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David Blacker’s Blog

The Final Phase

Part 4 of the UTHR(J) Special Report No 34: The Final Phase

Deception over Civilian Safety

Having taken Valaignarmadam after overcoming strong LTTE resistance, which gave it time to build three defence bunds, the Army on 28th April launched a fierce attack on the first bund at Irattaivaykkal. The result as civilians had experienced repeatedly was a rain of army shells falling among IDP camps in Mullivaykkal, two miles south, causing enormous civilian casualties. The Government denied using its heavy weapons while blaming the LTTE of using its. President Rajapakse the previous day pledged that the Government was abandoning the use of heavy weapons.

If there was a military method in this madness, one needs to look back at the experience of civilians in the Udayarkaddu-Suthanthirapuram-Thevipuram safe zone during January and February 2009. In the reality of things, calling the war zone a safe zone was a mere piece of deception for the international community. The civilians were in their bunkers listening to the music of falling shells, having no idea where those shells were coming from. It was when they saw withdrawing LTTE cadres that they knew the Army was very close, perhaps just 50 yards away. Continue reading

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December 24, 2009 Posted by | government, Security, War | , , , | Leave a comment

The Advance to Mullaitivu

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Current Situation

The fall of Kilinochchi on January 2nd 2009 (see battle map), was viewed as unexpectedly quick in many sectors. Several military analysts, particularly B Raman and Col Hariharan, were expecting a titanic duel between the SL Army and the LTTE before the latter eventually relinquished their hold on their administrative capital. Even with Task Force 1 poised to take Paranthan by New Year’s Day, and the 57th Division driving into the southern flank of Kilinochchi, the writing on the wall hadn’t been read. With the A9 Highway towns of Paranthan and Iranamadu in SL Army hands, the Tigers risked a double envelopment from both flanks, with brigade-sized units sweeping round to cut off Kilinochchi. The LTTE would have foreseen this danger, and as the flanks crumbled, they withdrew swiftly towards Vaddakachchi in the east. After the heavy fighting on the flanks, the taking of Kilinochchi itself was relatively fast.

Both the 57th Division and TF1 continued the momentum, driving east and northeast of Kilinochchi, pushing the Tigers back so as to prevent an immediate counterattack. Elements of TF1 turned north and fought their way up to the southern edge of Elephant Pass. To the north of Elephant Pass, on the Kilali-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil line, the 53rd and 55th Divisions continued to apply pressure and force the LTTE to commit troops that could be valuable on the mainland.

Meanwhile, on the southern flank, TF2 and TF4 continued to make incremental gains across the A34 Highway linking Mankulam and Mullaitivu, with TF4 taking Oddusuddan on the 5th of January. The 59th Division on the east coast is currently the closest to Mullaitivu, in the Thanniyuttu sector just south of the Kilinochchi lagoon. This is a relatively urban area and the lack of manouver room means that the division cannot use mobility to envelope the defenders as was done in the advances up the northwest coast and across the Kilinochchi District. Any drive into southern Mullaitivu by elements of the 59th will mean slow and bloody fighting against the best of the Tiger units. On January 1st, a day before the fall of Kilinochchi, the 59th got a taste of this as the LTTE’s Ratha Regiment counterattacked and overran the 59th’s forward defence lines before being repulsed. Continue reading

January 8, 2009 Posted by | War | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

How to Kill Innocent Women & Children

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A page from a sniper’s logbook.

It’s easy. You just lead them a little less. It’s an old joke, born in the Vietnam War, and first recorded by Michael Herr, though Kubrick made it famous with his portrait of the crazed US Marine door gunner in Full Metal Jacket. In layspeak, a shooter “leads” a running figure so that he’s aiming at where the target will be when the bullet reaches it. Women and children run slower than an adult male.

It’s not so funny anymore though, when we’re fighting a war in which the uniformed enemy often is a woman or a child. Earlier this week, a US military court sentenced Sgt Evan Vela, a 24-year-old Army sniper, to ten years imprisonment for killing an Iraqi civilian. Funnily/sadly, the reason he was convicted was because he lied about planting a weapon on the dead man. The Iraqi and his teenaged son stumbled into a sniper ‘hide’, where Vela and his team were sleeping. The Americans took them prisoner, and later killed the father (it’s claimed he tried to warn some passing insurgent suspects of the American position) after releasing his son. They then planted a rifle on the body and claimed he was an insurgent. If they had killed the two Iraqis immediately, probably nothing would have happened, as it would have been passed off as a simple case of mistaken identity. Sad, but an inevitable part of a dirty war. Continue reading

February 16, 2008 Posted by | War | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Canadian Taxpayers Buy Sri Lanka a Radar System

(Galen Rowell/Corbis)

When Canada’s federal government decided to build and operate eight experimental surface wave radar systems as a security measure in the aftermath of the September 11th 2001 attacks, Ottawa set aside $43 million in public funds for the project and picked Raytheon’s HFSWR (High-Frequency Surface Wave Radar) system, a pioneering land-based radar that had been successfully demonstrated in December 1999. Seven years later, the whole operation has been scrapped, and the Government of Sri Lanka seems to be the beneficiary. And Raytheon Canada, of course; a US-owned subsidiary which spent $39 million to develop the system, working alongside Canadian federal defence scientists.

Raytheon’s HF-SWR-503 system transmits waves that follow the curve of the earth’s surface, and can detect maritime vessels and low-flying aircraft that are hundreds of kilometers over the horizon, as far away as 370km from Canada’s coast. Most regular surface radars are line-of-sight systems, with very limited range. Anything over the horizon is undetectable. The Raytheon system uses the ocean’s surface as a conductor to increase its range. According to Raytheon, the HF-SWR-503 system is ideal for defensive operations and monitoring of a nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and is sophisticated enough to detect even small boats such as those used by drug smugglers and terrorists — in fact, it seems almost tailor-made for use against the the LTTE’s sea-going wing — Sea Tigers — as well as the single-engine Ziln aircraft the terrorists used last year for nuisance raids. Continue reading

January 29, 2008 Posted by | Security, War | , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Weeding the Tigers Out of Monaragala

Having a quiet shot at the Golf Club last evening, the conversation turned (as it invariably does) to The War. And of course, grass. One has to be obviously well stoned to enjoy a proper war, as anyone who’s read Michael Herr or seen Tim Page’s work will testify. Weeks of night patrols around Vasavilan and Elephant Pass have taught me, however, that speed isn’t the dope of choice. Benz & dex just get the katussas to turn and wink at you, and make you think you can bite the nose off a Tiger at three-hundred meters. Let’s not even go near the non-prescription stuff. Nope, grass it is. Continue reading

January 24, 2008 Posted by | War | , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The War of the Claymores

The Claymore directional fragmentation mine seems to have captured everyone’s imagination lately as a sort of all-purpose magic weapon. We’ve seen it accused of the attempted assassination of Gota Rajapakse, the attempted bus bombing in Pettah, the Hotel Nippon bombing in Slave Island last week, as well as the Col Charles assassination yesterday (6th January). Google Grenadiers and other armchair warriors wax eloquoent about the mine’s magical capabilities, extolling it as the perfect way to Win The War — the Hind gunship, long-range sniper, and the LRRPs, have all had this supernatural status bestowed on them from time to time. Continue reading

January 7, 2008 Posted by | Security, War | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Was the CFA Worth Saving?

The Mahinda Rajapakse administration finally decided to do what many people seem to have wanted it to ever since it took power. It has formally pulled out of the Ceasefire Agreement, a truce which for over a year has remained only on paper while the GoSL and the LTTE went for each other with teeth bared.

So what does this really mean? 2007 saw the Security Forces overrunning the Eastern Province, making probing attacks on the Jaffna Peninsula, bombing the LTTE top brass, and begin the first tentative thrusts into the Wanni. We also saw a rash of terrorist pinprick attacks in the south in the form of IEDs and suicide bombers. Sounds like a war, doesn’t it? And it is. So what does the CFA pull-out mean on the ground? Continue reading

January 3, 2008 Posted by | Politics, Security, War | , , , , , , | 1 Comment