|Sri Lanka: War after the fall of Vidattalthivu|
The A32 provides an alternate route to Jaffna from Pooneryn across the Jaffna Bay. Pooneryn's location on the western flank of A9 road can bring the war closer to Kilinochchi. Even if Pooneryn is not captured, the successes of the security forces on A32 road have increased their options to further progress their offensive because they will be operating on a wide front with a choice of multiple thrust lines with the advantage of secure flanks.
In spite of the quick successes, Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka, the Army Commander is understandably cautious about the course of operations in the future. This is evident from the interview he had given to the Sunday Observer on July 20. His guarded approach had enabled him to carefully plan and conduct his operations probably at a time of his choosing. So he usually avoids coming up with rash promises on operations unlike some politicians. Perhaps he remembers that nearly a decade ago when the LTTE was not having so of much fire power, it had upstaged the Sri Lanka security forces in the same sector though they had scored initial successes. It is interesting to see despite the official claims of killing 9000 LTTE cadres in Eelam War-4 he still credits the LTTE with a strength of 5000, which appears to be a realistic assessment. This strength includes hardened elements as well as raw inexperienced and ill trained hands. How they fare against the armed forces will be seen in the coming weeks.
During the last one week, Sri Lanka army has kept up its momentum of advance. According to defence sources, the troops of 57 Division are on the periphery of line Tunukkai-Mallavi, west of A9 highway. We can expect them to secure the line from Vellankulam on the coast to Mallavi during the course of the week The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)'s failed attempt to dislodge the security forces in area South of Vavunikulam tank by last Wednesday is significant. Vavunikulam is astride the Vellankulam-Mallavi-Mankulam road axis and provides a take off point to build up the threat to Mankulam on A9. Even if the LTTE had succeeded, at best it would have bought a few more days of respite. However, the fact is that the LTTE was beaten back at Vavunikulam with a body count of 29 LTTE dead.
The LTTE counter attack probably did not have either the force levels required to stall the advancing troops or the fire power to unnerve them. The overwhelming size of the security forces offensive has cast the odds heavily against the LTTE. By present reckoning the LTTE at present can respond only fight defensive battles to save its shrinking territorial assets rather than mount a forceful offensive.
The LTTE has to halt the troops in their tracks in a series of delaying actions, or build a major offensive to cut the advancing military's long line of communication at a place of its choosing. So can the LTTE do it? And if so, where will it do? These are questions which Sri Lankan operational planners must be looking at. It seems from the Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka's statement that he expects the LTTE leaders to be huddled in their Vanni bunkers in a bid to save themselves when the LTTE Heroes Day comes in November 2008. He probably implied that the security forces would secure the territory west of A9 road by then. The build up of a three-division offensive on a broad front extending the whole of Mullaitivu district from Vellankulam on the west to Welioya on the east could aim at making a sweep from west to east to make the line Pooneryn-Kilinochchi untenable for the LTTE to hold in the coming month. However this military conjecture is only one of wide options open to the security forces now.
The LTTE appears to be responding in the way it knows best. Strategically, make a play internationally with an eye on drawing the overseas Tamil support, kindle Tamil Nadu's latent sympathetic embers, and step up killings and mayhem around Colombo and the heartlands of Sri Lanka. On the tactical front its actions are hazy and uncertain.