With the Eastern Province firmly under its control, the security forces are stepping up offensive action in the northern theatre of operations.
This would be a critical part of the government`s overall strategy to pressure the LTTE, a senior Defence official said. `We are at a decisive stage. With the recent target killing of a group of senior cadres including S. P. Thamilselvan at a secret hideout in Kilinochchi, the stage is set for us to undermine them further,` he said.
The army is likely to intensify the pressure ahead of the forthcoming Heroes` Week which would culminate with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran`s annual speech delivered on November 26th.
Fielding questions, the official asserted that the ongoing ground operations in the general area west of Omanthai, ahead of the Vavuniya-Mannar main road and action at Muhamalai-Kilali area would bring considerable pressure on the LTTE.
`We are engaging them on two fronts, forcing them to commit sizeable units,` he said. `For how long could they sustain their firepower given the difficulty in replenishing their depleted arsenals?` Destruction of eight LTTE ships on the high seas and several trawlers and speed boats in the Gulf of Mannar by the navy since September last year had considerably weakened the LTTE`s overseas supply route.
The army mounted a large scale raid into LTTE-held Muhamalai on Wednesday as part of its strategy to test and soften enemy fortifications. Troops backed by armour and artillery have penetrated what a senor military official called well defended strong points at the Muhamalai causeway.
A dozen soldiers died in Wednesday`s battle with over 50 receiving injuries. The majority of the wounded were airlifted during the day to the National Hospital and Sri Jayewardenepura.
In some areas, troops pushed up to 5 kms into LTTE-territory before returning to their bases. Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said that they were forced to neutralise the threat posed by the LTTE. Troops assaulted LTTE positions after observing a constant build-up ahead of the Jaffna frontline. The army estimated at least 60 deaths among the defenders and dozens wounded.
Wednesday`s push came after a series of confrontations between the army and the LTTE in the Muhamalai-Nagarkovil area on the Vadamaradchchi East coast causing minor damages to both parties.
The army is in the process of strengthening, re-organising and establishing fresh fighting formations to face fresh challenges. Once this process is finalised, the army, The Island, understands would have the required strength to engage the LTTE simultaneously at several fronts.
Major ground battles are expected in the Vanni region in the coming months unless the LTTE unconditionally returns to the negotiating table. The LTTE quit the Norwegian-facilitated talks in April 2003 during Ranil Wickremesinghe`s tenure as Prime Minister and in August last year triggered all out war by attacking the strategic Trincomalee harbour and the Jaffna frontline.