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SRI LANKA- Update no.4


Note 11

Operation Rana Gossa I AND II- Any Strategic significance?

About 20 days ago, the Sri Lankan army started a major offensive Operation Rana Gossa ( Battle cry) for securing the area both sides of the Mannar- Vavuniya highway, particularly from Paraiyanalankulam, the junction of national highways A-14 and A-34 up to Mannar. The security forces also brought the town of Uyilankulam lying astride A-14 under control thus opening  an important route northwards to Pooneryn along highway A-32. On 20th March, Mannar- Vavuniya road was officially opened for civilian traffic.

(Click for map 
As an extension of the operation now called Rana Gossa II, the security forces surrounded Madhu town and on 22nd March entered the town without any resistance from the LTTE.  The Sri Lankan army is said to  have secured nearly 325 sq. Km of territory.  The advantage as claimed by the Sri Lankan forces in occupying not only Madhu town, but also bringing the Madhu Church area and its surrounding under control is

* Recruitment to LTTE from the displaced persons in Madhu Church and surroundings will be restricted.  The refugees by their very displaced condition could be easily motivated for joining the LTTE. (Note:  Occupying the Church environs with heavily armed troops will not prevent the youths from leaving the area and joining the LTTE).

*  Madhu town will no longer be available for free access to    LTTE and to be used as a "sanctuary."  Madhu Church was used as a meeting point by outsiders and the LTTE. The recent Buddhist delegation from South met the LTTE representatives at Madhu.

* By reducing the area under control of LTTE, the morale of the Tamils supporting the LTTE from outside the  LTTE controlled places  (read Mullaithivu, Killinochchi area) will be dampened.

* It is a morale booster to the government as a run up to the crucial elections to the five provincial elections and a "signal" to the electorate that the insurgency is under control.

Madhu town, the church and the surroundings have never been a place of contention from 1983 onwards.  This is the area where the fleeing refugees were received with open arms and looked after.  The Church has been maintaining a neutral profile all through.  This was respected by both sides- Tamil groups of all hues and the Security forces.  The entry of the Sri Lankan forces and occupation of  positions around the church is a departure from the existing practice and will have serious consequences for the morale of the people.  If  winning the hearts of the population is as important as winning the war, then Operation Rana Gossa II should never have been undertaken.  If the present offensive continues, the people who will be displaced in the Mannar area will have no place to go.  Recruitment to LTTE is thus made easier and not the other way.

Strategically speaking, the control of the road to Mannar has no significance.  It was never under the control of LTTE.  Though the road was porous, the LTTE had no need to either cross the road or  go  further south which  is mostly the Sinhala area of Anuradhapura and the Wilpattu National Park.  By occupying more areas under "static defence"  the Sri Lankan army will only be  committing  more troops for defence which could otherwise be used in an offensive role in more vulnerable areas.  

It seems that the immediate provocation for occupying Madhu town was the artillery attack on Thallady army camp on the 18th of this month, with captured 120 mm guns of the Sri Lankan army ( captured in operation Oyatha alaigal- unceasing waves by the LTTE.).  These heavy guns and ammunition have been hauled from a long distance and brought close to the Thallady camp.  Nine soldiers and three civilians were killed and  many were wounded.  A large number of vehicles of the army camp were also damaged.    LTTE had been active in that area and only a day before the road was opened, three Policemen were killed at Murungan.  

In an earlier update, we had said that judging from the probing offensive patrols of both sides a major clash is likely.  Having given up Operation Jaye sikuru, the Sri Lankan army had to show success somewhere and to this extent bringing more than 325 sq. Km under its charge will boost up the morale of the forces.  But strategically speaking, there is no change.  The LTTE's strong hold is the Mullaithivu triangle north of highway A-34 and now with Killinochchi in their hands, their free movement in Vanni above Mankulam is ensured.  But Oddusudan lying on the Mankulam- Mullaithivu road is under the control of Sri Lankan army.  Mullaithivu itself comes within the artillery range from Oddusudan.  Earlier the Sri Lankan army did target Mullaithivu from Oddusudan.  This is one vulnerable area.  With the occupation of Madhu town, the Sri Lankan army is further stretched.  They are in no position to withdraw forces either from Jaffna or from the east where LTTE is very active.  The position of the Sri Lankan army is therefore not very enviable.

Dr.S.Chandrasekharan                                     26-03-1999