Battle of the Forward Defence Lines

Battle of the Forward Defence Lines

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of the Forward Defence Lines
partof=the Sri Lankan Civil War

date=January 1, 2008 – present
place=Northern Sri Lanka
combatant2= Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
commander1=Major General G. A. Chandrasiri
strength2=3,000 [ [ Sri Lanka lost 185 soldiers in Jaffna battle: military sources] ] [ [ Sri Lanka war set for long haul, analysts warn] ] [ [ Sri Lanka says lost 185 soldiers in Jaffna battle] ]
casualties1=713-953 soldiers killed, [] []
2,000 soldiers wounded [ Sri Lanka Timeline - South Asia Terrorism Portal] ]
casualties2=7,350+ killed, []
3,000 wounded (Government claims [ [ France 24 | Over 200 slain in Sri Lanka's bloodiest battle in 18 months | France 24 ] ] )
The Battle of the Forward Defence LinesFact|date=July 2008 is an ongoing armed conflict in northern Sri Lanka between the military of Sri Lanka and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The battle broke with the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) offensive attempting to break through the LTTE defence lines in the north of the island, aiming to conclude the country's 25-year-old civil war by military victory.


Following the defeat of the LTTE in eastern Sri Lanka and their retreat to the north in July 2007, the Sri Lankan military set its sights on the rebel-held territory in the north. On January 2, 2008, the government of Sri Lanka unilaterally withdrew from the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), signed on February 22, 2002, with the Tamil Tigers. According to Keheliya Rambukwella, a spokesman for the government on defence issues, the "Government [of Sri Lanka] decided to officially withdraw from the Ceasefire Agreement since it is futile to continue with the Ceasefire with no indication that LTTE is willing to enter the peace path." [cite web |url= |title=Sri Lanka Timeline - Year 2008 |accessdate=2008-05-20 |publisher=South Asia Terrorism Portal] This set the stage for the Army's attack on the Forward Defence Lines (FDL) in the island's north.

The battle

In its plans the SLA adopted new operation tactics and strategic approaches. The Army opened several battle fronts all over the LTTE controlled areas in Vanni. The clear target of the battle is the Elephant Pass. [cite news|first=Sudha|last=Ramachandran|url=|title=Sri Lanka takes off the gloves|publisher=Asia Times Online|date=2008-01-05|accessdate=2008-07-16] [cite web|url=|title=Tigers prepare to face Army’s mechanised infantry|date=2008-03-28|accessdate=2008-07-16] The three main FDLs, Muhamalai, Nagarcoil and Kilali Forward Defense Lines, in Jaffna district, were hit at the same time along with the FDLs in Vavuniya and Mannar districts. Over the next weeks and months army units were sent toward LTTE bunker lines in attempts to destroy LTTE bunker positions. By the end of February, although the SLA managed to destroy at least 250 LTTE bunkers they were only able to advance a few kilometers into rebel territory. However, the SLA were still slowly advancing on the A-9 highway which directly leads toward Elephant Pass. The SLA issued several calls to the LTTE to surrender before the Army's advances.

On February 20, SLA forces staged their most intense attack yet on the LTTE bunker lines. [cite news|title=SLA blocked in three fronts in Mannaar- LTTE|url=|publisher=Lanka Newspapers|date=2008-02-19|accessdate=2008-07-16] In heavy fighting 92 rebels and 3 soldiers were killed according to the government. Another 20 soldiers were wounded and five bunkers were destroyed. More intense fighting also flared up on March 5. Major engagements all along the de facto border separating territory held by the LTTE occurred and on March 8, SLA troops, backed by helicopter gunships, pushed across the front lines using tanks, mortars and artillery. 84 Rebels and 11 soldiers were killed during the close-quarters combat over those three days and nine rebel bunkers were destroyed and another four captured.

On March 22, a floating mine or a suicide attack off the northern coast of Sri Lanka claimed the lives of 10 Sri Lankan seamen. None of their bodies were ever recovered.

By early April government soldiers were battling tropical illnesses brought on by heavy rains. About 500 troops affected by dengue fever and the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus were being treated at hospitals. Also their offensive operations against LTTE frontlines stalled.

Mid-April offensive operations against the LTTE continued and dozens of Tiger bunker positions were overrun.

On April 20, a roadside bomb set off by government soldiers in rebel-held territory in Sri Lanka killed a Roman Catholic priest who was also a human rights activist. Reverend MX Karunaratnam accused the government of committing serious human rights violations in its military campaign against the Tamil Tigers. []

On April 23, a large-scale military offensive was mounted against the LTTE defence line in the northern peninsula of Jaffna. After several hours of intense fighting the SLA was beaten back with heavy casualties sustained on both sides. Like always the casualty figures were disputed by both sides of the conflict. The SLA claimed to have sustained 165 soldiers killed, 20 missing and 84 wounded in the day-long battle while they killed 100 militants. In contrast the LTTE said they themselves lost 25 men. Whatever the numbers this was the costliest battle yet for the SLA since the October 2006 debacle when 129 soldiers were killed and 515 wounded after a LTTE counter-offensive in Jaffna. [ [ France 24 | Sri Lanka lost 185 soldiers in Jaffna battle: military sources | France 24 ] ]

Two days after the failed offensive a bomb exploded on a crowded bus in the capital Colombo killing 24 passengers.

On May 16, a suicide bomber attacked a police bus in the Sri Lankan capital killing 10 people, including 8 policemen. By this point an estimated 360 rebels and 41 soldiers had been killed in the month of May according to military sources. [ [ Suspected suicide blast kills 10 in Sri Lanka - Yahoo! Canada News ] ]

On May 17, the military said it captured Palampiddi town from Tamil Tiger rebels in Mannar district. A military spokesman said capturing Palampiddi was strategically important because it would block the rebels' supply route between the northern Vavuniya and Mannar districts. [ [ Sri Lankan military says 9 rebels, 4 soldiers killed in latest fighting - Yahoo! Singapore News ] ]

On May 18, heavy fighting broke out along the frontlines in which the SLA stated that 17 soldiers were killed and 3 were missing, while 61 rebels were killed also. [ [ Military says 78 killed in Sri Lanka clashes - Yahoo! News ] ]

On June 8, in additional fighting 31 rebels and 11 soldiers were killed and one more soldier was missing. The SLA overran three Tiger defense points and were closing in on a major jungle base.

On June 15, heavy SLA air strikes resulted in the destruction of an LTTE complex in the jungle. Following that heavy fighting erupted along the frontlines that resulted in the deaths of 28 soldiers and 81 rebels by June 20. Another 68 soldiers and more than 100 rebels were wounded.

On July 16, Sri Lankan military claimed to have captured a major coastal town, Vidattaltivu,cite news|url=|title=Sri Lanka captures rebel naval base|date=July 16 2008||accessdate=2008-07-16] in the Mannar District of northwest Sri Lanka from the Tamil tigers. According to BBC correspondents, Vidattaltivu was a LTTE naval base and a hub for smuggling supplies from India across Palk Strait. [cite news|url=|title= Tamil Tiger sea base 'captured'|date=07-16-2008|publisher=BBC|accessdate=2008-07-16] Vidattaltivu is the biggest town situated on Sri Lanka's North-Western coast (Jaffna lies on north coast) and was major base of Sea Tigers.cite news|url=|title=Sri Lanka: Vidattaltivu Liberated; terrorists suffer fatal blow|date=07-16-2008||accessdate=2008-07-17] The Sri Lanka Army 58 Division and Commando Brigade took over the town in an attack that was the first time Sri Lankan military was able to capture the town since the Indian Peacekeeping Force left Sri Lanka in 1990.cite news|url=|title=Sri Lanka military captures key northern town - govt|date=July 16, 2008|publisher=Reuters|accessdate=2008-07-16] cite news|url=|title=Sri Lankan troops capture rebel base in north|date=2008-07-16|publisher=Xinhua|accessdate=2008-07-16] The commandos of Sri Lanka's Army initially faced resistance from 60 LTTE cadre. But LTTE soon started withdrawal towards Iluppakkadavai as it came under heavy artillery and rocket fire. Later Sri Lankan military claimed over 30 LTTE cadre were killed. Sri Lankan troops approaching from the east of Vidattaltivu cut off the Mannar-Poonaryn Road. Finally, the troops marched into the town and captured it after 21 years.cite news|url=|title= Strategic Sea Tiger base captured|date=2008/07/17||accessdate=2008-07-17] Following the capture of the town, the Sri Lankan air force attacked withdrawing Tamil Tigers. [cite news|url=|title=Sri Lanka Air Force pounds Tamil Tigers withdrawing from Vidattaltivu|accessdate=2008-07-16] According to Air Force of Sri Lanka, Mi-24 helicopter gunships sunk two LTTE boats 4 km north of Vidattaltivu around 1:00 PM local time.cite web|url=|title=Air Force pounds withdrawing terrorists - North of Vidattaltivu|date=07-16-2008||accessdate=2008-07-17]

On September 2, SLA forces managed to break through LTTE defences and captured the town of Mallavi which was regarded as a "nerve centre" for the Tamil Tiger rebels. Some 20 SLA soldiers and more than 100 rebels were killed during the battle for the town. [] []

The same day, the LTTE conducted a counter-attack against advancing SLA troops to regain their lost bunker lines. The Army claimed to have killed 52 and wounded 65 rebel fighters. As for the SLA casualties suffered during the counter-attack the military said that they had seven soldiers killed, seven missing and 50 wounded while the LTTE claimed to have killed 75 soldiers and wounded 100. []

After the taking of Mallavi the SLA started an advance on the rebel capital of Kilinochchi.

On September 9, LTTE suicide fighters, known as Black Tigers, conducted a raid on a military base in Vavuniya in coordination with two LTTE bomber planes and a rebel artillery barrage, which totaled 70 shells. The raid left 25 people dead: 12 soldiers, 11 rebels, one policeman and one civilian. []

Since early to late September, heavy fighting was raging for the town of Nachikkudah, both on land and sea. At least 29 soldiers were killed during that battle along with 100 to 200 rebels, according to the military.


The SLA stated that, by October 10, 2008, they had killed up to 7,362 LTTE militants since the start of the year, most of them in the north. The SLA reported they suffered between 722 and 962 soldiers killed in the whole country, another 140 policemen were also reported to have died. [] [] 104 of these security force members were killed in the month of February alone, which also saw 822 wounded.

Casualty figures provided by both sides differ wildly and cannot be independently verified. On numerous occasions it was established that the government was covering up its own casualty figures, as on March 5, when Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva stated to the Parliament that 104 soldiers and policemen were killed in February, while the Defence Ministry reported only 63 government soldiers killed during that month and 107 soldiers since the start of the year. [cite news |title=Sri Lanka admits bigger war losses |url= |work=Yahoo! News |date= |accessdate=2008-03-06 |archiveurl= |archivedate=2008-03-06] Initialy the SLA stated that 185 soldiers were killed or missing during the failed offensive in the Jaffna peninsula in April, but later some military sources cited a lesser number of 49 soldiers killed. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake confirmed that during the month of September 200 soldiers were killed and another 997 wounded. This was in contrast to the claims of the Defence Ministry that only 96 soldiers were killed during that month. []

Also, it had come into question how much the government was inflating the LTTE's losses, because at the start of the year the government stated there were only 3,000 militants left, but by mid-June they reported to have killed over 5,000 militants and wounded 3,000, which would mean that the whole of the LTTE has already been destroyed. [ [ 31 killed in fighting in northern Sri Lanka - Yahoo News (DPA)] ] [ [ Sri Lanka says 47 combatants killed in fresh fighting - Yahoo News (AFP)] ]


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