SLA plays down dismal performance

[TamilNet, Monday, 25 August 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The Sri Lankan army's attempt to capture the tiny town of Puliyankulum is taking an embarrassingly long time. Despite deploying thousands of troops with tanks, artillery and air support, progress has been agonisingly slow. To detract attention from its dismal performance, the SLA has been releasing exaggerated claims of Tamil Tiger casualties.

The SLA has been attempting to capture Puliyankulum for nearly two months as part of its on-going operation 'Jaya Sikiru'. Repeated assaults, backed by furious artillery barrages and air strikes, have failed to dislodge the Tiger defenders.

Last Tuesday the Sri Lankan military launched its biggest ever effort to take Puliyankulum. Thousands of Sinhalese troops pushed forward from their positions 2 miles south of the town and almost immediately ran into Tiger resistance.

The LTTE is said to have deployed only a few hundred troops in the area, but they are backed by artillery and mortars which have been zeroed onto the towns' approach routes.

After a week of heavy fighting, the SLA is claiming it has captured a part of the small town. An unused railway station is said to have been captured by the SLA and is being touted as a 'strategic' position. However, most of Puliyankulum town itself is still said to be in Tiger hands.

The SLA has been clearly taken aback by the intensity of the Tiger resistance. By its own admission, at least 77 Sinhalese troops have been killed. The actual number is believed to be much higher as the Sri Lankans routinely conceal their losses while exaggerating Tiger casualties.

Last Thursday the SLA officially stated that 16 soldiers were killed in the day's fighting. However, other army officers speaking on condition of anonymity, told agency reporters that at least 46 soldiers had been killed.

Apart from playing down its losses, the SLA has been exaggerating Tamil Tiger casualties, both to maintain morale amongst its ranks and the Sinhala public.

On Tuesday, the SLA claimed 29 Sinhalese troops and 130 Tigers were killed. On Wednesday, the SLA said a further 100 Tigers and 6 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed. On Thursday, the SLA said another 60 Tigers and 16 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed. On Friday, the SLA claimed 70 Tigers and 7 Sri Lankan troops killed.

The SLA routinely exaggerates the numbers of LTTE killed to maintain enthusiasm for its war in the homelands. However, the extent to which casualty figures are being exaggerated in recent days seems to have been prompted by the snail's pace at which the SLA operation is moving.

Even the staunchly pro-Sinhalese island newspaper poured scorn on the official numbers, saying "There is no doubt the ministry [of Defence]'s claims of Tiger casualties should be confined to children's fairy tales. Its habit of killing Tigers in nice, round figures of one hundred and thirty, sixty and one hundred and clear evidence that these are nothing but estimates...".

The Sri Lankan army often seeks to justify its fictitious claims by citing 'intercepted enemy transmissions'. This has been cited for years as 'evidence' of Tiger losses. However, the SLA has never been able to successfully counter LTTE attacks or penetrate Tiger defences with the guile that could be expected were Tiger communications being successfully intercepted.

The international press has not been allowed into the Tamil homelands for over two years now, ensuring that government claims of events there cannot be disproved.


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