Puliyankulum defences frustrate SLA

[TamilNet, Saturday, 23 August 1997, 23:59 GMT]
Heavy fighting was reported around Puliyankulum on Wednesday, as Sri Lankan troops tried repeatedly to breach Tamil Tiger defences for the second day. The Sri Lankans are throwing thousands of troops into the attacks, backing them with tanks, artillery and air power. The SLA attacks are being launched from within two miles of the town, but the Tiger defenders are said to be offering stiff resistance.

The Sri Lankan army launched two separate thrusts to capture Puliyankulum on Wednesday. The first attack came at dawn from the north west. The Tigers beat back the assault using artillery and small arms fire from a network of bunkers and trenches.

The second SLA thrust was launched from the south of Puliyankulum, led by Sri Lankan armour, but was unable to make headway due to heavy Tiger resistance. This attack came along the A9 highway that continues through the Vanni region to the Jaffna peninsula.

At least three battle tanks were said to have been destroyed before the Sri Lankans pulled back, having suffered heavy casualties. The SLA lost four other tanks near Puliyankulum on Tuesday in another abortive attack. The Tigers also captured an APC in that action.

The SLA desperately needs to capture the road to relieve its 30,000 strong Jaffna garrison, which is running out of supplies. The LTTE has severely disrupted the aerial and naval supply lines to the garrison in recent weeks.

There were conflicting casualty claims. The LTTE said they had lost a score of fighters today, but the Sri Lankans claim 130 Tigers had been killed. The Tigers did not say how many Sri Lankans they had killed, but the Sri Lankan military said about 30 of their men had died.

However the Sri Lankan military have not penetrated LTTE defences and its claims are based on 'estimates'. The Sri Lankan military is known to routinely exaggerate LTTE casualty figures whilst playing down its own, in a bid to maintain morale amongst its troops and the Sinhalese populace.

The troops involved in the Sri Lankan offensive, 'Jaya Sikiru' have been struggling for three months to open a supply route to the trapped Jaffna garrison. Puliyankulum is located astride the route and is difficult to bypass due to the surrounding terrain. At least 20,000 Sinhalese troops have been deployed in the offensive, as well as navy, police and air force troops.

Several weeks ago two Sri Lankan columns inched towards Puliyankulum from the south and the north-west. Stiff LTTE resistance prevented the Sinhalese troops from linking up in the town. After several abortive frontal assaults, the Sri Lankan columns linked up 2 miles south of the town.

This has effectively made Puliyankulum an obstacle that the SLA needs to overcome if it is to capture the Vavuniya-Jaffna highway. The LTTE are said to have deployed a limited number of troops at Puliyankulum, but they are fighting from a complex defensive network and are backed by LTTE artillery units located deeper in the Vanni.


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