As the New Year dawns the Sri Lanka Army which had gained full control of a large number of LTTE held areas, including major camps, has entered one of the most crucial intersections of the A-9; the well-known strategic township of Paranthan.
Paranthan is located about 4.5 km north of LTTE’s administrative centre Kilinochchi. Now the military completely blocked the Jaffna - Kandy A-9 main road by Wednesday evening after entering Paranthan.
Despite a series of massive counter attacks by the Imran Pandiya unit of the LTTE, the troops succeeded in entering the area through the highly fortified defence bund that had been built by the Tigers.
The Imran Pandiya brigade was led by senior LTTE Kilinochchi leader Velavan, who is one of the close confidantes of LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Fierce fighting broke out around Paranthan area since late November. On Tuesday evening troops of the 58 Division consisting of the 6 and 9 Gemunu Watch, 2 Commando and 5 Armour units moved towards the town from the east flank of the A-9 road.
Thadduvankoddy and Kamarikudakulam, about 2 kilometres west of the A-9, fell into the hands of the Task Force-I troops and this shortened their distance to Paranthan by Tuesday (30) afternoon.
Many Tigers were reportedly killed and another score injured during the confrontations that continued for the last few days. Troops consolidating the defences in the newly captured areas recovered six bodies of LTTE cadres killed in fighting.
By Tuesday evening troops were some 500 to 700 metres away from the Paranthan town. Throughout the night and next morning fierce battles continued before the troops entered the strategically important town.
Several waves of attacks, led by Velavan were beaten back by the advancing troops who also suffered a number of casualties in the battle. The last such attack came on Wednesday late evening.
The entry of the troops to Paranthan blocks the access route to Elephant Pass, which is about 9 kilometres to the north in the Jaffna bottleneck. According to the Army, during confrontations in Paranthan troops killed over 25 LTTE cadres and more than ten LTTE bodies belonging to Imran Pandiya brigade were recovered.
Paranthan connects four important locations, Kilinochchi (to the south), Pooneryn (to the west), Mullaitivu (to the east) and Elephant Pass (to the north).
The main supply route to Elephant Pass lies across Paranthan town which has now fallen into military hands. Until early this week, the LTTE had used this road to transport their military hardware and cadres for reinforcements.
With this latest development, Muhamalai and Elephant Pass will become untenable for the LTTE. They would have to face a shortage of cadres and supplies and most importantly sending of reinforcements.
The capture of Paranthan would open a gateway to the LTTE’s last defences in the Vaddakachchi and Puthukkudiyiruppu areas on the A-35 road (Paranthan- Mullaitivu). The Paranthan town was once an important economic centre with a large factory which produced chemicals for local industries. Before the LTTE took control of the area a large number of residents made their living working in the factory.
The LTTE now have only one road to transport supplies which is the Mullaitivu,Chalai, Chempiyanpattu road on the coastal belt. This road is difficult for quick travel since it is through marsh lands and other geographically difficult areas.
Moreover the capture of Paranthan would badly affect the morale of the LTTE cadres, who are already eager to flee the organization. This clearly indicates that in the recent past a large number of LTTE cadres have deserted the organization. Some surrendered to the military and others escaped to India using fishing boats.
Troops in Muhamalai made several attempts to breach the LTTE defence lines, but were unable to do so amidst heavy casualties on both sides. With the fall of Paranthan, troops would be placed at an advantageous position in Muhamalai since the LTTE’s defence line will become weak due to the shortage of men and military hardware.
The Muhamalai forward defence lines were considered as the strongest defence line of the LTTE. During the past few months troops were able to capture the LTTE defence line twice after fierce battles that claimed a large number of lives on both sides.The entry to Paranthan also enables the troops to encircle Kilinochchi from three directions, north, west and south, placing enormous pressure on the Tigers. Troops now have the opportunity to attack Kilinochchi from the north and the northeast. Ground commanding officials confirmed that the town, which was under siege for a long period, too is expected to fall in January.
By Wednesday evening the army entered the Kilinochchi township area and reportedly captured a Tiger cemetery, which is the largest in the area, where thousands of dead LTTE cadres are buried
History of capturing Paranthan
After the LTTE demolished civil administration in Paranthan in the early 1990s, the Army liberated it from the LTTE grip in the “Sath Jaya” operation conducted in 1996.
Operation 'Sath Jaya', which was carried out in three stages over 70 days, began on July 26, in 1996. Soldiers began their advance in the early hours, from their southern forward positions, in the salt fields at the Elephant Pass base.
The military’s initial efforts to advance in the area between the main road and the railway line, by assaulting LTTE's defensive bunkers proved futile. Hence, simultaneously, an alternative push through Thattuvankotti area, 2 kilometres east of the main road was attempted and found to be easier.As it is impossible to intercept and fight vast numbers of advancing military and since heavy counter attacks in difficult terrain would have led to heavy losses, the LTTE chose to make a tactical withdrawal.
Since the LTTE mounted only a limited defence against the military, the army was able to advance 6 kilometres and capture Paranthan junction. They were also able to occupy the area bordering the main road between Elephant Pass and Paranthan spanning two ilometres to the east and one kilometre to the west.
The Sri Lankan government stated that 16 soldiers had been killed on the first day of combat.
For the next eight days, the military built defence positions within the newly captured areas and reorganised combat units. On the ninth day - August the 4th- the army began the second stage of Operation 'Sath Jaya'.
The Army’s Special Forces commandos launched the offensive, under the guidance of Major General Janaka Perera. An unprecedented battle erupted when these troops clashed with the LTTE units deployed in a wide crescent just 1 km south of Paranthan.Troops advancing down the eastern side of the main road were engaged on two fronts by the LTTE.
At the same time, troops advancing down the western side of the main road were attacked by LTTE units positioned north and south of the Pooneryn road. Battlefield reports confirmed that on the first day of 'Sath Jaya 2', 75 soldiers were killed, and in repeated attacks by the army over the next three days, a further 75 soldiers were killed.
The LTTE lost some 100 cadres during the same period. In the following days, until the launch of 'Sath Jaya 3' the Air Force too had been heavily involved in this battle.
The LTTE meanwhile had acquired heavy weapons from the fallen Mullaitivu garrison and through other means.
'Sath Jaya - 3' began on September 22. The 2nd phase of 'Sath Jaya' had been attempted with more resources than 'Riverasa'. Major General Srilal Weerasooria co-ordinated the operation and Brigadier Vasantha Perera commanded it.
The troops advanced towards Murasumottai, 2 km away, from the Paranthan area, just 1 km north of the Mullaitivu road, moving parallel to the Jaffna road.
The LTTE changed its tactics and offered limited resistance to enemy movement and allowed the enemy to advance.
The 5th day, Thursday, the 26th of September the troops faced a severe counter attack. During this some 190 soldiers were killed.
The 9th day -30 September - 'Sath Jaya-was concluded. The Sri Lanka defence ministry's operational headquarters claimed that during 'Sath Jaya-3' operation, 269 soldiers were killed.
However, troops had to make their withdrawal from the area in September 1998.
LTTE to withdraw from Kili to protect Mullaitivu
During the last few weeks the presence of LTTE cadres in Kilinochchi and Paranthan had been reduced by the leadership and most of the cadres had been called to the Mullaitivu battlefront in order to protect its last stronghold.
Ground military sources confirmed that with the fall of Paranthan, the Tigers had abandoned their hold on the remaining areas including Kilinochchi town and started to pay greater attention to protect Mullaitivu.
Accordingly, most of the hardcore cadres have been dispatched to that area and due to their heavy resistance the military’s forward march got delayed during the last few days. Within five days the military lost at least 30 soldiers in fierce battles that raged in and around Mullayaweli area.
After capturing the strategically important Mullayaweli town, just five kilomtres south of Mullaitivu, troops have commenced moving towards the eastern coast in order to gain control of the sea belt.
There is no major earth bund or similar type of cover around the Mullaitivu area, but the Tigers would utilize their maximum efforts to stop the military advance, as this would be their last strong hold after Kilinochchi.
The army also expects that their casualty figure is likely to increase as the final major battle takes place in the Mullaitivu area. The army is also concerned about the growing LTTE presence in the area.
When Mullativu is taken the Tigers will have no option, as the battleground for them would be restricted as well as the people trapped inside the LTTE-held areas would start to rise against the LTTE in order to move to cleared areas.
Presently a large number of civilians had been detained at the Oddusudan LTTE entry/exit point preventing them from proceeding to the cleared areas. However, the military had taken all steps to accept incoming civilians and treat them well by attending to their needs and expect a mass exodus of civilians to cleared areas soon.