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The Crumbling of Muhamale

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The Crumbling of Muhamale
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With at least two previous failures of a successful breakthrough through the Tamil Tiger Devil's garden along the KILALY/MUHAMALE/NAGARKOVIL axis, mainly due to indirect fire via anti personal/ anti-armor mines and arti/mortar units, battleplanners in this sector set about to destabilise the Tamil Tiger FDL using crumbling operations to force the enemy's defensive cohesion to flood away thereby destabilizing the FDL. Further as I have mentioned in an earlier brief lengthily such a series of crumbling operations allows the Sri Lankan battle planners to master their opening game as well as shore up the morale of its soldiers.

With the Tamil Tigers having more than 5 years to perfect their defences along the 7 miles stretch spanning from KILALY to NAGARKOVIL, this front provides the most fortified line in the current Sri Lankan conflict. The Tamil Tiger defences had provided them with concealment, cover, combined arms integration and more importantly a depth of 14kms towards EPS. The Tamil Tiger trenches and bunkers were irregularly distributed, formulaically interconnected, carefully camouflaged, combining ballistic protection with real concealment to withstand offensive fire. These positions were well fortified with anti-tank ditches, protective minefields and wire entanglements. Any cover the SLA could exploit were limited with interlocking fields of fire by positioning adjoining weapons so that each weapon can fire across the other's fronts. The defences were further strengthened with MG posts and mortars. Machine guns are direct fire-flat trajectory weapons and attackers can use directional cover by obscuring the line of sight (LOS). Mortars and artillery on the other hand can fire over intervening obstacles and engage targets without LOS. Hence working together, machine guns and artillery/mortars compliments for each other's weaknesses. Such interlocking fields of fire reduces the cover or dead space thus complicates things for the attacker to find and exploit concealed positions.

Classic military doctrine suggests that attackers need 3:1 ratio against defenders. Once the defender has integrated combined weapons tactics with fortified positions the force ratio required for a breakthrough increases. Hence against well entrenched positions it jumps to 5:1. It is very rare for any commander to have the 3:1 let alone 5:1 force ratio which military theorists consider essential to break a fortified line but it is possible to gather the necessary superiority at least locally by using deception, tactics and surprise.

Intermingled amongst these defences were observation posts and covering forces operating far from the main defences. The main defensive forces to the rear are to be warned by these cadres with warning of attack. Other than observation these covering forces are expected to carry out other functions such as intercepting SLA recce teams, slowing attackers' movements, canalising an assault and conducting their own reconnaissance. Even though it sounds straightforward in theory, this requires the cadres to often carry out orders from high command in the face of superior forces and in the case of a massive assault to manoeuvre and break contact with a superior attack force and fall back before being overrun while calling in reserves at the rear.

With constant Monty style crumbling operations causing daily attrition, the Tamil Tigers were compelled for a compromise.The Tamil Tigers knew their forward bunkers and observational posts were targets for such attacks hence they rationally reduced bunker manning levels leaving fewer on watch and relying more heavily on tactical warning to give units time to reoccupy bunkers in the event of a ground attack. Meanwhile the 57/58 Divisions were fast approaching the Tamil Tiger political capital and the environs of the JAFFNA lagoon. Urgent reinforcements were required to halt the enemy advance. This was another reason for unmanned bunkers due to overstretched cadre base where more reinforcements were required in defending the PARANTHAN-KILINOCHCHI axis. Hence much to the surprise of the attacking small units at MUHAMALE, men found a higher fraction of unmanned defending posts at the time of attack than would have been the case.

With the 58 Divisions occupying the strategic POONERYN peninsula on the 19th of November, battleplanners rapidly set about positioning indirect fire batteries and making 58's first move towards PARANTHAN. With the POONERYN peninsula gone, for the battleplanners it was one less Call-for-fire zone (CFFZ). CFFZ is an area in enemy territory that the commander wants suppressed, neutralized, or destroyed. This also meant the battleplanners Artillery target intelligence zone (ATIZ) was limited to areas South of MUHAMALE and the PARANTHAN environs. ATIZ is an area in enemy territory that the commanders wish to monitor closely. With these developments elsewhere the time was ripe for the National front to flare up and occupy the already crumbled Tamil Tiger FDL which lay just 500m ahead of them. This perfect coordination between 58/53/55 and the loss of strategic POONERYN meant the Tamil Tiger fortifications across the lagoon at MUHAMALE/KILALY were under fire from additional fire support bases. Further it also meant that its own howitzers stationed at K-point were no longer able to continue suppressive fire towards SLA's artillery batteries in areas such as KODIKAMAM/MIRUSUVIL and MSRs carrying reinforcements and medevac missions to and from the theatre of engagement.

This well coordinated movement of 58 and 53/55 not only made the Tamil Tiger ground cadre thin out, but also its limited indirect fire units. A fraction of these mortar/arti units which have proved to be anathema to the troops of 53/55 have been compelled to be diverted to suppress troops of 58 moving along the B69 KILALY lagoon. The reserves meant to defend the KILALY/MUHAMALE axis were drawn into an area where the same reserves will engage the 58 and 53/55 when the need arises. This thinning out greatly reduced the Tamil Tiger Force to Space Ratio (FSR) which is the number of troops per linear km. As said above it is very rare for any commander to have the 3:1 let alone 5:1 force ratio which military theorists consider essential to break a fortified line. With the Tamil Tigers moving a fraction of its men and assets to protect its rear, the battleplanners got the edge over the numbers they were hoping for; for an ultimate forward thrust.

The breaching Sri Lankan armed forces made extensive Small unit manoeuvre, dispersion, cover and concealment thanks to modern tactics. The breaching effort was spearheaded by combat engineers operating under the cover of artillery, MBTs and smoke rounds with infantry support immediately available via Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) advancing immediately behind the echelon. The long and medium range artillery/MBRL support suppressed or destroyed enemy support fire bases until assault teams approached within around 300 meters whereupon 60mm/81mm mortars and direct fire from troops took over. Meanwhile fixed and rotary wing aircraft provided vital Combat Air Support (CAS) and electronic warfare units jammed Tamil Tiger communication systems and used Tamil Tiger radio emissions to provide targeting data of Tamil Tiger forward command posts. Such a combination of air and ground technology in which indirect fire served essentially a suppressive purpose - it induced the Tamil Tigers to take protective postures that reduced their ability to return fire, thereby reducing their effectiveness even without killing them directly.


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