Behind the faded, yellow exterior of the
old, British style building on the side of
the A9, there was a heap of rubble, and no
roof. The building housed the Kilinochchi
Post Office and only the front portion with
the counters was intact. Just behind it was
a pile of rubble from walls and the roof
that had caved in. The building, like many
others, had borne the brunt of heavy
clashes between government forces and the
Tigers that took place between 1998/99.
On the side of the building, just below pock
marks left by one of the many thousands of
stray bullets, a government trooper had
scrawled a message "Prabha, dan wath athi da
ban" (Prabha, haven't you had enough). For
reasons unknown, the scrawled message had
missed the Tigers who gained control of the
town, the showpiece of the Tiger
administration, in September of 1998. It was
there, clearly legible, even two years back.
It has been a decade to the month and day
since government troops lost Kilinochchi.
The Tigers launched Unceasing Waves II on
September 27, 1998, around 2, in the early
hours of the morning. Troops lost control a
day later and Kilinochchi has remained in
Tiger control ever since.
After the 2002 February CFA, it became the
centrepiece. The town developed, probably
faster than any other town in the country,
most certainly no other areas in the Wanni
or the east saw such rapid development of
buildings. Everything from the Tiger Peace
Secretariat, that by 2004 had been turned
into a two storied building, to various
Tiger administrative offices had sprung up.
There were hotels, restaurants and even a
deluxe lakeside hotel named Lake View, that
would only host visiting VVIPs.
But such rapid strides had been slow to
leave their mark on public buildings like
the post office or the Kilinochchi Central
College where children were studying in
rooms with roofs blown off and walls half
caved in. The peace dividend was very slow
in bestowing blessings on them.
Kilinochchi always appeared more and more
like an aberration - the misnomer hit hard
as further into the interior of the town the
roads and houses hardly had changed despite
peace; where dog sheds were made of spent
artillery casings or straightened ammunition
For both the government and the Tigers, more
so for the Tigers, Kilinochchi's symbolic
value is immense. The message, scrawled on
to the side of the wall of the post office
was just one of the signs of the value both
sides placed on Kilinochchi.
Now for the first time in a decade,
government troops are fighting the Tigers in
the outskirts of Kilinochchi. According to
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, some
of the forward troops can see the town's
"The army will fire its first rounds towards
Kilinochchi town by next week, as troops are
some four kilometres away from Kilinochchi,"
he said last week attending the launch of a
book written by a defence writer. "We can
even see some of the buildings in the town."
And if the artillery guns also come within
range, major Tiger assets like the Voice of
Tigers main office, their Political
Secretariat and other administrative
offices, and further east the Iranamadu air
strip all will be under risk of being hit.
Heavy fighting has been reported at
Akkarayankulam, Murugandi and Terumurikandi,
all located southwest and south of
Sporadic clashes were reported from the area
since September 21 and advancing troops have
also been supported by artillery/shell fire
as well as air cover. Both sides have
reported heavy artillery fire along the
frontlines and aid workers who relocated out
of Kilinochchi on September 16 recalled that
in the last few days of their stay in
Kilinochchi, the artillery fire was
The Tigers have anticipated the government
push and have dug deep, zigzagging trench
lines, running from Vannerikulam, through
Akkarayankulam and towards Iranamadu east of
the A9. The trench appears to be the major
bulwark against the advancing troops.
Government troops who have made major
advances on the western flank of the A9 are
now very close to the A9 on the western side
of the highway. They are as close as 1.5 km
in some areas like Murugandi and Kokavil.
The Defence Ministry last week said that
troops would try to reach the highway at
Kokavil and Mankulam, further south.
"Battlefield reports received yesterday
(Sept. 24) indicate that troops operating in
Kilinochchi and north of Vavuniya fronts
were further pushing their defence towards
Jaffna-Kandy (A9) road from west of the
Wanni. According to the defence sources in
the front, troops of 57 Division were
getting closer to Kokavil and troops of Task
Force 2 are heading towards Mankulam," it
That troops will cut into the A9 is almost a
certainty now and aid convoys will not
travel on the A9 beyond Mankulam. Mankulam
lies about 35 km south of Kilinochchi. The
convoys will travel on the
Mankulam-Mulaithivu road instead.
The road stretch between Mankulam and
Kilinochchi will see some heavy fighting.
Reports indicate that the Tigers have placed
some battle hardened units at Mankulam.
Already civilians have begun moving out of
Kilinochchi following the aid workers, but
in the opposite direction. While the
humanitarian workers left south, to Vavuniya,
the civilians are moving northeast, deeper
into the Wanni. None have been allowed out
of the Wanni. Only those few who had dared
to risk taking the sea route between
Mulaithivu and Pulmuddai have made it out of
the Wanni in the last month.
If troops succeed in capturing parts of the
A9, the Tigers, those remaining south of
cut-off points will face a similar
predicament to what government troops faced
north of Elephant Pass in 1999 - the very
real threat of supply lines being severed.
During the Elephant Pass battle, a group of
Tiger cadres led by the late Balraj landed
on the eastern shores of the narrow neck at
Vettilankerni. They moved inland and
eventually took control of a part of the A9
between Iyakachchi and Soranpaththu. The
move cut-off the A9 supply route to Elephant
Pass from mainland Jaffna.
Likewise, if troops gain control of parts of
the A9, Tiger positions in the south and
those trapped between multiple cut-off
points will be hard pressed for supplies.
The squeeze would be felt more acutely in
Omanthai that lies 50 km south of
The Tigers have so far shown that they are
willing to put up stiff resistance as troops
gain distance on Kilinochchi. Cadres from
the Imran Pandiyan and Charles Anthony units
who withdrew from the Thunukkai/Mallavi area
have been placed at positions north of the
strategic towns along the
Vanerikulam-Akkarayankulam axis as well east
of them, at Mankulam.
A seasoned Tiger military leader - Bhanu, is
reportedly placed in the Mankulam area and
another by the name of Lawrence is in
Vanerikulam-Akkarayankulam, along with
Theeban, another of the Elephant Pass era
Tiger military commanders. He was formally
in charge of the Muhamalai defences but has
been moved to the southern Kilinochchi
Bhanu's expertise lies in the artillery
units and during the September 9 air and
ground attack on the Vavuniya Security
Forces Headquarters, the Tiger artillery
guns had been stationed in the Puliyankulam
area, that lies south of Mankulam.
For the advancing forces to gain a hold on
Kilinochchi, they would have to neutralise
the presence of the battle hardened cadres
as well as their commanders, not to mention,
gain more ground through zigzagging deep
trenches that crisscross the access to
The battle could be won through hard, close
quarter fighting with both sides likely to
pitch in their best. For the Tigers, if the
troops break through their defences, the
next stop will be Mulaithivu as there is
unlikely to be major defences north of
Kilinochchi, and east, until troops get near
Puthukuddiruppu and Mulaithivu.
From the limited images that have been made
available from the frontlines, it appears
that the troops have moved into the thick
jungles of Kilinochchi. The jungles are
spread around the Iranamadu tank, from its
edges. The Tigers have used the thick canopy
and the undergrowth to camouflage bases and
The jungle terrain however is thicker east
of the A9 whereas on the western side there
are more cleared areas due to crisscrossing
roads and civilian settlements.
The terrain also opens up north and
northeast of Kilinochchi, turning more arid
towards Pooneryn and Elephant Pass. It is in
some of these open areas that fleeing
civilians have sought shelter along the
On four fronts
While the eye of the storm has now shifted
over Kilinochchi where the 57 Division and
Task Force Two are moving in, Task Force One
has been consolidating areas south of
Nachchikuda along the western most flank.
Task Force One's momentum has been on a
directly northward path, that would lead it
straight into Pooneryn.
The movement of the four fronts that have
been opened along the southern Wanni FDL (Mannar-Pooneryn,
Palamoddai/Mankulam and Welioya) indicate
that troops will try to consolidate the
western swathe of the Wanni, west of the A9,
and allow the momentum to take them east,
into Mulaithivu where troops have gained
some ground in the Welioya sector.
So far no major action has been initiated on
the northern Wanni FDL where the Tigers are
believed to retain somewhere between 700 to
1000 cadres. The narrow Muhamalai neck - it
is 11 km across (8 km from Killali to
Muhamalai, broken by the Nagarkovil loch and
another 3 km of land at Nagarkovil) allows
it to be defended with concentration of a
smaller number of cadres into the bunker and
trench lines. However, beyond the line,
there is unlikely to be major defences until
The encirclement into Mulaithivu is already
showing signs of cutting down Tiger
manoeuverability. According to Air Force
Commander Roshan Goonetilake Tiger Leader
Velupillai Pirapaharan's movement's have
been strictly limited due to air force
The coming days will show if the noose will
tighten even more around the Tigers.