Heavy going for SLA armour

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 30 September 1997, 12:00 GMT]
With the monsoon underway, heavy rain is affecting the fighting in the Vanni region. The rain is turning the terrain around Puliyankulam into a sea of mud, which is posing new difficulties for the hard pressed Sri Lankan forces there. The conditions are also said to be affecting the Tigers.

There have been few details of developments in the Puliyankulam from either the Sri Lankan army or the LTTE. Almost all reports are of small scale fire fights between infantry units. Due to the inaccessibility of the area, independent reports have also been difficult to obtain.

However, reports in the Colombo press say the SLA troops are attempting to work their way around Puliyankulam, to surround the village and end over two months of resistance by a small group of LTTE troops.

However, the press reports also say that the armour-led Sri Lankan columns are struggling to make headway due to Tiger resistance and the rain. The SLA tanks are getting bogged down in the slippery mud, and the heavy vehicles are also slowing the movement of other Sri Lankan transport.

The rain is said to be hampering the movement of LTTE vehicles also. The Tigers are said to have stockpiled supplies within the village ahead of the widely anticipated monsoon. The LTTE bunker complex at Puliyankulam has been built with sufficient drainage also.

With only one main road connecting Vavuniya to Kilinochchi, there is no easy way around the Tigers' resistance at Puliyankulam. The road is the objective of the ongoing SLA offensive.

According to Sri Lankan defence analysts, during earlier stages of the Sri Lankan offensives, the SLA was able to bypass some LTTE points of resistance near Omanthai by using a short dirt road which ran parallel to the main road some distance away. However, there are no alternative routes near Puliyankulam.

Furthermore, one important aspect of the LTTE's resistance during the latest Sri Lankan operation is the Tigers' seemingly new found ability to destroy Sri Lankan armour. The Tigers have been killing Sri Lankan T-55s almost at will.

Since the latest Sri Lankan operation started in May, at least 14 T-55s have been completely destroyed and several others have been damaged in ferocious fighting. Some of the damaged tanks are thought to be irreparable, but exact numbers are not known.

In July 1996, the SLA had ordered 25 T-55s from the Czech Republic to augment its existing inventory of 18. In heavy fighting around Paranthan in August 1996, at least 4 SLA tanks were destroyed. Armour has not featured heavily in subsequent fighting until May this year.

The LTTE resistance at Puliyankulam has seriously delayed the Sri Lankan army's operation 'Jaya Sikuru' (Victory assured in Sinhalese), and the much publicised objective of securing the main supply route may not be completed for several months yet. Large scale troop movements will be difficult as long as the monsoon persists.

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SLA tank losses in Operation 'Jaya Sikuru'

16 May 1997 2 tanks destroyed near Omanthai

23 May 1997 2 tanks destroyed, 2 badly damaged near Omanthai

10 June 1997 3 tanks destroyed, 2 badly damaged at Thandikulum

26 June 1997 3 tanks destroyed near Iramaikulum

19 August 1997 2 tanks destroyed, 2 badly damaged near Puliyankulam

20 August 1997 1 tank destroyed, 2 badly damaged near Puliyankulam

27 August 1997 1 tank destroyed, 2 badly damaged near Puliyankulam

 

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