double cab also in the Anandankulam area. "We recovered one light machine gun, two T 56 assault rifles, one RPG launcher, two RPG bombs, one radio set and a battery charger.

Helicopter gunships engaged a group of LTTE cadres about ten kilometres east of Akkarayankulam yesterday about 11.30 a.m. SLAF headquarters said that the raid was launched in support of ground troops.

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