It was about a month back the Sri Lanka Army officially started the operation to capture LTTE strongholds in the Wanni heartland. The operation, involving 5 divisions fighting along five major battle fronts, has slowly but surely made inroads to LTTE controlled territory in Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli Oya. The operation is still in its first phase and small attack teams comprising of specialized infantry (SI) have been carrying out most of the limited missions. However the way forward has not been an easy ride for the army.
For the past 16 days in the month of February, 41 SLA soldiers have been killed in battle. Another 190 have been wounded. Majority of the injured are in P3 (Walking wounded) category which means that they will soon rejoin the battle (some already have). Close quarters fighting is still rare and bulk of the SLA casualties have been incurred from land mines and LTTE artillery and mortar attacks. Tigers, who were aware of the impending army invasion into their heartland, had taken the time to mine virtually every inch of the area around their forward defence lines in Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli Oya. In addition to the land mines, LTTE have completely mapped the areas surrounding the FDLs. This is to direct artillery fire exactly to the areas that fall to the army. There have been several instances where the tigers intentionally withdrew from their defence lines, directed heavy artillery barrages to the areas just occupied by SLA and then regrouped and counter attacked the advancing forces. Due to these reasons, the SLA advances are proceeding slowly with extreme caution, in a bid to try and minimize unnecessary casualties.
Although the tigers had the territorial advantage in most fronts, defending their line has not been a joyride for them either. For the month of February, at least 250 LTTE cadres are confirmed to be killed in battle. Names of these cadres have been recorded by army intelligence units. Since this is only the number of confirmed deaths and since these figures do not include casualties caused by Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) air strikes, the actual LTTE casualty figures may be a lot higher.
Meanwhile the LTTE continued to exploit the Madhu no-war zone to their advantage by placing heavy mortars and 122mm artillery near the sacred shrine. Army's firefinder radars have detected the presence of these heavy weapons inside the church premises a numerous times in the past week but so far the SLA has refrained from counterattacking. MI warns that LTTE's aim is to provoke the SLA into shelling the church in a bid to defame the armed forces in front of the international community. According to intel reports, LTTE has placed a video team in close proximity of the Madhu shrine to capture and broadcast the events if SLA launched a counterattack targeting tiger artillery in the church premises.