The March to Pooneryn and beyond

"Through the exploited KARAMBAKULAM area troops of 582 and 583 forged ahead. While 581 lay siege on the NACHCHIKUDA jetty from the South and the East, 583 moved North ahead of the earth bund and cut the A32 from the North of the NACHCHIKUDA base. "

by Long Ranger

(November 07, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Up until November 1993 the POONERYN defence complex formed a complementary defence mechanism encompassing EPS and the Jaffna islets in safeguarding the peninsula from the Tamil Tigers. Since the fall of the POONERYN defence complex, it has been of immense strategical value to the Tamil Tigers providing it with a base to disrupt the naval/air bridge connecting the Jaffna peninsula with the South using its T59I 130mm howitzers and coastal littorals to launch its Sea Tiger assets and smuggling operations.

Pooneryn defence complex used to overlook the Jaffna/Kilaly lagoon and proved to be the nemesis for Tamil Tigers' free movement/logistics activities in this sector. It also proved to be a hindrance for Tamil Tiger radio traffic between Wanni mainland and the Jaffna peninsula which, barring the PALAY/KKS HSZ, was under complete control of the Tamil Tigers. This was the primary reason for Operation Thavalai (frog) to take place to overwhelm this isolated defence complex. This land mass also provided a suitable base for the Tamil Tigers to use the T-59I 130mm howitzers to disrupt the vital air/naval bridge at PALALY/KKS HSZ and any other target that falls within in its range spectrum. It also proved useful for launching its sea tiger assets during its many assaults on Jaffna islets and during its failed Jaffna offensive of 2006.

With 58 Division making headway along the A32 bagging Tamil Tiger bases at VIDALATHIVU, ILLUPPAKADAVAI, VELLANKULAM, MULANKAVIL in a matter of weeks, the Tamil Tigers possibly borrowing a leaf out of Hindenberg's book set about to build their own Hindenberg line from PANDIVEDDIKULAM to AKKARANKULAM west, fortified with bunkers, deep trenches. The machine gun posts were positioned such that it severely limited the attacker's ability to exploit cover by providing interlocking fields of fire.

Despite its immense fortification, the troops of 58 many months ago succeeded in punching through certain points along this earth bund and held on while the rear was exploited. Such limited 'bite and hold' operations are means to exploit and seize terrain which were major sections of the Tamil Tiger's defensive positions and considered important by the SLA battleplanners. The advantage of such limited ops is that it avoids the SLA overstretching themselves hence reducing its vulnerability to an impending counterattack. Soon as the 58 Division troops took up positions, the Tamil Tigers using its elites launched its own limited counterattacks to regain the lost strongpoints along the bund, without any success. One such area was the KARAMBAKULAM area where the Tamil Tigers had used the tank bund of the defunct reservoir for its defensive purposes. This area was breached on the 17th of September 08 with much sacrifice.

Through the exploited KARAMBAKULAM area troops of 582 and 583 forged ahead. While 581 lay siege on the NACHCHIKUDA jetty from the South and the East, 583 moved North ahead of the earth bund and cut the A32 from the North of the NACHCHIKUDA base.

Meanwhile 582 concentrated on expanding the breach head. A narrow penetrative corridor such as the one at KARAMBAKULAM means that there are fewer smaller routes of access for supplies. Fewer smaller routes of supplies means the troops that poured in through the defences or exploitation forces in military parlance will move slower with slower commitment. A small supply route also means, it can only sustain a smaller exploitation force. Further such a narrow frontage means it increases the vulnerability of a potential counterattack for, the counterattacking Tamil Tigers require to only advance a short distance to cut the supply route. Mobilising troops through a narrow breach of a formidable defence line without further expanding the penetrative corridor always inherently risky. This is the reason why troops of 582 along with 571 troops of the 57 Division set about to completely dismantle the Tamil Tiger earth bund by expanding their punch holes in pre-determined stages. This was a slow process.

In order to achieve the objective by destroying the hostile forces while preserving as much as SLA's own, increasing the ability to take and hold ground in minimum time; 582 ventured North towards MANNIYANKULAM, KUCHCHUKKULAM, NOCHCHIMODDAI and ANAIVILUNTHAN - North of KARAMBAKULAM to disrupt the flow of reinforcements and engage them North of the objective and make them battle fatigued by the time they reached the defenders at the earth bund.

There was another objective in this move. MANNIYANKULAM holds a five way junction located 4Kms North of KARAMBAKULAM. This junction from the West connects to the A-32 road at the 11th and 12th mile posts, from the North to the Pooneryn - Paranthan road and from the South to the Akkarayankulam road. Hence this area alone provides the 58 battleplanners many avenues of approach for the future.

One such avenue - the PARANTHAN-POONERYN road- bears the potential to cut off the entire POONERYN peninsula from the Tamil Tiger controlled Wanni and bring forth 58 Division's long term objective - POONERYN. Once this road in under control it provides the SLA battleplanners the opportunity to enter the North of KILINOCHCHI town via PARANTHAN which once housed the outermost satellite camp of the EPS base complex.

With the fall of NACHCHIKUDA on the 30th of October, 58 Division can be expected to lay siege on the VALLAIPADU sea tiger jetty located North West of NACHCHIKUDA. The PALAVI jungle areas surrounding VALLAIPADU is ideal for SLA's small unit independent manoeuvres, making it effective for cover and concealment. Even though a direct route exists to VALLAIPADU from the VALLAIPADU junction located South of JEYAPURAM, the current SLA strategy involves small units to leave exposed land and roads and take circuitous routes. Such routes require accurate ground reconnaissance, advanced scouting to map out minefields, enemy positions and strongpoints, prepositioning and rehearsals. All this in reality accounts for more time than the actual assault. However if 58 forges ahead up the A32 up to PALLIKUDA the entire DEVIL'S POINT landmass will be cut off from the Wanni mainland. Such a move will also prevent the Tamil Tigers from fortifying its positions close to POONERYN and will render the VALLAIPADU jetty inoperable with no land route available.

The advantages to the military establishment of the fall of POONERYN is manifold.

Opens up a land based MSR across the SANGUPIDDY-KERATIVU jetty linking POONERYN to the JAFFNA mainland.

Thus reduces the workload of the Navy and SLAF in maintaining the bridge across the sea and air.
The Tamil Tigers are set to lose its entire Western Coast and hence a logistical nightmare to its sea faring wing in smuggling its supplies from the TamilNadu warehouses.
Provides the SLN to establish itself again at NAGATHEVANTHURAI overlooking the KILALY lagoon thus an observation point against Tamil Tiger infiltrations towards the Jaffna peninsula.
And allows the SLN to block any refugee or fleeing Tamil Tigers cadres from entering Tamil Nadu.

Provides the 51 Division which is based in the WALIKAMAM area to expand across the lagoon and perform holding duties.
Puts the Tamil Tiger long range T59I 130mm howitzers out of the range of vital security establishments within the peninsula.
Provides vital intelligence to the military establishment on Tamil Tiger artillery pillboxes at K-point
Allows the 58 Division to concentrate on areas North of KILINOCHCHI along the POONERYN-PARANTHAN road
Removes the Tamil Tiger artillery and W86 120mm heavy mortar pads that were within range of the operations sphere of 55/53 Divisions
And provides the SLA additional fire support bases to conduct suppressive fire towards known enemy fire support locations.

Since the days the earth bund was pierced, the Tamil Tigers made sure they repositioned their long range artillery from POONERYN's K point. Currently they are stationed at a location East of PARANTHAN giving the Tamil Tigers the opportunity to engage 55 troops at MUHAMALAI, 57 troops operating at AKKARAYAN, 58 troops operating at NOCHCHIMODDAI and 59 troops IF they manage to enter areas North of the Nayaru lagoon.

If 58 Division decides to move East once it has achieved its objective and reaches PARANTHAN, the Tamil Tigers stationed at the former EPS complex may face the same harsh annihilation endured by the 54 Division troops at EPS in April 2000. That is of course, is if 53/55 commanders decide to position the 58 Division at PARANTHAN during their war gaming process. With the current mood among troops operating various crumbling operations at the National Front translating to something like "if we breakthrough, only 59 will stop us", the day the national front will flare up again is not far off.

As always only time will tell...

[The Writer can be eached through his blog the SF3]
- Sri Lanka Guardian