The Gash Files IV: The War on Land

Michael Roberts, with emphasis in bold being my imposition

I will be reproducing pertinent sections of Lt Col. Gash’s “Situation Reports” (or Sitrep) verbatim below in single spacing with the date of each despatch specified at the outset, while indicating blacked out sections where pertinent. These reproductions are extensive and demand careful reading. Vital bodies of information will be highlighted in red as a guideline for readers; but they are encouraged to form their own appraisals.

The corpus is so detailed that I will separate out key aspects and add my own comments and elaborations (with illustrations where feasible) in a separate article. This will enable readers to place my commentary side-by-side with the relevant despatch. However, I encourage readers to form their own interpretations and to express their views in relevant forums..

Despatch 20 January 2009: Military Sitrep

Since 1 last formally reported the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) has consolidated its capture of the Pooneryn Peninsula by moving East to capture Oddusudan, Paranthan and Ki!inochchi. As I have previously reported the final battle for Kilinochchi was not tough, indicating that the LTTE successfully withdrew men and materiel East 58 D(v (previously TF-1) linked up with 55 Div at Elephant Pass and shortly afterwards completed the defeat of the L TTE on the Jaffna causeway. 55 Div’s subsequent advance to Chundikkulam completed the clearance of the whole Peninsula: The capture of Chundikkulam also saw the recovery of over 100 Sea Tiger boats, indicating a severe loss of LTTE maritime capability. ·53-Divn previously on the Jaffna front line, ·is being redeployed south to form a reserve around Mankulam. Jaffna is now a garrison not a front.

The introduction of TF-4. into the order of battle has allowed the SLA to move north in the Wanni so that it now controls territory up to a line between Mullaitivu in the East to the lranamadu Tank near the A9 road.

The SLA has now captured 6 L TTE airstrips including the 21ong ones (c.1000m) that had been reported as possible escape routes or means 9f bringing in supplies by air.

The SLA now has 7 Divisions encircling Mullaitivu and .the remaining LTIE-controlled jungle areas (including the “humanitarian space” for IDPs). Increasing numbers of lDPs are reported to be slipping through the LTTE net: 796 arrived on Wed 14 Jan and 3140 on Fri 16 Jan. This ·compares with 613 arriving in the whole of Dec 08.

…  Timelines remain hard to apply. Last week the President predicted 3-4 months for the final defeat of the LTTE.

As you know we have had a statement from the Defence Secretary that no cluster munitions are being used.  […. Blacked out sentence] SLAF has declined to list its offensive inventory but I assess that this ls through military operational security concerns and political “why should we explain ourselves to westemers?” neurosis rather than any intent to deceive.

In the immediate future I expect 55 Division to continue to move south in order to capture the entire Eastern coastline. I also expect 59 Division or TF-4 to move North, on the Western side of Mullaitivu Lagoon, in order to link up with 55 Div and isolate/surround Mullaitivu. The squeeze around Mullaitivu is relentless and the L TTE’s space will shrink rapidly.

Despite reports of LTTE cadres being sent south we have not yet seen the transfer of effort to an underground insurgency in the south, nor have we seen concerted attempts to destabilise the East.

Despatch 28 January 2009: Interim Sitrep

This interim SITREP supplements recent Colombo Humanitarian reporting and consolidates my briefings given orally, by telephone and video-conference over the past few days.

THE SITUATlON: The LTIE are penned into an area north of the A35 road (although the road itself is currently being contested) and east of Dharmapuram. The SLA is making steady progress NW from Mullaitivu coast. 7 divisions are engaged in the offensive (55, 57, 58, 59, TF-2, TF-3, TF-4). ——- Blacked out sentence.

A safe area has been declared by the GoSL (wef 21 Jan 09) north from the A35 road (with the road inclusive to the safe area) with the centre point approximately 8km NW of Puthukkudiviruoou (PTK). This area is 35.5 square kilometres. IDPs are predominantly in this area although there are still significant concentrations outside, both to the west and east. The official convoy route is now the road running north into PTK.

Both sides have caused civilian casualties inside the safe area. The LTTE have defensive positions and artillery/air defence sites inside the safe area from which it is engaging the SLA. The SLA is retaliating with counter-battery fire. There have also been casualties on the southern edge of the safe area, probably caused by inaccurate artillery and mortar fire in support of the battle for the A35 road. On 24 Jan 09 observed SLA artillery killed 10 civilians next to the UN bunkers approximately 400m north of the A35. On 25 Jan 09 LTTE artillery Killed 8 civilians in the same area.

The dead and injured are being concentrated at PTK hospital, around which a 1km no-fire zone has been declared, honoured so far by both sides. Arrivals over the past 3 days are:

25 Jan 55 dead, 102 injured

26 Jan 60 dead, 115 injured

27 Jan 45 dead, 80 injured               Total: 159 dead, 297 injured. ·

An attempt by ICRC/UN to bring out 200 sick and wounded failed on 27 Jan 09 when the agreed cease-fire broke down: A further attempt to extract will be made on 29 Jan 09. It is not possible to distinguish civilians from LTTE cadres, as few cadres are now in military uniform.

COMMENT: whole paragraph blacked out



The LTTE appear to have no options left, and the language on TamiiNet and other similar platforms is clearly striving for international intervention to force a ceasefire on the GoSL.

Further civilian casualties are now inevitable as they no longer have options to move away from the combat zone. Without the presence of the IDPs the LTTE would be subjected to unrestricted air and artillery strikes, so have no incentive to release them. The SLA is exercising restraint but, without a change in political mood, will not hold back entirely.

LTTE communication centre

SL Military Update…… [for South Asia Group?] February 2009

[Word blacked out] has provided the following update:

7 SLA Divisions are engaged in the assault on the L TTE. Overall Anny strength 180,000 with about 50,000 engaged in the battle.

All 7 known LTTE airstrips have been captured.

All LTTE Sea Tiger bases have been captured.

The LTTE is reported to be herding IDPs east towards the coastal strip NW of Mullaitivu, where they are expected to make their last stand. 20,000 IDPs were reported in this area on 10 February.

Word blacked out best estimate is that LTIE strength is in the low thousands. [line blacked out] is highly unlikely that such a low number could be both defending the remaining territory and controlling the IDP population. UN assessments (unconfirmed} are much higher — anecdotal evidence reports 15 LTTE buses, each with 50 armed cadres. moving along the road south of PTK on 16 Jan, as part of a large military population (described as similar in density to the SLA Division to the south, which would have been 5000-10000 strong).

Accurate figures of civilian casualties remain unavailable. Since the last UN international staff left the combat zone on 29 Jan figures have only been available from ••••• black-out •••••• it is impossible to judge whether they are telling the truth, acting under LTIE coercion or willing LTTE helpers.

Casualty figures based on hospital admissions reported as:

20-31 Jan 347 dead, 2123 wounded (of whom 345 under 15 years)

1·10 Feb · 560 dead, 1087 wounded

  • Total 907 killed, 3210 wounded

Comment: a higher proportion oi dead to wounded as time goes by is consistent with intensifying combat and reduced humanitarian space.

South Asia Group

February 2009

Despatch 4 February 2009: Subject PTK Hospital

Five paragraphs blacked-out ••••••

PTK hospital is now empty. 90% of patients left by themselves overnight; the ICRC and UN moved the last serious casualties this morning to the coast 4km east of PTK. During the move out the LTTE tried to seize the UN’s vehicles but were dissuaded. The Un is trying to arrange a sea or air lift from the coast for the patients and their own people.

Word blacked out has apparently been sandbagging 2-3 words blacked out is morning and afternoon in the strongest language (“legal reprisals” etc).

Word blacked out has apparently said that the LTTE detonated 2 or 3 trucks of explosives near PTK hospital yesterday -I am not clear whether this is being linked to the attack on the hospital.

Two paragraphs blacked out

Despatch 5 February 2009:

Subject: Urgent briefing request –casualties and timeline

Attachments: SLA casualty figures Dec 07-Aug 08 doc [These are not available]

The attached table shows military casualties up to the point where they stopped publishing them – i. e. for 2008 up to and including October. I have already sent you the figures for Jan 09. So we are missing figures for Nov and Dec 08. If 1 was pressed for an estimate I would say use the Oct OS figures fOl’ Nov 08 and use the Jan 09 figures for Dec 08. Dec and Jan have been the bloodiest months with the battles for Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.

The civilian figures here are from GoSL sources too and relate to non-battle zone deaths.


AS GASH Lt Col … DAColombo

Daily Mirror graphic 12 March 2012

Despatch 12 March 2009:


  • Endgame in the Wanni

*Suicide air attack on Colombo

* Recovery of L TTE submarines and manufacturing facility

  • Suffering among trapped IDP population and large numbers of civilian dead
  • Likely increased terrorist threat to the South

The Wanni:

A: We have now entered the endgame in the Wanni, with the LTTE penned .into a very · limited area. On 6 Jan 09 (after the fall of Kilinochchi) the LITE held 2000 sq km of territory; on 2 Feb 09 195 sq km; by 9 Mar 09 this had fallen to 44 sq km. This 44 sq km comprises a No Fire Zone (NFZ) of 16 km sq, Mullaitivu Lagoon (14 sq k2) and about 14 sq km ofl and where fighting is taking place.

B: This dramatic reduction in LTTE territory has been at considerable loss oflife on both sides. In Jan 09 the LTTE explosively breached·the Kalmadukulam tank, flooding the A35 road. Attempts to breach the Iranamadu tank, which would have had far wider consequences, were thwarted by the SLA. The L TIE has launched counter-attacks that have been locally successful (on one occasion pushing the SLA back by 3 km) but without changing the strategic trend. On 4 Feb 09 a 13 year-old female suicide bomber attacked frontline troops of 55 Division at Chalai.

Tent city in Second NFZ, UNPoe Report , n.d for pic

Image of main road in Second NFZ at Pokkanai–from TamilNet, early March 2009

C:  blacked out sentence as paragraph

  1. A NFZ was established on 21 Jan 09 but significant civilian casualties were caused because there was fighting on a114 sides of the NFZ. Although some 28,000 IDPs emerged from the NFZ into GoSL hands once the SLA punctured the NFZ, it was clear that the location was wrong. On 11 Feb 09 a new NFZ was established the East coast (to the NW of Mullaitivu). Four lines blacked out All artillery is now in a single artillery brigade to ensure clarity of tasking.
  2. In late Feb 09 the SLA withdrew a number of its divisional/task force sized formations from the frontline because there was insufficient space to operate. There are now 5 divisions engaged on the Wanni frontlines, down from a peak of 8 in Jan 09.
  3. Jaffna. The situation in Jaffna has been generally stable in 2009. TF-7 has been formed with 2 brigades to hold the newly taken part of the Jaffna peninsula. 53 Div has been transferred to the Wanni command. 55 Div is advancing south along the coastline towards Mullaitivu. There has been very little L TTE activity and only limited recovery of arms or ammunition.

3 ….

4 ….

5 ….….

6 ………

  1. Statistics. 2009 casualty figures are shown below. SLA figures for Feb 09 are rounded off. SLA MIA figures for Feb 09 are not available. The assessed figures for LITE casualties the assessments compiled from SLA ground troops engaged in frontline combat;

The table here has been blacked out

  1. LTTE.
  2. Assessing LTTE strength is difficult. line blacked outReports from the UN suggest that LTTE forcible recruitment, especially of women and children, has increased. It is likely that many of the casualties in the L TTE counter-attacks are unwilling recruits.
  3. There have been rumours that there have been clashes and disagreement among L TTE leaders over how to conduct the endgame to this campaign. There have also been reports that the senior leadership has been fighting in the front ranks. line blacked out

9 IDPs


  1. The LTTE has been consistently trying to prevent the egress of IDPs~ other than the most seriously injured:
  • On 9 Feb 09 a suicide bomber killed 9 civilians and wounded 41 at the screening centre near Puliyampokkanai.
  • On 10 Feb 09 19 civilians were killed and 75 wounded by the L TIE as they tried to escape to Govt held territory. The UN reports civilians reaching ICRC medical facilities manned with gunshot wounds to the lower limbs to prevent them leaving.
  1. UN figures report 2683 civilians killed and 7241 wounded in the NFZs since 20 Jan. 907 of the deaths and 3210 of the wounded were in the original NFZ, the remainder in the current NFZ. This is indicative of the reduced humanitarian space, intensified fighting, and the LTTE’s determination not to lose its grip on the civilian population. ·
  2. The LTTE has been forcing the civilian population to move in accordance with their tactical requirements. The NFZ is rigorously policed and patrolled by LTTE cadres, who control access to food and medical facilities, ensuring that their own needs are met before any capacity is allowed for civilians.


  1. six-line paragraph blacked out
  2. The humanitarian situation: in the NFZ is unpleasant. Little space, little food or medical facilities, and a brutal LTTE regime. Deaths from all causes (combat and illness) are increasing and malnutrition is being seen. The SLA is confident that once it reached the edge of the NFZ the civilian population will spontaneously rush out, overwhelming the LTTE if necessary. … a line blacked out

13 ….

14 ….

Despatch 7 April 2009

Subject: Military Ansalysis

  1. The Wanni


  1. Since 9 Mar 09 the territory held by the LTTE has reduced-from 44 sq. km to 18~25 sq km including the No Fire Zone (NFZ) of l6 sq. km. Media reports on 6. April 09 that all territory outside the NFZ had been captured were premature. There are now 4 [SL Army] divisions engaged in on the Wanni frontlines – 53 (with TF 3 under command) 55, 58 and 59 Divisions – down from a peak of 8 in Jan 09.
  2. The LTTE have continued to mount local counter-attacks, including a major one – preceded by a night time infiltration near Chalai to the north of the NFZ. They were forced to divert from their target and were then destroyed by artillery and ground forces. The battle lasted till 9 March 09.
  3. A bitter battle for the last areas of Puthukkudiruppu (PTK) East concluded on 5 Apr 09. The LTTE were penned into a small area centred on Grid 938575. Then encircled and destroyed in detail.
  4. Large quantities of weapons, ammunition and supplies were captured during the operation indicating that there was no sense of “tactical withdrawal [on the part of the LTTE] … six lines blacked out
  5. Followed on the page that follows by the blacking out of a six-line paragraph and then a 10-line paragraph.
  6. ·Statistics: The SLA lost 516 killed and 3000+ wounded in Mar 09. LITE assessed casualties have not been collated but on 5 Mar 168 LTTE bodies were recovered (and a further 30 seen. floating in 1he lagoon) after the Cbalai counterattack; on 5 Apr 446 LTTE bodies were recovered. after the destruction of the final pocket in PTK.
  7. LTTE
  8. LTTE strength is assessed as several words blacked out but they recognise that this is a very fluid number because of intense recruiting that continues among the civilian population. One line blacked out On 16 Mar 09 we saw the first signs of civilian resistance when IDPs. fought back a group of LTTE police who were attempting to forcibly recruit some girls. LTTE vehicles were burnt, as was a police building.
  9. … of LTTE leaders died in the battle for PTK East, including 3 senior female cadre leaders ..… Also killed were …. Earlier in the month (2 April 09) were also killed [dots indicate names that have been blacked out}


  1. The GoSL continues to resist calls for a cease-fire or humanitarian pause. Next sentence blacked out

Paragraphs numbered 11 and 12 also blacked out

Despatch 22 April 2009

Subject: A quick Sitrep

…. Five brief paragraphs have been blacked out.

TamiiNet allegations continue along the_ familiar themes of attacks on orphanages, hospitals, cluster munitions, chemical weapons. These are no longer credible, albeit there clearly have been heavy civilian casualties from small arms and mortar fire. ••••• line blacked out


A S GASH Lt Col DA Colombo

Despatch 25 April 2009

From Army HQ: three lines blacked out.

More broadly: the whole of this page and the whole of the next page have been blacked out … the only hint being four words sayingI had supper with” at one point midway in this section

Five brief paragraphs have been blacked out.

A NOTE from Michael Roberts: Commando troops led by Colonel Ralph Nugera and Colonel Athula Kodippilly penetrated the mined/booby-trapped bund defences along the western lagoon banks the NFZ on the night of the 18th/19th April 2009 – enabling some 110-130,000 civilians and deserting Tiger fighters to flee their corralled circumstances over the next 3-6 days – SO this missing section is a vital report.

 Despatch 26 April 2009


From Army HQ- 4 lines blacked out.

From Navy HQ – 4 lines blacked out.

From SLAF – 3 lines blacked out.


Leaked UN casualty figures calculate 6432 civilians killed and 19946 injured over the last 3 months. Casualties in the last week are hard to assess. TamilNet reports 300+ killed and 600+ wounded~ with Puthinam quoting the figures that emerged last week of 1496 killed (including 476 children) and 3333 injured. ·

Daily figures for IDPs emerging from the NFZ are:

20 Apr 39,845

21 Apr 26,580

22 Apr 33,645



25 Apr


Comment: Figures for 23, 24, 25 Apr are SLA estimates

….  …

Tamil civilians streaming out

Tamil IDPs on Nandikadal shore – Reuters

A Reuters image of Civilians who got away and survived, circa 21 April 2009

  Island 21 April 2009


The what does the SLA do next? The lagoon obstacle makes it harder than before to mount a breaching operation or to attempt to bisect the NFZ again. It is likely that tactics will remain the same — patient assessment, infiltration, then sudden and decisive action at an identified weak point. It remains possible that the military could consider an amphibious or air assault operation to attempt to unhinge the LITE through a coup de main operation into the heart of the NFZ, but this would be highly risky: It is probable that this would only be resorted to if there was compelling evidence that the L TTE was planning the elimination of the remaining civilians as part of a mass suicide.




***  END  ***


       *  “The Gash Files I: About Lt. Col. Anton Gash,” 10 March 2018,

·       “The Gash Files II: LTTE’s Strategic Design,” 4 April 2018,

·       “The Gash Files III: Trapped Tamils Out by Sea in 2009,” 9 April 2018,


Hull, C. Bryson 2009 “Sri Lanka opens eye in the sky on war zone,” 20 April 2009,

Hull, C. Bryson & Ranga Sirilal 2009 “Sri Lankan War in Endgame, 100,000 escape rebel zone, 23 April 2009,

Michael Roberts:Saving Tamil Civilians by Sea: More on the ICRC-cum-SL Navy Operations: Admiral Travis Sinniah Speaks,” 13 April 2018,

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010 “Information Warfare and the Endgame of the Civil War,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, May 2010, 30/4: 35-37,  http://wwwasiapacificdefencereporter. com/articles/40/Sri-Lanka.

IDAG [i.e. Citizen Silva] 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice,” OR

Michael Roberts, “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014,

Michael Roberts:  “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” 8 December 2013,

Michael Roberts: Witnesses to “the War without Witnesses” … Voiceless? Buried Foreign Reporters?” 30 December 2013,

Michael Roberts: “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: Us Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 27 August 2014, ………………………………………………..

Michael Roberts: Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Michael Roberts: Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, M. 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,”

Roberts, M. 2013 “Estimates of the Tamil Civilian Death Toll during the Last Phase of Eelam War IV in 2009: Appendix I for ‘BBC Blind’,”

Roberts, M.  2013 “Congestion in the “Vanni Pocket” January-May 2009: Appendix IV for “BBC Blind,”


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April 16, 2018 · 10:59 am

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