Muhamalai Forward Defence Line

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The Muhamalai Forward Defence Line was the Army Defence Line separating the Sri Lankan Army and LTTE militia in North Central Kilinochchi from South Central Jaffna. The distance between the first line of defences ranges from 200 to 600 meters. Sri Lankan soldiers captured the 1st Forward Defence Line (FDL) Mukamalaai and Kilali 20 November 2008 at about 5:00AM, pushing the LTTE lines 800m southward.[1]

Overview[edit]

Although it is wider than the Nagarcoil FDL, because of the unique topography it is very difficult for either of the fighting forces to advance through enemy defence lines and destroy the enemy bunkers. This can be seen from the fact that for the past several years, after hundreds of battles and being the most active front in the Sri Lankan Civil War, the Defence positions have hardly moved either way. In almost all the occasions, the side trying to overrun enemy defence lines have suffered heavy casualties. The importance of Muhamalai lies in the fact that the Kandy-Jaffna Highway passes through the Muhamalai FDL. If SLA takes control of Muhamalai, then they will obtain a crucial land supply route. The LTTE have around 1,800 militiamen in Muhamalai and Nagarcoil. The SLA strength is several thousands. Elephant Pass, another strategic location lies to the South of Muhamalai. Unlike the other FDLs north of Mannar (Where large numbers of Eastern and Mannar Tamils are present) and Southern Vanni, LTTE cadres in these two FDLs consist mostly of Jaffna Tamils. LTTE positions. For the past several years Muhamalai FDL is the most active FDL in Sri Lankan Civil War (Despite being static for the entire time) and it is the location where a huge part of the casualties have occurred.

2008 Offensive[edit]

On April 21, 2008 Sri Lankan Army launched a major offensive towards Muhamalai FDL with the help of tanks and artillery. SLA overran the first-line-of-defence lines held by the LTTE cadres, forcing the militiamen to withdraw to their second line of defence. But the LTTE militia engaged in heavy mortar and RPG fire from their new positions towards the weakly defended former first line of defence, where the SLA troops got trapped.[citation needed] Close to 15 SLA soldiers and 52 LTTE militiamen died in the attack according to Defencenet [1] and 176 SLA soldiers and 25 militiamen died according to the LTTE. The Army claimed that their forward defence line was extended by 500 meters after the battle [2], but the Tamils refuted this claim and even showed pictures of dead soldiers lying scattered in the bunkers in first line of defence[citation needed]. As of April 24, 2008, SLA have so far handed over 6 militia dead bodies and LTTE have handed over 28 army dead bodies to the Red Cross.

For the past seven years, the SLA has tried several times to break through the Kilali-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil defence line and reach Elephant Pass, which is the gateway to the Vanni; but every time, it has had to retreat, suffering heavy losses in men and material (Especially armoured carriers and tanks). The geography of Muhamalai has been against the SLA but has suited the well-entrenched LTTE. The battle field is in a narrow isthmus in between sections of the Jaffna Lagoon. There is no room for manoeuvre here, which makes the place a death trap. The terrain is unsuitable for tanks. This explains the large number of tanks the SLA have lost in this region to LAW fire. The LTTE not only mines the area extensively, sometimes using the powerful Monster mine to blow up tanks, but also digs trenches and large pits, and camouflages them so that troops, armour and vehicles fall into them. The Tigers typically avoid man-to-man fighting in this narrow area so as not to get trapped themselves, but use long distance weapons like mortars and artillery. Stories of battles in the Muhamalai sector are of a pattern. On April 25, 2001, the 52, 53 and 55 Divisions fought their way through to occupy two square kilometers of LTTE-held territory in the Kilali-Eluthumaduval sector. But they had to retreat in disarray after a 72-hour-long battle, losing 300 to 500 men. The LTTE had allowed them to get into a cul-de-sac only to set upon them mercilessly from three sides. In October 2006, there was another determined bid to break through Muhamalai, but a well-entrenched LTTE thwarted the move and destroyed or damaged six armoured vehicles, four T-55 tanks and two BMPs and killed 130 army men.

In the last months the focus of the conflict has shifted from the Northern Defense Lines to other fronts, mainly the Mannar front, where the SLA has successfully routed the LTTE, liberating extensive zones. As a result, the SLA has adopted guerrilla tactics to deal with the LTTE presence in Jaffna, with extensive and successful use of sniper and hit and run tactics.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Map.