Monday, 31 December 2012

Aftermath of historic battlefield victory

War on terror revisited : Part 88


By Shamindra Ferdinando

As the army was clearing the last patch of LTTE-held territory at Vellamullivaikkal in the Mullaitivu District, one of Sri Lanka’s major arms suppliers called for an international inquiry in to the conduct of government security forces.

Israel made its move in Geneva on May 18, 2009, on the first day of a five-day meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva at the WHO headquarters.

Unfortunately, the government failed to realize the significance of the Israeli move which was made amidst UN launching a war crimes inquiry into military action during operations (Dec. 27, 2008-Jan 18, 2009) in Gaza.

The Israeli proposed to send a combined UN and WHO team to investigate the conduct of the Sri Lankan security forces during eelam war IV.

Israeli delegation called for an immediate investigation after Sri Lanka received overwhelming backing to chair the conference attended by representatives from 192 countries. The Jewish State said that Sri Lanka, too, should be subjected to an inspection similar to the one carried out in the Gaza strip.

Opposing the then Sri Lankan Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva’s appointment as the Chairman of the World Health Assembly, the Israeli delegation demanded an international investigation. Israel went to the extent of accusing Sri Lanka of indiscriminate military action and violations of human rights in the guise of fighting LTTE terrorism.

The surprising move came hours before the Army finished off what was left of the LTTE’s conventional fighting forces. During that confrontation LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was trapped in the Nanthikadal lagoon where he died on the morning of the following day.

Sri Lanka re-established diplomatic relations with Israel shortly after the LTTE overran the strategic Elephant Pass base in April 2000. Successive Israeli governments backed the military effort against the LTTE, though Sri Lanka didn’t have diplomatic ties.

Israel was one of the key suppliers of military hardware including Fast Attack Craft (FACs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Kfir multi-role fighters and rockets which helped the Sri Lanka Navy to destroy many Sea Tiger craft in the northern waters. The rockets mounted on Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC) helped the SLN to overwhelm the Sea Tigers off the Mullaitivu coast. Sri Lankan security forces have also benefitted by Israeli expertise.

The Israeli government took on SriLanka as hundreds of LTTE supporters held a violent anti-Sri Lanka protest at the WHO premises (Israel in shocking move demands human rights probe on Lanka-The Island May 26, 2009).

The UN inquiry targeting both Israel and Hamas got underway in April 2009. The investigating team led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, handed over its report to the UN on Sept. 15, 2009.

At the time Israel called for a war crimes inquiry, the LTTE rump hadn’t launched its own project to influence the UN to haul Sri Lanka up before international war crimes tribunal. Although Israel has managed to neutralize the damning UN report with the help of the US, Sri Lanka is still under heavy Western pressure. Sri Lanka’s case will again come up for discussion in March 2013 at the 20th sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. Under pressure by Israel and its allies, Goldstone retracted his own report, though three other investigators strongly reiterated their confidence in it.

Unceasing Tsunami I and II

The three-year military campaign was called a humanitarian operation by politicians and military officers alike. The army didn’t even codename the operation. Immediately after being promoted to the rank of General, the war winning army chief said he would like to codename the liberation of the Eastern Province and the Vanni Region Unceasing Tsunami I (Aug. 2006-July 2007) and Unceasing Tsunami II (March 2007-May 2009).

The war veteran said that unlike in the previous phases of the war, the Army didn’t consult astrologers or delay ground operations due to the inauspicious ‘rahu’ period. "We conducted operations to meet our ground requirement," he said on May 26, 2009.

The first serving General, said that the Army hadn’t simply bothered to codename a string of operations conducted over the two years and ten months under his command. An outspoken Gen. Fonseka dismissed the assertion that major military action should be conducted in keeping with auspicious times.

Referring to the arrest of a Lt. Colonel over his alleged links with the LTTE, the Army Chief recalled that the officer had retreated with his troops based at Thanankilappu to Palaly in a matter of hours in 2000 when LTTE attacked Thanankilappu. After being detected taking three calls to a Tamil person during a major battle at Muhamalai during eelam war IV, the suspect had been through the Directorate of Military Intelligence and questioned, Gen. Fonseka said, adding that a couple of Army and Police officers had been taken into custody over their alleged links with the LTTE. An officer holding the rank of Major had been sentenced to death by a Military Tribunal. The President had commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment, he said.

Gen. Fonseka said that once the Lt. Col. had aroused the suspicion of army top brass, he hadn’t been given an opportunity to command troops on the ground.

Commenting on the pivotal role played by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in the war effort, Gen. Fonseka accused some previous governments of having turned a blind eye to the needs of the security forces. He recalled a top level conference during the tenure of then President Ranasinghe Premadasa, when the then Defence Secretary questioned the army’s requirement for a large stock of ammunition for training purposes, Gen. Fonseka said that the then Defence Secretary had pointed out that there was no basis for such a stock as there were only 2,000 LTTE cadres. Gen. Fonseka at that time holding the rank of Colonel, had represented army headquarters.

He had trained and equipped the army to engage in jungle warfare, Gen. Fonseka said. The LTTE had to depend on earth bunds cum ditches to deter the army, but troops overwhelmed the enemy and made a historic victory possible in less than three years.

The Sinha Regiment veteran declared that under his command, the army had taken on the LTTE in the latter’s strongholds. There wouldn’t have been any point in raising the national flag in an area not militarily important to the enemy, he said, adding that as the army had gradually stepped up pressure on several fronts, the LTTE was forced to give up some areas.

Sri Lanka’s most successful service commander said that the entire LTTE leadership had been wiped out. Had the army taken LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran alive during a last ditch attempt by the leader to escape, the army could have reminded him of what he did over the past three decades. The Army Chief regretted the troops’ failure to take him alive.

Gen. SF on P’karan’s death

Commenting on the confrontation with Prabhakaran on the morning of May 19, 2009, Gen. Fonseka said that Prabhakaran, his body guards and suicide cadres had been among about 70 LTTE cadres killed after being trapped in the Nanthikadal lagoon. At the time of the confrontation, the Army hadn’t been certain of Prabhakaran’s presence among the group, he said, adding that altogether the LTTE had lost about 450 cadres in three major engagements during the last 48 hours.

Dismissing the possibility of an LTTE threat again, he said that the army was strong enough to meet any challenge. He said that the army had expanded to 200,000 officers and men and it could be as big as 300,000. The army had deployed about 60 battalions in the Kilinochchi area alone, he said.

Gen. Fonseka said that the army had sealed off the north-eastern coast before the launch of the final phase of the offensive to thwart any attempt by the LTTE leadership to escape by boats.

Referring to a reversal suffered on the Muhamalai front in 2008, Gen. Fonseka said that he publicly acknowledged the loss of 130 officers and men. The LTTE, too, lost about 250 cadres, he said, emphasizing that he was confident of meeting the challenges. could have distracted me."

SLA destroyed 95 % of LTTE fighting cadre

Gen. Fonseka said that the army had destroyed about 95 per cent of the LTTE fighting strength. He emphasized that the Army had caused heavy losses to the Sea Tigers and captured seven LTTE runways. He praised the SLAF for strongly backing the ground offensive.

Gen. Fonseka slammed those who repeatedly tried to throw lifelines to the sinking Tigers. He targeted three MPs for being critical of the war effort. Recalling a jibe that he wasn’t even suitable to lead the Salvation Army, Gen. Fonseka said that he had proved what he could do.

He said that the LTTE had managed to bring in military supplies in boats as late as last December. Quoting two LTTE cadres captured by the Army at Iranamadu, he said the LTTE had a steady supply of arms, ammunition and equipment.

Had the enemy been denied a sea supply route, the offensive could have been completed sooner, he said. According to him, among the armaments brought from abroad and captured by the army were one main battle tank, two armoured personnel carriers, about 25 pieces of artillery and a range of other weapons, including 30 mm, 27 mm, 23 mm and multi-purpose machine guns. The Army had also recovered about three hundred 60 mm mortars and 11,000 T-56 assault rifles, he said.

Gen. Fonseka said that he hadn’t appointed an OOC (Overall Operations Commander) to oversee the offensive as he felt he didn’t have the right man. He said that had he had handled the OOC job. "I did what a conservative didn’t. I pushed ground commanders and in some instances shouted at them," he said, stressing that all officers at all levels who commanded fighting formations had been handpicked.

Gen. Fonseka said that over 5,000 officers and men had sacrificed their lives in the offensive. Even if the had simply defended its camps over three years, it would have lost a similar number, he said.

The army lost 2,174 and 2,350 officers and men during 2008 and 2009, respectively. The SLA categorized the number of missing at 113.

Sri Lanka paid a heavy price to defeat terrorism. During eelam war I, it battled several Indian trained Tamil groups, including the LTTE. Towards the end of the 80s, the LTTE emerged as the only group remained committed to the macabre eelam project.

Eelam War III worst

In terms of officers and men killed, eelam war III (April 1995 to Dec 2001) was undoubtedly the worst. In fact, all three services suffered the highest losses during eelam war III, with the army losing 420 officers and 9,028 men, whereas 93 officers and 2,625 were men categorized as missing. The number of wounded army officers and men was placed at 492 and 11,906, respectively.

The number of navy officers and men killed, missing and wounded during eelam war III was placed at 349, 254 and 241, respectively.

The SLAF lost 208 officers and men during eelam war III, while the number of wounded was placed at 116.

 During eelam war I (1983-1987) the army lost 52 officers and 881 men, whereas one officer and four men were categorized as missing. The number of wounded army officers and men was placed at 6 and 152, respectively.

The number of navy officers and men killed and wounded during eelam war I was placed at 41 and 8, respectively.

The SLAF lost 52 officers and men and while 14 were wounded during eelam war I.

Eelam war II was fought between June 1990 and April 1995 with the LTTE making major military gains, particularly in the Vanni region. The army lost 140 officers and 3,399 men, whereas 19 officers and 586 men were categorized as missing. The number of wounded army officers and men was placed at 80 and 2,449, respectively.

The number of navy officers and men killed, missing and wounded during eelam war II was placed at 117, 136 and 74, respectively.

The SLAF lost 138 officers and men during eelam war II, while the number of wounded was placed at 68.

In spite of eelam war IV lasting two years and ten months, the army lost 217 officers and 5,527 men, whereas 10 officers and 93 men were categorized as missing in action. The number of wounded officers and men was placed at 518 and 18, 120, respectively.

The number of navy officers and men killed, missing and wounded during eelam war IV was placed at 210, 56 and 108, respectively.

The SLAF lost 37 officers and men during eelam war IV, while the number of wounded was placed at 36.