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War

   

Everyone wants to be a hero as the battle for plaudits begins


Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda

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By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Everyone wants to be a hero in the wake of the final defeat of the LTTE, and now the branches of the armed forces are locked in a battle for recognition as having made the largest contribution in the war against the LTTE.

While much of the public’s adulation has been reserved for the foot soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army, last week senior officers in the navy claimed that it was the aquatic branch of the armed forces that played the leading role in toppling the Tigers.  

The Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda claimed that the role the navy played by destroying 10 LTTE cargo ships in 2008 paralysed the LTTE before major battles with the land based security forces had even begun.

The Navy Chief appeared to be a responding to comments by the Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka which suggested the navy had failed to perform adequately thus prolonging the conflict.

“Had the enemy been denied a sea supply route, the offensive could have been completed sooner,” Fonseka said in an interview last week.

According to him, the LTTE was able to ship weapons into Sri Lanka as late as December last year.

Weapons captured by army

Among the weaponry brought into Sri Lanka from overseas and captured by the army were one main battle tank, two armoured personnel carriers, about 25 pieces of artillery and a range of other weapons including 30 mm, 27 mm, 23 mm and multi-purpose machine guns.

Fonseka, quoting two LTTE cadres captured by the army at Iranamadu, said the LTTE had a steady supply of arms, ammunition and equipment until December.

“Had the enemy been denied a sea supply route, the offensive could have been completed sooner,” Fonseka said, in what subsequently was construed by Navy Commander, Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda as being a serious slight against his forces who he insists not only fought a valiant war but effectively prevented at least 10 LTTE weapons-laden ships from reaching the Tigers.

Karannagoda in fact is on record saying this was “the turning point of the war against the LTTE.”  He adds that this effectively paralysed the Sea Tigers.

According to the Navy Commander, among the weaponry brought into Sri Lanka from overseas and captured by the army were one main battle tank, two armoured personnel carriers, about 25 pieces of artillery and a range of other weapons including 30 mm, 27 mm, 23 mm and multi-purpose machine guns.

Following General Sarath Fonseka’s interview, the SLN Chief also in a post war interview on state television said the glory of the military victory should be equally divided between the Head of State, armed forces and the people, and should not be vested with one individual or a force.  His comment appeared to be direct criticism against General Sarath Fonseka.

The rivalry between the two commanders is an open secret.  Long before the end of the war, General Fonseka and Admiral Karannagoda have not tried to hide their acute dislike of each other.

Karannagoda meanwhile, referring further to a statement made by former LTTEer Karuna Amman, said the LTTE had not brought in any heavy weapons to the country from the sea. The heavy weapons and the tank used by the LTTE according to Karuna, had been captured from the army. However, certain spare parts for the tank and carriers had been brought from outside the country.

“The navy turned the war,” he said.

War decided at sea

Referring to a statement made by Sea Tiger Leader Soosai in October 2006 where he had said the Eelam IV would be decided at sea, Karannagoda said, “Yes it was indeed decided at sea and we made the decisive move.”

Explaining the LTTE’s grand strategy, he said the plan was to capture Jaffna after neutralising the Trincomalee naval base and harbour.

“The LTTE had a grand strategy,” he said. He explained the first step in the LTTE strategy was to capture the military bases in the eastern coastal belt. The Tigers he said, as part of this strategy captured the Mullaithivu camp.

Through the capture of the eastern coastal camps the LTTE had managed to surround the Trincomalee base.

Karannagoda in his interview exhaustively explained that the LTTE had to neutralise the Trincomalee base to cut off the sea route to Jaffna in order to capture the peninsula.

In 2006, the SLN had been engaged in 21 sea battles with the LTTE that had lasted for over 12 hours each time.

The SLN, realising the LTTE’s motive had started to draw up necessary counter measures since end 2005.

“We started to prepare from then on. We understood the LTTE wanted to gain control of Jaffna. They also wanted to destroy the country’s economy. Therefore, the Colombo Port was a likely target,” Karannagoda asserted.

He also said the LTTE needed to stock up on its weapons. “That had to be prevented,” he said.

Referring to the capacity building at the SLN at the time, Karannagoda said the navy took steps to develop its human resources pool by providing them with the necessary training and psychological development.

However, Karannagoda said the turning point in the war was the destruction of the 10 LTTE weapons ships.

He explained that one part of the LTTE’s grand strategy was to maintain a continuous supply of weapons. The Mullaithivu coast and the Silavathurai coast were used for this purpose.

In early 2006, the SLN destroyed 11 LTTE trawlers (eight in Silavathurai area and three in Mullaithivu area). The trawlers had tried to enter the country along with several fishing trawlers.

Speaking of how the LTTE managed to procure weapons in the international market, the Navy Commander said the LTTE had made the procurements from an Eastern country using an end user certificate issued by an African nation.

The SLN through various intelligence units had gathered information that the LTTE weapons ships were anchored in the deep seas known as the “common heritage of mankind,” which does not belong to any country. Whenever the necessity arose, the ships had sailed from this area to about 400km away from the Sri Lanka coastline and unloaded the weapons to LTTE trawlers that then brought them ashore.

After depositing the weapons in the trawlers, the ships would return to the common heritage area.

Destroyed 10 ships

The SLN destroyed 10 ships since 2003, which incidentally was during the ceasefire period – Koi on March 10, 2003, Koimer on June 14, 2003, an unidentified vessel on September 17, 2006, Kiyoi on February 28, 2007, Seiyoo on March 18, 2007, an unidentified vessel on March 18, 2007, Manyoshi on September 10, 2007, Scishin on September 10, 2007, Koshiya on September 11, 2007 and Matsushima on October 7, 2007.

According to Karannagoda, it was the destruction of the LTTE ships that carried a large haul of weapons during the end of 2007 that had made the LTTE realise it had a massive problem without its arms supply.

“The LTTE started to fall back,” he said.

Displaying a graph depicting the LTTE’s weapons usage during the interview, Karannagoda also pointed out that its weapons usage that was at a high in 2007 had started to drop towards 2008. The LTTE’s weapons usage according to the graph had dropped by as much as 80-90%.

By 2007, the sea battles between the LTTE and the SLN had reduced to 11 and in 2008 it had reduced to only three, the Navy Commander said.  


 

 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 


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