Tuesday, 20 December 2016

‘Sri Lanka, an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off Indian coast’




By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000) Shivshankar Menon, in his recently (Oct, 2016) launched memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, indicated that New Delhi had reason to desire a change of government, in Sri Lanka, due to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations.

Menon accused former President Rajapaksa of breaking his solemn pledge, in May 2014, five years after the successful conclusion of the conflict. Obviously, the former President had earned the wrath of India for following a path which New Delhi believed threatened its security interests. Menon declaration that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off the Indian coast underscored New Delhi’s severe concerns in respect of the country being too close to China.

However, Menon, who had been India’s National Security Advisory, from January, 2011, to May, 2014, refrained from revealing a specific incident/or incidents which revealed Sri Lanka’s duplicity in May 2014. The incumbent Ajit Doval succeeded Menon.

Having commented on the conduct of former President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Menon accused Sri Lanka of reneging on bilateral understanding with India. Menon directly alleged that the former President received Chinese funds for his political campaigns, and projects. The veteran diplomat didn’t indicate when the war-winning President first received Chinese funding.

However, some experts interpreted that Menon was only commenting on the period during which he held the post of National Security Advisor. They asserted, therefore it would be wrong to ascertain that Menon felt the previous government had reneged on the promise given to New Delhi. They asserted that perhaps 80 per cent of the Chapter on Sri Lanka was positive. Even the reference to Chinese money could be considered as funds made available for infrastructure development projects.

Sri Lanka reneges promise

The writer felt the need to examine allegations in the wake of the Rajapaksa brothers referring to Menon’s memoirs, in recent conversations with him.

Let me report verbatim the relevant section from the Chapter on Sri Lanka, titled ‘Force works’: "I found that as Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya, had a clear view of Sri Lanka’s interests, one that was compatible with ours. Immediately after the war, he reassured the Indian troika (National Security Advisor M.K. Narayan, Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon) about the nature of Sri Lanka’s defence relationship with China, and helped Indian companies re-enter the reconstruction of Colombo. Security was Gotabhaya’s sole preoccupation, which made him sensitive to India’s concerns, while his brother Mahinda was much more compliant with Chinese demands, having built a political machine on Chinese money. The basic assurances that Gotabhaya and, more reluctantly, Mahinda Rajapaksa gave us were that India’s security interests would be respected and that there would be no surprises in Sri Lanka’s relations with China. In detailed conversations I was assured that there wouldn’t be no permanent Chinese military presence in Sri Lanka and that Sri Lanka would look to India for most of its military training and intelligence needs. These assurances were respected, in practice, by the Sri Lankans, until May 2014. At no stage exclusivity sought or promised. And realistically speaking, it would be unreasonable to expect exclusivity."

Sri Lanka troika comprised Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa. The two groups worked closely throughout eelam war IV (Aug. 2006 – May 2009). Menon stated: "Troika made decision making easy and quick, but the decisions, once made, were also final and hard to change."

Menon conveniently forgot that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have transformed her ceremonial Army to a fighting force with the support of China, Pakistan and Israel if not for Indian intervention in early 80s. Sri Lanka had no option but to rapidly modify and expand the military, with China providing a range of armaments, including artillery, mortars, assault rifles, state-of-the art radar, transport aircraft, gun boats, larger vessels, armoured fighting vehicles, shoulder fired missiles and jets et al.

Origins of terrorism in Sri Lanka

Having wrongly described the first major LTTE attack, on the Army, in July 1983, as an ambush of an SLA checkpoint in Jaffna, Menon asserted that India’s premier external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had intervened in Sri Lanka, in Aug, 1983, thereby cleared India of giving the required expertise to the LTTE to undertake the first major operation (wiping out Army patrol at Thinnaveli/Thirunelveli, Jaffna).

What had been called an ambush of a SLA checkpoint was in fact a coordinated attack on a mobile patrol at Tinnaveli/Tirunelveli resulting in the deaths of 13 soldiers. The Army had never experienced such an attack in the Jaffna peninsula, or any other northern or eastern district. The LTTE couldn’t have acquired such an expertise on its own under any circumstances. The attack triggered the war. Having tried to absolve India of causing the war in Sri Lanka, Menon accused Sri Lanka ORGANIZED (emphasis mine) nationwide campaign against Tamils. Menon stated: "In July, 1983, the reaction to an ambush of an SLA checkpoint, near Tirunelveli, was an organized pogrom and massacre of Tamils across the country during what came to be called Black July. Anywhere between 400 to 3,000 Tamils were killed. The start of the civil war is dated to those events. Two decades of discrimination against the Tamils had been followed by PREPLANNED (emphasis mine) violence."

Obviously, Menon wanted to ensure that India was cleared of triggering the war here. The former Indian Foreign Secretary is comfortable in propagating the lie that India had intervened only in the wake of the organized and preplanned violence, countrywide, that caused hundreds if not thousands of deaths. Sri Lanka should be grateful to Menon for not alleging that the Army mounted an attack on its own to unleash ORGANISED and PREPLANNED violence on Tamils.

TN, Centre in destabilisation plot

Indians seem reluctant to speak in one voice in respect of the origins of war in Sri Lanka. Retired Air Marshal Bharat Kumar in Operation Pawan: Role of Air power with IPKF, contradicted Menon’s assertion that India had intervened, in Aug, 1983, a month after Black July, 1983. Air Marshal Kumar claimed that Tamil Nadu had commenced providing weapons training to Tamil youth immediately after Black July, 1983, whereas the RAW launched its own project in 1984. Kumar’s claim that Tamil Nadu leaders had rejected India’s call to rein in Tamil groups is ridiculous. Kumar stated: "Since the Central government could not afford Tamil Nadu ‘invading’ Sri Lanka, various intelligence agencies also got into the act from 1984 onward. It was better that the Indian state got involved in Sri Lanka rather than the Tamil Nadu government because of obvious repercussions." The retired Air Marshal’s claim regarding so-called Tamil Nadu invasion of Sri Lanka in the 80s and justification of India causing massive death and destruction in Sri Lanka in the wake of Tamil Nadu involvement here is foolish. Had India known Tamil Nadu establishing terrorist training bases within territory coming under its control, the Center should have intervened there. Kumar’s justification of India’s intervention in Sri Lanka is pathetic and the writer had never come across such absurd argument.

There should be a full disclosure of Indian intervention in Sri Lanka without any further delay. India cannot continue to lie regarding origins of the war as Sri Lanka battled accountability issues.

Menon’s one-time boss Foreign Secretary (1991-1994) the late Jyotindra Nath Dixit, who had been Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (85 to 89) in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha genuinely dealt with the contentious issue. Sri Lanka leaders didn’t even bother to examine his comments in spite of their high value.

Dixit’s version

The Chapter titled An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik thoroughly discussed the Indian intervention against the backdrop of Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US led Western powers as well as recurring conflicts with China and Pakistan. India had been among those countries supportive of the Soviet Union. Dixit had the guts to admit that Indian intervention in Sri Lanka was inevitable due to what he called Sri Lanka’s evolving security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel. Dixit emphasized that Indian intervention hadn’t been entirely prompted by successive governments ill-treating Tamils. Dixit asserted: "It would be relevant to analyze India’s motivations and actions vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the larger perspective of the international and regional strategic environment obtaining between 1980 and 1984."

Dixit was appointed National Security Advisor in May 2004. The veteran diplomat published his memoirs as the National Security Advisor. Dixit died in January, 2005.

Dixit alleged that President JR Jayewardene had established significant defence and intelligence contacts with the US, Pakistan and Israel. Unfortunately, Dixit ignored the fact that Sri Lanka had no option but to obtain foreign assistance to counter growing threat posed by terrorists. Having praised the then Indian Premier Indira Gandhi for transforming India from what he called an idealistic player into a force to be reckoned with, Dixit faulted her over the directive to destabilize Sri Lanka. The top Indian diplomat unflinchingly acknowledged what no other Indian had dared to acknowledge so far. Dixit stated: "The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticism of these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was she couldn’t openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defence supplies and technologies. Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. These aspirations were legitimate in the context of nearly 50 years of Sinhalese discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamils."

Menon in his memoirs referred to India fearing Tamil separatist movement in Sri Lanka spreading to Tamil Nadu and foreign powers using Sri Lanka. Having acknowledged that the RAW had been tasked to monitor armed groups since 70s, Menon discussed the developments over the years before admitting the project’s failure. Menon explained how the LTTE assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, on the night of May 21, 1991, during an election rally in Tamil Nadu, prompted India to support Sri Lanka’s military efforts. D.R. Kaartikeyan and Radhavinod Raju exhaustively dealt with the killing in The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: The Investigation. Menon asserted that India couldn’t bear being accused of coming to the rescue of the LTTE responsible for Gandhi’s murder.

Menon discussed gradual escalation of fighting in the Northern Province, Indian food drop, subsequent deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990) under the Indo-Lanka accord, President Ranasinghe’s Premadasa’s partnership with the LTTE to oust the Indian Army and the LTTE taking control of the Northern Province at the onset of the eelam war II. However, Menon, avoided reference to India’s bid to establish a Tamil National Army comprising members of groups sponsored by India before Indian Army quit Sri Lanka. There had been no reference to Indian trained PLOTE (People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) making an abortive bid to seize power in the Maldives in early November 1988. Indian forces thwarted the attempt made by sea borne PLOTE cadres on behalf of Maldivian businessman Luthufee.

According to Menon, there had been an understanding between India and the US regarding Indian intervention in Sri Lanka in 1987.

Last phase and post-war


Menon dealt with midnight visits to Colombo with the then Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Indian Air Force Embraer jet to keep abreast of latest battlefield and political developments. Following discussions, there had been agreement on suspension of air strikes and artillery attacks as well as the safe passage for civilians. However, Sri Lanka had indicated in no uncertain terms that taking LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran alive hadn’t been an option as the Army advanced on the Vanni east front. According to Menon, the Army top brass had been confident by, mid January, 2009, that the LTTE could be finished off. Menon’s comment on US-Norway operation to save Prabhakaran should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s determination to eradicate the LTTE. The US-Norway project had envisaged paving the way for a negotiated exile for Prabhakaran. Menon stated: "...Norway and US were attempting to secure a ceasefire, to negotiate exile for Prabhakaran, and to explore other exit strategies that would effectively keep the LTTE alive to fight another day, politically or militarily."

The US effort was surprising as the sole superpower provided specific intelligence to Sri Lanka Navy to hunt down four LTTE floating arsenals in 2007. In addition to that, the US upgraded Fast Attack Craft (FACs) thereby giving tremendous boost to the Sri Lanka navy.

Menon on Mahinda and Sarath

Menon discussed India’s unsuccessful efforts to convince war-winning President Rajapaksa to reach out to the defeated Tamil community with devolution of political power and democratic ways and means, restoration of human rights and most importantly in former Indian Foreign Secretary’s own words ‘a sense of dignity to victor and vanquished in his country.’ Having condemned the former President for not utilising post-war opportunity, Menon acknowledged the difficulties experienced by the former President due to the absence of acceptable Tamil political leadership. Menon quoted the former President as having said that there was no one he could work with on the Tamil side. Menon acknowledged that the former President had been right to some extent. Menon stated: "Such Tamil politicians as had survived the war in the Tamil National Alliance were either complict with or indebted to the LTTE and the most radical elements in the Diaspora."

Menon couldn’t be unaware of incumbent TNA MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan accusing the RAW of killing two Jaffna district TULF members of parliament, including his father. Although most of the prominent Tamil politicians had been killed by the LTTE, the TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization) is alleged to have shot dead two TULF MPs, Dharmalingam and Alalasundaram, in August, 1985. And, at that time, it was speculated that they were assassinated on the orders of Indian intelligence operatives who handled the TELO. They were assassinated a year before the LTTE wiped out TELO. The Sri Lankan police never cracked that case. In fact, they had not solved subsequent cases of political assassinations either. Siddarthan is on record as having told the writer, in 1997, that the RAW ordered Aug 1985 assassinations. There should be a comprehensive study on Indian intervention in Sri Lanka beginning 70s.

Menon roundly condemned the former President for depending on Douglas Devananda, instead of promoting, what he called, a moderate Tamil leadership. It would be pertinent to ask Menon, or those who found fault with the former President, whether they could name some moderate Tamil politicians.

Menon also accused the former President of deploying 14 out of 21 Army Divisions in the Northern Province after the conclusion of the war. The author described the northern deployment as an occupying force. Sri Lanka never raised so many fighting Divisions during the conflict. There had been four Divisions deployed in the Jaffna peninsula at the height of the war. Of them, two later had joined the Vanni battle, in January, 2009, in support of three newly raised Divisions namely 57, 58 and 59 in addition to two or three Task Forces also deployed in the Vanni. Unfortunately, for some inexcusable reason Menon had propagated a lie over seven years after the conclusion of the war. In spite of the Army presence, in the Jaffna peninsula, being drastically removed within three years after the conflict, those with vested interests continued to propagate lies. India and the Tamil community have never acknowledged that the LTTE defeat automatically cleared land for people. By the time, the former President sought a third term, in January, 2015, six years after the war, military presence in the Vanni, too, had been reduced. Today, 12 Divisions are deployed in the northern theatre with the Jaffna peninsula home to three formations.

India’s second major postwar issue, according to Menon, had been civil-military balance after the conclusion of the war. Having expressed concern over the growing power of the Army, the former National Security Advisor of India expressed relief that war-winning Army Chief had been removed. Menon stated: "The other postwar issue that worried India was the civil military-balance after 26 years of civil war in Sri Lanka. This was solved expeditiously, if unconventionally, by sacking and imprisoning Army Chief Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka’s political ambitions were the real motive behind Rajapaksa’s actions, but the effect of removing him was to take out of politics the victorious and domineering Army, which had got used to playing a role in national politics."

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Post-January 2015 US-Lanka military relations Background



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Three recent events marked the rapidly growing US – Sri Lanka relationship in the wake of the recently concluded US presidential poll which brought Republicans back to power. Republicans lost the White House in January, 2009.

* The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit engaged in what the US called theatre security cooperation (TSC) project with the Sri Lankan Navy’s newly formed marine force. The exercise took place in Trincomalee from 23 to 25 Nov., 2016.

* The unprecedented exercise was followed by the first US four-star officer to visit Sri Lanka, following the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009, participating at the Seventh Edition of the Galle Dialogue. Addressing the two-day conference (Nov 28-29, 2016) the Commander of the US Pacific Command Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. declared his pleasure in seeing a growing military-to-military relationship between Sri Lanka and the United States. The US hadn’t been interested in Galle Dialogue at the onset of the project, in August 2010. Both the US and the Indian delegations had been represented by officers, holding much lower ranks, at the inaugural meet. The People’s Republic of China had been represented by a high level delegation. Gradually, they increased the level of their participation. The unprecedented presence of the Commander US Pacific Command is evidence of the US interest here.

* The third was US Ambassador in Colombo Atul Keshap breaking ground on Dec 6, 2016 for a bigger US diplomatic mission here.

Admiral Harris sought Sri Lanka’s participation in the on-going US- spearheaded military project.

 Among the audience were President Maithripala Sirisena, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, MP, and Commander of the Navy Ravi Wijegunaratne. At the onset of his speech, Admiral Harris acknowledged the war-winning Army Chief’s presence among the distinguished guests.

 The Sinha Regiment veteran’s presence there and the US acknowledgment should be examined against the backdrop of unsubstantiated accusations made against Field Marshal Fonseka, the Sri Lanka Army, as well as the then political leadership. Post-war US Ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, accused the Rajapaksa brothers and Fonseka of war crimes.

 "To continue along a prosperous path, we must expand partnerships among like-minded nations to uphold the rules-based global operating system," the US officer said. "This helps build what US Defense Secretary Ash Carter calls a ‘principled security network," Admiral Harris said.

 The network, Harris explained, ensures that nations of all sizes have not only maritime access, but equal access to the other shared domains, including air, space, and cyber, within a system that has been underwriting prosperity throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific for the last seven decades.

 Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne, was on stage with Admiral Harris. The US underscored Sri Lanka’s importance in the region and its readiness to work closely with her political and military leaderships. It would be pertinent to study the US role in Sri Lanka during the war, particularly in 2007 during the then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s tenure as the Commander of the Navy.

Admiral Harris urged the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration to continue on its path of reconciliation and transparency after three decades of tragic conflict. The US four-star Admiral also referred to the January 8, 2015, change of government though he refrained from making a direct reference. "The people of Sri Lanka have spoken, demonstrating the power of democracy to overcome difficult times and to ensure peace and prosperity. Sri Lanka has adjusted its course away from civil war and isolation, to one of reconciliation and inclusion."

Admiral Harris couldn’t be unaware of what he called a tragic conflict had been nothing but a terrorist campaign launched by India in the 80s due to geopolitical reasons. India can absolve herself of the death and destruction caused by Indira Gandhi’s murderous decision to intervene here. No less a person than one-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1985-1989) and foreign secretary (1991-1994) Jyotindra Nath Dixit, in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’ blamed Mrs Gandhi for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Sixty-eight year old Dixit passed away in early January, 2005. At the time of his death, Dixit had been National Security Advisor.

Obviously, an attempt is being made to deceive the world as regards the origins of the war in Sri Lanka.

2007-2009 US-SL relationship

 The first edition of the Galle Dialogue was held in early August 2010, less than a year after Sri Lanka annihilated the LTTE.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May, 2009. The Navy played a significant role in the nearly three-year campaign with the destruction of eight ships carrying armaments for the LTTE, in 2006, and 2007, being its main achievement. The Navy couldn’t have achieved such success without US support.

 Wartime Navy Chief Wasantha Karannagoda dealt with US-Sri Lanka relations in his memoirs, Adishtanaya.

 Although Sri Lanka had earned the wrath of the Super Power for not allowing Western powers and the UN to come to the rescue of the top LTTE leadership in 2009, the Rajapaksa administration received tremendous US support to bring the war to a successful conclusion.

 Karannagoda’s untiring efforts led to unprecedented US support to Sri Lanka’s war effort in 2007. Unexpected US support in 2007, made a far reaching impact on the overall military campaign against the LTTE.

 The military effort received a turbo-boost when the US provided specific intelligence to destroy four LTTE floating arsenals, on the high seas, in late 2007. The present Navy Chief had been the then Director of Naval Operations. Vast US intelligence gathering network ensured specific intelligence required to deliver the single biggest blow to the LTTE overseas arms smuggling network. The US also paved the way for the Navy to upgrade its Fast Attack Craft (FACs) by replacing their 23 mm weapon with 30 mm Bushmaster, one of the most sought after weapons.

Thanks to the timely US Bushmaster offer, the Navy had been able to thwart a despicable project to acquire 20 year old stock of discarded 30 mm naval guns through Israel. Heavily overpriced weapons had been envisaged as replacement for main weapons on board FACs. Had the deal been allowed to go through, the Navy would have suffered a terrible blow.

According to a war time survey, conducted by the Navy, those who had been assigned to FACs considered Israeli built Shaldag class, the best fighting craft of that category available to Sri Lanka. The survey rated US built Trinity Marine craft the second best followed by Israeli Dvoras and the Colombo Dockyard built vessels.

The Navy had established close rapport with the US, in 2007, in the wake of the entire Eastern Province, comprising Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts being cleared. By then the Vanni offensive had been underway with the newly raised 57 Division struggling west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.

The then US Ambassador Robert O. Blake and Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Robert F. Willard had played a pivotal role in pushing the Bushmaster deal. They had also ensured the supply of required ammunition from USAF stores until supplies, especially meant for Sri Lanka, could be produced. The US went ahead with Bushmaster transaction, though the US Senate suspended armaments sales in January, 2008. The US acted on the basis that export license in respect of Bushmaster cannon and ammunition had been issued in Sept. 2007.

Having served the US Navy, at various command posts, naval veteran Willard assumed command of the US Pacific Fleet, in May, 2007. Willard held that post until he took over the powerful US Pacific Command, in Oct 2009. By then, the LTTE’s conventional military power had been crushed and its floating arsenals sent to the bottom of sea.

Successful Navy-US embassy talks in 2007

 The relationship between the Navy and the US had been so close that Sri Lanka was advised to airlift ammunition meant for Bushmaster cannon immediately from an USAF base in South Carolina to avoid unnecessary complications. The US Embassy and Bushmaster supplier felt that Senate prohibition on armaments sales could undermine the transaction though the required export license was available. Admiral Karannagoda, in his memoirs, appreciated the then Chief Executive of Mihin Air (not in existence anymore) Sajin Vas Gunawardena facilitating a secret operation to airlift 5,000 rounds of ammunition from South Carolina to Colombo.

In late April, 2007, Karannagoda had invited Lieutenant Colonel Jim Oxley, who had been the Defence Advisor, at the US Embassy, at the onset of Eelam War IV, to explore ways and means of securing US assistance to locate floating LTTE arsenals. The meeting had taken place against the backdrop of the Navy destroying four such vessels (mid Sept. 2006 off Kalmunai, late Feb 2007 off south of Dondra and March 2007 east of Arugambay) thanks to specific intelligence provided by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI).

The US assistance had been sought in the wake of running dispute between Karannagoda and Fonseka resulting in the latter terminating the DMI-Navy relationship. Oxley acted swiftly and decisively to provide the required assistance. Oxley’s successor, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Smith, too, worked overtime to enhance relations between the US and Sri Lankan armed forces. The writer had on many occasions pointed out Smith coming to Sri Lanka’s rescue at the first defence seminar organized by the Sri Lanka Army, in May-June 2011. In spite of the US officer strongly countering war crimes allegations, directed at the previous government, the foolish administration never bothered to examine Smith’s statement Vis a Vis accusations.

Perhaps Karannagoda wouldn’t have expected the US Embassy to act so fast. A few weeks after the Karannagoda-Oxley meeting, Ambassador Blake had visited the Navy Chief at his headquarters. Oxley had been with Blake. Having patiently listened to Karannagoda’s plea for US assistance, Blake had posed several questions before assuring that the Pacific Command would be informed of Sri Lanka’s requirement.

Let me reproduce the relevant section from Adishtanaya

Blake: Admiral, how do you identify the LTTE ships from the other ships, from a satellite?

Karannagoda: Your Excellency, the LTTE ships normally stay about 50 kms away from the normal shipping lane. They move at a very slow speed. Sometimes they are stationary and do not move if the sea conditions are good.

Blake: Admiral, I cannot promise you anything at this stage. But I will pass this information to the relevant people at the Pacific Command.

Karannagoda: Thank you Excellency.

Oxley had brought several satellite images when he met Karannagoda, in August 2007. Head of the then Naval Intelligence Captain Mohotti (recently retired in the rank of Rear Admiral), Director General Operations Rear Admiral Jayanath Colombage (having commanded the Navy, retired in the rank of Admiral) and Deputy Director Operations Commander DKP Dassanayake (recently promoted to the rank of Commodore) had been present. The Navy had been able to identify four LTTE ships, shown as dots, in satellite images, positioned away from normal shipping route. As the satellite images had been obtained about a week ago, Oxley asserted that the ships may have moved away. Before leaving Navy headquarters, Oxley had promised to obtain a fresh set of satellite images from US Pacific Command. The US Defence Attache made available the promised images in the second week of Sept 2007. They proved the vessels had been stationary.

Acting on US intelligence, the Navy destroyed three of the four ships on Sept 10 (two vessels) and the remaining one on 11, 2007. The fourth vessel, believed to be the largest operated by the LTTE, was sunk on Oct 7, 2007.

US uses SLN to eliminate possible threat

 The destruction of the LTTE vessel, on Sept 11, 2007 led to the recovery of documents and ammunition which enabled the Navy to identify the manufacturer. Karannagoda refrained from naming the country concerned though he estimated that there had been over 10,000 rounds of 122 mm, 130 mm and 152 mm artillery rounds.

The LTTE had been able to procure a range of arms, ammunition and equipment from China, using end user certificates issued to two countries for several years. Over 10,000 rounds of ammunition, carried in the vessel, sunk on Sept. 11, had been procured from China for LTTE’s field guns. The LTTE had acquired various types of weapons of Chinese origins. Their arsenal included mobile anti-aircraft guns as well as anti-tank weapons. The situation had been so bad; the Rajapaksa government had no option but to make representations to the Chinese government.

 Following comprehensive The Island reportage of the Chinese link, a two-member delegation from the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office met the writer in Colombo. The Japanese had been severely concerned about the alleged North Korean involvement in Chinese weapons transfers to the LTTE. The LTTE ships that had been sunk by the Navy are believed to have taken delivery of Chinese weapons at North Korean ports/North Korean waters. The Island had been severely restrained in its reportage of the Chinese issue due to the People’s Republic being a key weapons supplier throughout Sri Lanka’s war against Tamil terrorists. The Sri Lankan military, particularly the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), had been deeply concerned about The Island coverage.

The US Pacific Command intervention, in 2007, should be examined against the backdrop of Chinese arms transfers to the LTTE. Obviously, the decision wouldn’t have been taken without consultations with the US State Department. Blake would have certainly ensured that. The US would have surely taken into consideration the possibility of some other party using LTTE ships for destructive purpose as well as its ally Japan’s concerns.

A few days after the destruction of the LTTE vessels, in the two-day operation, on Sept 10 and 11, 2007, Blake had personally thanked Karannagoda for eliminating one of the routes utilized by Al Qaeda to procure weapons. The meeting had taken place at Karannagoda’s office after the naval task force, commanded by the then Captain Travis Sinniah, returned to Trincomalee (Having served the US Embassy in Colombo after the war, Sinniah returned to the Navy in the wake of the January 2015 change of government. Currently, Sinniah functions as the Commander, East)

Subsequently, the US Pacific Command provided satellite images of the fourth LTTE vessel which managed to escape during the confrontation in the second week of Sept 2007. The Navy destroyed the vessel on Oct 7, 2007.

A war time visit

 Having facilitated Sri Lanka to acquire weapons from Israel, beginning early 80s, the US accommodated Sri Lanka along with India in Extended Relations Programmes (ERP) conducted by the US Pacific Command during early years of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s administration. The first joint exercise, involving US Special Boat Unit, and Navy FAC squadron, took place in Nov 1997. There had been a gradual strengthening of partnership leading to unprecedented support, in 2007.

 Admiral Willard visited Trincomalee, in January, 2008, at the height of the war. The top level US delegation toured the Trincomalee in one of those Trinity Marine craft mounted with Bushmaster cannon.

Admiral Willard was the senior most US military official to visit Sri Lanka during Eelam War IV. The visit took place close on the heels of a confrontation between a USN flotilla and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) patrol boats on January 6, 2008 in international waters in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

The US convoy, involved in the unprecedented incident with IRGC vessels, comprised AEGIS guided-missile destroyer, USS Hopper, cruiser, USS Port Royal and frigate, USS Ingraham. (The writer had the opportunity to go on board USS Hopper, on October 6, 1997, along with a group of journalists from the Asia-Pacific region, at the Pearl harbour, exactly a month after the commissioning of the vessel).

The then Commander of the USN Fifth Fleet, Vice Admiral, Kevin J. Cosgriff, was quoted in the international media, as having said: "The episode was more serious than we have seen, in particular because it occurred in an important maritime choke point, vital to the global economy." Cosgriff described the Iranian action as "unnecessarily provocative."

In accordance with overall counter measures, to meet any eventuality, the USN wanted Sri Lanka to share its expertise in asymmetrical warfare with the USN.

It would be pertinent to mention that Al-Qaeda caused substantial damage to guided missile destroyer USS Cole in a suicide attack, carried out in the Yemeni port of Aden, on October 12, 2000. The SLN asserted that the suicide attack, on USS Cole, was similar to operations launched by Sea Tigers, targeting the SLN, as well as merchant vessels.

Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan, aka Soosai, in an exclusive interview with BBC’s Francis Harrison, during the Oslo-managed Ceasefire Agreement, had boasted that Al-Qaeda copied tactics from them. Soosai is quoted as having said that other terrorist groups should learn from the LTTE as the Al-Qaeda had already copied them.

The interview, with Soosai, recorded during the LTTE celebrations of Heroes’ Day and broadcast over BBC Television, was posted on the BBC Website’s South Asia section, under the heading, "Tamil Tigers Reveal Suicide Secrets" as a video clip. The news feature introduced the Black Tigers as "the Original Suicide Bombers of the World."

Referring to the attack on USS Cole, Soosai said, "They are using our tactics. I think in Yemen they used our strategy of suicide attack to blow up an American ship. That is exactly what we used to do."

Soosai is believed to have been killed in May, 2009, while crossing the Nanthikadal lagoon with LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and his family.

Having helped Sri Lanka to deliver a deadly blow to the LTTE, the US made a desperate ‘diplomatic’ effort to save the LTTE leadership. The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s refusal to save Prabhakaran resulted in the US moving a resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva. The US had been so much interested in saving Prabhakaran, the then Army Chief Fonseka believed US carriers could mount massive air strike on the Army. War time GOC of elite 53 Division Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, now retired, in his memoirs Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal claimed Fonseka warned of possible US air strikes.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Boyagoda’s story

Living with Tigers




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Memoirs of retired Commodore Ajith Boyagoda cannot be compared with those of his colleagues.

A Long Watch: War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka, authored by Boyagoda and Sunila Galappatti, dealt with the former’s eight-years, in captivity, of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (1994-2002) and his subsequent humiliating experience in the Navy.

Mrs Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had been Prime Minister at the time of Boyagoda’s capture. The LTTE released Boyagoda during Ranil Wickremesinghe tenure as the Premier.

Having recently reviewed retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne’s Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal and war-time Navy Chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s "Adishtanaya", Boyagoda’s memoirs seem strikingly different.

Those who had bought a copy, expecting Boyagoda to denounce the LTTE, would have been surely disappointed. Had anyone believed Boyagoda would censure the LTTE, as the organization no longer existed, A Long Watch: War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka proved them all wrong. The writer, obviously, never had a Sinhala readership in his mind and went on to recollect his experience in LTTE captivity. Obviously, a Sinhala version of Boyagoda’s memoirs will certainly not appeal to the vast majority of the Sinhalese. However, Boyagoda should be commended for having the courage to express his views, regardless of the consequences.

Having joined the Navy, in the wake of the first abortive JVP insurgency, in 1971, the young cadet wouldn’t have contemplated facing an enemy as ruthless as the LTTE. Boyogoda had been 20 years old when he joined the Navy, in 1974. Those joining the armed forces, in the 70s, from middle class families, expected a glamorous life. The ordinary youth hadn’t been welcomed as cadets. That was the undeniable truth. Boyagoda, from Kandy, had been in the 4th intake, with all 12 cadets being Sinhala Buddhists. "Most of the other cadets were from schools in Colombo. Then there was myself from Kandy and two others, from Kegalle and Kalutara. We were 12 in total. At the time we thought it a superb coincidence that we were all Sinhala Buddhists. We had that majority feeling." Is Boyagoda being sarcastic?

Karannagoda had been in the second intake.

At the onset of his account, The author briefly discussed life as a cadet, the 1977 and 1983 riots, and Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka, in the wake of the 1983 violence, directed at them, and overseas deployment. Boyagoda essentially condoned Tamils seeking refuge overseas.

Unfortunately, there hadn’t been, at least a reference to Indian intervention, by way of giving the required expertise to the LTTE to wipe out of an army patrol, in July 1983, in Jaffna. The slaughter of 13 soldiers sparked the riots. The then foolish JRJ government turned a blind eye to what was happening and even facilitated the massacre of innocents. In hindsight, JRJ played into the hands of Indian policymakers. One-time Indian Foreign Secretary, J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’, launched in 2004, explained the Indian intervention here. Had Admiral Karannagoda, Maj. Gen. Gunaratne and Commodore perused Dixit memoirs, they would have had a clear perspective of the events here.

Obviously, Boyagoda had a soft spot for his captors who spared his life though they could have executed him. An irate Boyagoda, while alleging that the Navy hadn’t been interested in knowing what he thought of the enemy, described his period in captivity as living with the LTTE. "People talk about the LTTE all the time; I lived with them for eight years and no one - not even my own naval command - ever wanted to hear my account of what they were like." Boyagoda added: "In knowing mine is not the only story. I have heard screams coming from underground cells."

Post 1983 period

Boyagoda dealt with his first posting in Nainativu island, off Jaffna, soon after the July 1983 riots, his marriage to Chandani, whom he met at an annual Navy Day Dance, life on Nainativu island, difficulties experienced by Tamils in the hands of the armed forces due to their community waging war, and gradual change in the ground situation in the Northern Province leading to armed forces being confined to their barracks. The retired officer discussed constitutional changes in the 70s, onset of violence on the Northern Province, India forcing the so-called Indo-Lanka Accord on the then President JRJ, deployment of the Indian Army, Sri Lankan military re-deployed in the South, to quell the second JVP insurgency, operations undertaken by the then DIG Premadasa Udugampola in the South and Kandy, providing security to the then Opposition Leader Appapillai Amirthalingam, destruction of Jaffna library, India quitting Sri Lanka, in March 1990, assassination of the then Congress I leader, Rajiv Gandhi, in May, 1991, assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, on May Day, 1993.

Water denied to MR home

Boyagoda recollected an incident involving his posting to Tangalle Navy base in the 80s during Ranasinghe Premadasa’s presidency. It reflected the political situation then and now. Those who had been in power had been basically harassed by their political opponents. In the wake of the UNP stopping water supply to the then SLFP MP Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Beliatta residence, Mrs Shiranthi Rajapaksa had met Boyagoda to secure a bowser of water from the Navy. As Mrs Rajapaksa had been running a nursery at her home, she required water. The water cut had been imposed immediately after MP Rajapaksa launched the Pada Yatra-protest walk, from the South to Colombo, to highlight dictatorial UNP rule. Boyagoda, regardless of consequences, had provided water, without seeking approval from Colombo.

Siege on Karainagar in 1991

The author discussed his transfer from the East to Karainagar in late 1991 at the height of the LTTE offensive, during eelam war II. The LTTE resumed hostilities, in June, 1990, in the wake of India withdrawing her Army, in March, 1990. Having quickly overrun isolated army detachments, along the Kandy-Jaffna road, north of Vavuniya, the LTTE stepped up pressure on Karainagar. Boyagoda dealt with the Army clearing the Karainagar area and indiscriminate destruction of Tamil speaking people’s property, widespread looting of houses and an attempt to separate women from men and general harassment of the population. Boyagoda strongly condemned the Army, alleging that those troops sent in to save the Navy, under siege at Karainagar, simply destroyed everything on sight belonging to Tamil civilians. Condemning the actions of what he described as a Sinhala Army marching through Tamil villages, Boyagoda asserted those youth, affected by atrocities, wouldn’t have hesitated to join the LTTE. Boyagoda briefly examined the failure of those who had been in charge of ground forces to stop destruction of property and large scale looting. The Navy had been unable to intervene on behalf of the civilian population, with the Army leadership on the ground (Karainagar) justifying soldiers’ right to loot. Looting had been justified on the basis troops needed cash in case they received serious injury in combat. The officers had asserted such conduct was normal in war and conflict. Kamal Gunaratne, in his memoirs, acknowledged severe shortcomings on their part in those days. Gunaratne admitted that their conduct had been inimical to ordinary civilians and regretted their failure to rein in troops. Boyagoda had been in a collision course with the Army in the wake of clearing operations in Karainagar.

The military shouldn’t be ashamed to publicly apologise for the misconduct of troops, during the war. In fact, the previous government should have made a public apology, explaining the circumstances under which atrocities took place. Such a course of action would have certainly put pressure on Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Velupillai Prabhakaran’s wartime ally. The TNA – LTTE partnership remained strong until the very end when the Army brought the LTTE down to its knees, in May, 2009, nearly seven years after Boyagoda secured his release.

The Army paid a huge price to eradicate the LTTE though Boyagoda didn’t pay much attention to it. Over 5,000 officers and men died in eelam war IV (Aug 2006-March 2009) with thousands maimed.

Living with Tigers

Had he been allowed to retire, in 1994, after having served the Navy for 20 years, Boyagoda wouldn’t have been in command of Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) Sagarawardene when Sea Tigers blew it up off Mannar, in late Sept, 1994.

Boyagoda had been on his final voyage on Sagarawardene, one of the two 40 meter long Colombo Dockyard built OPVs in service at that time. Monitoring LTTE communications, on land, had been one of the primary tasks for the vessel, capable of operating on its own, for longer periods out at sea.

The author detailed the ill-fated final mission with focus on the battle between Sagarawardene and a flotilla of Sea Tigers craft, an unsuccessful SLAF attempt to interdict Sea Tiger craft withdrawing towards land following the attack and him being rescued by the enemy along with Leading Supply Assistant Vijitha. The only Commanding Officer of a ship ever to be captured by Sea Tigers discussed severe difficulties experienced by the Navy for want of suitable craft to achieve primary naval objectives.

Once taken ashore, Boyagoda had been visited by Sea Tiger commander Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan alias Soosai. Boyagoda recollected meeting Soosai with awe. Let me reproduce verbatim Boyagoda’s comment on Soosai. "He (Soosai) came and shook hands with me. I said, in English, ‘I have heard you so many times over the net, I’m glad to meet you.’ I don’t remember his reaction-at most he nodded his head."

The author never explained why he was glad to meet the man who had ordered destruction of his vessel. Soosai, and those around him, would have been certainly surprised by Boyagoda’s remark. How could a senior officer be happy to meet the man who had ordered his vessel sunk causing the death of the majority of his crew? Sagarawardene had been the largest vessel available to the Navy at that time.

The author, quite rightly found fault with a section of the media for alluding that he had clandestine link with the LTTE. Boyagoda also castigated the then Navy leadership for blaming him for negligence thereby paving the way for the destruction of a precious asset.

Boyagoda had been warned by his superiors to be cautious as the then newly elected Premier Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was having talks with the LTTE. Having defeated the UNP at the August 1994 parliamentary polls, Mrs Kumaratunga was busy negotiating with the LTTE, in the run-up to the Nov 1994 presidential polls. The then Deputy Area Commander had personally warned Boyagoda to be wary as talks were talking place.

In the following month, the LTTE assassinated UNP presidential candidate, Gamini Dissanayake, along with over 50 persons. The dead included several UNP politicians, including the then General Secretary of the party Dr. Gamini Wijesekera.

Rapport with captors

Boyagoda discussed living in various LTTE camps in the Northern Province, facing, whom he described, as inexperienced interrogators, meeting Army and Police personnel in captivity, access to International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), receiving gifts from family and much publicized hunger strike leading to high level tripartite deliberations to end their fast and secure their release. Their fast obviously had the tacit support of the LTTE. The LTTE exploited and managed the event to secure maximum possible coverage. Such events had been part of the LTTE’s well planned strategy meant to intensify pressure on the government and to secure positive media coverage. Boyagoda dealt with the highly publicized visits undertaken by families of those who had been held captive during the conflict. There had been some disagreements with the LTTE and its captives. Boyagoda’s memoirs would certainly help readers to understand the mindset of the LTTE to a certain extent.

Boyagoda narrated an LTTE attempt to recruit him to its feared intelligence service. The offer had been made three years after Boyagoda’s capture by a person, the author identified as Sangeethan. The LTTE had offered to release Boyagoda along with several other prisoners if he agreed to provide shelter to LTTE intelligence wing cadres sent on secret missions to the South. Boyagoda had politely spurned the offer though he feared the LTTE reaction. Interestingly, the late ‘Lt. Col.’ Thamilini, in her memoirs, discussed the difficulties experienced by those who had been positioned in the South to undertake various missions, on behalf of the LTTE. Boyagoda dealt with several LTTE personnel, including Sangeethan, who had been in charge of the captives. Sangeethan had tormented captives by imposing a range of restrictions in the wake of a soldier detonating a hand grenade killing himself and wounding several LTTE cadres. The LTTE stepped up security and toughened restrictions in spite of protests by captives. Boyagoda also recalled the death of soldier Hemapala, due to natural causes, while in captivity and his body being handed over to ICRC at Kilinochchi following an LTTE gun salute. Hemapala had been the only soldier who had been with Boyagoda to die in LTTE captivity.

Boyagoda had been in LTTE captivity when an attempt was made on the life of the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, in late Dec 1999, just ahead of the presidential polls. Boyogada lamented the failure of several attempts, over the years, to arrange their release with the ICRC’s involvement. There had been a detailed account of their daily struggle to cope with the situation. There had been repeated setbacks though families of those who were held by the LTTE continued their efforts to secure the release of their loved ones. In fact, there hadn’t been any detailed accounts of police or army captives, either in Sinhala or English, though there were many prisoners. But there hadn’t been a ranking officer in their custody.

Exchange of Boyagoda for Kennedy

Having lived with the LTTE for eight years, Boyagoda had been so sorry to leave his guards, particularly Newton, who had been in charge of them for some time. Boyagoda; "It was a heart-breaking departure, if you can believe that. We had been living with all of these cadres for so long that there was a kind of brotherly understanding between us. We were taking leave of a family we would probably never see again."

Boyagoda had been glad to meet the man in person (Soosai) who ordered the destruction of the then largest ship belonging to the Navy and eight years later he felt sorry to leave his captors. But perhaps, Boyagoda most shocking statement had been he envisaged a united federal state at the time an agreement was reached for his release. There had been altogether seven captives, including Boyagoda, whose release was subject to freedom to Kennedy, a hardcore LTTE cadre. The government released 13 LTTE cadres, including two women. The prisoner exchange took place on Sept 28, 2002.

The writer had been among those journalists, taken by the Army to Omanthai, to cover the exchange of prisoners of the conflict. The LTTE turned the event to a major propaganda project. The then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, had to sit between two terrorist leaders in uniforms wearing siderams. Among the terrorists was ‘Colonel’ Theepan.’ Those who spoken on behalf of the government expressed confidence of lasting settlement whereas the LTTE blamed the previous CBK administration for long delay in their release (LTTE releases last batch of captives, with strapline Blames PA govt for long captive period-The Island, Sept 29, 2002 edition).

The released LTTE cadres, included Kennedy (Jesumy Fernando), who led a successful commando raid, on Palaly airbase, in early August 1994. The LTTE squad destroyed a Bell 212 chopper before SLAF personnel killed several raiders and captured Kennedy. Prabhakaran made several attempts to secure Kennedy’s release, over the years, and finally succeeded in Sept 2002 (Held to ransom, The Island, Oct 2, 2002).

Back in the Navy

Boyagoda bitterly complained about the way the Navy treated him on his return to the service. His fresh appointment as ‘additional to headquarters’, an obvious move to deprive Boyagoda of holding a responsible position, infuriated him. The Navy top brass, including the then Commander Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri and Boyagoda’s colleagues, for some reason, had refrained from inquiring about the time he was held in captivity. Perhaps, they wrongly believed Boyagoda had switched his allegiance to the LTTE. Boyagoda had been dismayed by the Naval Intelligence, Directorate of Military Intelligence as well as the National Intelligence deciding against questioning him. Instead, Navy headquarters had directed him to a psychiatrist who disapproved of the Navy directing him (Boyagoda) to him.

Boyagoda recollected how various people, including some of his colleagues, propagated lies, much to the discomfort of him and his family. Boyagoda had been bitter about him being accused of leading the LTTE attack, on Mullaitivu base, in the mid 1996, as well as various other unsubstantiated accusations. In his memoirs, Boyagoda recounted him being held at Periyamadu, west of Vavuniya at the time the devastating LTTE assault on Mullaitivu. Over 1,200 army personnel perished in fighting.

Boyagoda dealt with his brief stay with the Navy on his return and re-visiting the North where he had an opportunity to meet Newton. A Long Watch: War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka is a must read for those interested in knowing the decades long conflict. A Sinhala version is required to take Boyagoda’s message to those who may not agree with the successful conclusion of the conflict, through military means.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Karannagoda's version

Triumph over terrorism



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Wartime Navy Chief, then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda (Sept.1, 2005-July 15, 2009), in his memoirs, Adishtanaya, dealt with the controversial decision to destabilize LTTE’s stealthily established fortifications, at Sampoor, in early 2006.

The decision taken by then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, on WK’s request, plunged the problematic Norwegian-led peace process into crisis at the onset of the Rajapaksa presidency.

The Navy planned project was meant to thwart the LTTE from consolidating its fortifications in Sampoor, in the wake of air strikes directed at identified enemy targets, to avenge the LTTE’s assassination bid on Army Chief Sarath Fonseka, in late April, 2006.

Sarprisingly Wk, perhaps, inadvertently, mentioned April 26, 2006, as the day on which the LTTE made an abortive bid on the Army Chief’s life. The attempt was made in the afternoon, on the previous day. Apart from that lapse, Adishtanaya is undoubtedly the best book that dealt with the war and related matters. As the Commander of the Navy, WK had been part of President Rajapaksa’s top team.

Had the LTTE succeeded in eliminating the Army Chief, the war effort would have certainly collapsed. Fortunately, the Sinha Regiment veteran survived. On Dec 1, 2006, an LTTE suicide attack, directed at Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, too, went awry. Had that succeeded, the end result would have been the collapse of the war effort.

Having obtained Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s approval, WK had flown to Trincomalee where he personally supervised the operation carried out by renegade LTTE cadres. WK briefly explained the circumstances under which the elite Special Boat Squadron (SBS) had secretly inducted approximately 150 renegade LTTE cadres in to Sampoor in the night. Their mission was to mount hit and run attacks.

The Sampoor operation achieved successes. The deployment of renegade LTTE cadres had been in accordance with the overall military strategy pursued by the Rajapaksa administration.

WK launched Adishtanaya, in Nov. 2014, at the tail end of war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term. Having spent about four years on Adishtanaya, the naval veteran launched memoirs during his tenure as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Tokyo. WK had been among a group of senior military officers who had received top diplomatic postings through the intervention of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. WK played a significant role in enhancing Sri Lanka-Japan diplomatic ties at a time Tokyo was under US pressure to undermine Sri Lanka.

Having bought a copy, at the book launch, held at Nelumpokuna theatre, under the patronage of President Rajapaksa, the writer perused WK’s memoirs within a few days. Unfortunately, due to a lapse on the writer’s part, Adishtanaya couldn’t be reviewed. However, in the wake of retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne’s account of the war, Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal, the writer felt the requirement to discuss WK’s memoirs.

Adishtanaya, dealt comprehensively with the entire gamut of contentious issues including infighting in the Navy, damaging dispute with war winning Army Chief Fonseka, relations with Scandinavian truce monitoring mission, sinking of floating LTTE arsenals, political matters, attack on the then Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon (a senior colleague of the writer at one time) and the worst single loss of lives suffered by the Navy during the entire war et al. Most importantly, KW talked about the Navy receiving US assistance to track down LTTE floating arsenals. Securing US intelligence support had been crucial for Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism. In fact, KW successes in obtaining specific US intelligence surely brought the war to an end, in less than three years. KW revealed a secret meeting he had with the then US Defence Attache, in Colombo, in April, 2007, followed by another meeting with the US defence official and the then US Ambassador, in Colombo, Robert O Blake, in May, 2007. The May meeting led to the US providing in Aug. 2007, satellite images of vessels suspected to be owned by the LTTE. In September, 2007, the US provided further proof in respect of four LTTE vessels. The Navy achieved the unthinkable before the end of 2007.

WK dealt with issues in his own style, reiterating his version of various events. The indomitable KW had performed a high profile diplomatic task years before he got an opportunity to serve as Sri Lanka’s top envoy in Tokyo.

Although, WK had been the Navy media coordinator (Dec 1987 to Aug 1991), the writer had no close rapport with him. Print media largely sought information from Army Headquarters and the Joint Operations Command (JOC). The JOC media unit had been always dominated by the Army in the absence of a proper system to release information to the media. Having joined The Island editorial, in June, 1987, the writer had an opportunity to report on terrorist-related incidents, though the coverage on the Navy was minimal. The writer couldn’t recall an instance WK seeking undue media coverage from The Island at the time he had been at the helm of naval operations. The writer had the privilege of having swift access to WK during eelam war IV.

WK earns Clancy’s wrath

WK discussed how he had earned the wrath of Navy Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Clancy Fernando, in March, 1991. Fernando had reacted angrily in the wake WK declining to promote Fernando in the media, while the latter was the Acting Navy Commander in the absence of Vice Admiral Ananda Silva. Silva had been hospitalized, following a heart attack. WK recalled Fernando, in his capacity as the Acting Navy Chief making three abortive bids to transfer him out of Navy Headquarters. Having succeeded Silva, as Navy Commander, on Sept.1, 1991, Fernando had immediately transferred WK to take over Surveillance Command Ship SLNS Wickrema. WK recalled Fernando mercilessly pursuing him, trying to somehow find fault with him leading to an inquiry in Sept. 1992, targeting the Commanding Officer of SLNS Wickrema. The probe followed WK suffering a gunshot injury due to a serious lapse on the part of a sailor engaged in firing practice at sea. One round had hit the inside of the 4 ft. steel wall that goes around the ship, ricocheted and went pass WK, scraping his forehead. Had the bullet travelled 1/4 inch lower, it would have been curtains for WK! Subsequent inquiry revealed the sailor, who had gone to India for engineering training for three years (after only one week training in SLN), had never fired a gun before.

In his haste to penalise WK, Navy Commander Fernando’s ignored the fact that WK had been nearly killed on board the vessel due to the negligence of a sailor engaged in firing practice. Castigating Fernando for being revengeful, WK revealed how the then Navy Chief exploited an argument between him and Colonel Sarath Fonseka at the officer’s mess at Rangala where newly promoted Commodore Cecil Tissera celebrated his promotion. WK had been a Lt. Commander (equivalent to Lt. Col.) therefore Fonseka was senior in rank at that time.

Tissera, must have had some guts to invite WK there and insist on his participation knowing Fernando’s hostility towards WK, who held the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

It would be worthwhile to buy a copy of Adishtanaya just to peruse the section that dealt with the then Navy Chief’s despicable conduct and Colonel Fonseka’s refusal to cooperate with the Navy leadership, even after Fernando personally phoned him. Fonseka hadn’t minced his words when he declared, in no uncertain terms, that he wouldn’t be part of a conspiracy. WK appreciated senior Anandian Fonseka for his forthright stand thereby helping him to thwart the Navy Commander’s project. WK mercilessly ruined Fernando’s reputation. According WK’s memoirs, there hadn’t been any issue between him and Fonseka, until 2006.

WK recalled the period at home, Ananda College and joining the Navy, as well as his early years in the service. Veteran writer, Dr Gunadasa Amarasekera, in his foreword, recommended that Adishtanaya being made available to students. Having joined the Navy, on Sept. 1, 1971, in the wake of the then Sirimavo Bandaranaike government quelling the first JVP-led insurrection, WK received initial training in Trincomalee. WK had been among 16 cadets whose experience at training establishments received adequate coverage. However, at the time, there hadn’t been any indication of the turbulent years to come.

WK earns Fonseka’s wrath

The former Navy Chief attributed Gotabhaya Rajapaksa choosing him over Sarath Fonseka as a member of the Sri Lankan delegation for talks with the LTTE, in Geneva, as the main reason for their dispute. KW discussed their simmering dispute against the background of him being one of those who had strongly backed the Sinha Regiment veteran for the top army post. WK admitted that Sarath Fonseka had the capability to lead the Army, in the final war, against the LTTE. Fonseka succeeded Lt. Gen. Shantha Kottegoda on Dec. 9, 2005. KW explained the rapid deterioration of their relationship, leading to explosive situations. There couldn’t have been a crisis as worse as unilateral Army move to take a part of the Navy held Kayts Island, on Feb. 18, 2008. KW dealt with the incident at length, finally resolved through the intervention of presidential secretary Lalith Weeratunga. Kamal Gunaratne, too, dealt with the Kayts incident, in his memoirs, through a different perspective. KW recollected serious issues caused by their enmity. The situation had been so bad, KW had skipped high level talks held in Army headquarters and avoided flying, in the same helicopter with the Army Chief.

Sandagiri sides with Fonseka

KW also disclosed shocking attempt to procure 30 mm weapons, discarded by the British Navy, and the circumstances under which he rejected the multimillion USD project to mount them on selected Fast Attack Craft (FACs). The deal worked out under the direction of KW’s predecessor, the then Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri had involved the British, as well as the Israelis. The cancellation of the project meant to upgrade the main weapons system on-board FACs from 23 mm to 30 mm cannon prompted Sandagiri, the then Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), to throw his weight behind Sarath Fonseka. Their disputes threatened the overall war effort. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa experienced a difficult time in keeping the warring parties at apart. The situation had been so bad, the Army prevented the Navy from entering some areas under its control. In the wake of spectacular naval operations on the high seas, the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) was ordered to discontinue cooperation with the Navy. Adistanaya paid a glowing tribute to the DMI during Maj. Gen. Kapila Hendawitharana’s tenure as its head. WK explained his decision to call off the costly nearly four-year-long naval operation, codenamed Varuna Kirana, conducted off Mullaitivu to thwart LTTE weapons smuggling bids. Varuna Kirana had been Sandagiri’s concept. Having terminated his predecessor’s project, WK deployed assets to intercept and destroy enemy craft.

KW discussed briefly his efforts to improve various ‘branches’ of the Navy with the focus on FAC squadrons and intelligence service. Adshitanaya detailed unprecedented operation leading to the acquisition of US manufactured 30 mm Bushmaster cannon and them being mounted on FACs at a crucial stage of the war. KW appreciated controversial politician Sajin Vas Gunawardena for facilitating the project under extremely difficult conditions.

RAW exposed

Sri Lanka never adopted counter measures to thwart foreign intelligence services operating here. The former Navy Chief asserted Colombo-based top Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) official making a desperate bid to mislead the Navy; engaged in hunting floating LTTE arsenals. The information provided by the official, based at the Indian High Commission, in Colombo, had been contrary to specific US intelligence, hence the Navy decision to follow US Navy advice. Adshitnaya speculated about Indian Navy officer, based at Trincomalee, being part of the operation. KW’s revelation is evidence that RAW could have had an ongoing clandestine mission meant to undermine Sri Lanka’s war against terror. Obviously, Navy movements, out of Trincomalee, and Colombo, as well as Galle harbours, could have been under constant Indian surveillance in addition to those within the Navy who may have leaked information to various interested parties. KW also disclosed a specific planned operation going awry due to an exclusive media report on impending weapons shipment on the basis of information provided by a senior Navy officer.

Perhaps by re-examination of information available with officers and men can help Sri Lanka to verify matters and to establish the truth. Adishtanaya as well as Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal, can be the basis for such a study.

CBK steps in

WK won President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s confidence during Norway-led peace process. WK received Mrs Kumaratunga’s attention especially due to his efforts as the COM East (Commander, Eastern Naval Area) to strengthen government defences in Trincomalee. KW earned the wrath of the UNP. At the behest of the UNP, a section of the state media castigated KW. KW responded to media onslaught through The Island. No other media dared to stand with KW at that time.

Adishtanaya explained events leading to KW succeeding Sandagiri following his second stint at Trincomalee, a few months before the change of command of the Navy. In fact, Mrs Kumaratunga had intervened personally to shift WK from North Central Command to Eastern Command in the wake of rapid deterioration of security in Trincomalee, partly due to the actions of the Eastern Commander. KW boldly attributed the explosive situation in Trincomalee to the then Eastern Commander throwing his weight behind a group of Sinhalese who put up a Buddha statue in the middle of the town. KW refrained from naming the officer. However, the writer felt the right of the public to know. KW’s reference was to the then Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, who had earned the respect of vast majority of people for taking a principled stand against terrorism and all those associated with the LTTE.

If not for Mrs. Kumaratunga’s intervention, Sandagiri wouldn’t have transferred WK from the North Central Command headquartered at Punewa to Trincomalee. Sandagiri’s choice had been another officer though Mrs Kumaratunga ordered that WK took over the strategic Trincomalee command. From there, Mrs Kumaratunga shifted WK to Colombo, in August, 2005, to take over the vital command.

The change of Navy command took place over two weeks after the LTTE assassinated Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who certainly played a significant role in WK’s career. WK had been so lucky to receive Kadirgamar’s attention, during the Norwegian project here. WK dedicated Adishtanaya to Kadirgamar whose assassination on the night of Aug 12, 2005, at his Bullers Road residence. The LTTE wouldn’t have assassinated the Statesman if the group hadn’t been prepared to wage a full scale war. But Mrs Kumaratunga’s administration lacked the backbone to declare war on the LTTE. This assessment is mine.


Like many Sri Lankans, WK, too, obviously is a strong believer in astrology. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is another believer. Rajapaksa paid a very heavy price for depending on so called Royal Astrologer Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena who deceived him, though President Maithripala Sirisena asserted his predecessor called early presidential polls for other reasons. WK had always consulted Soma Rajapaksa, of Gampaha, before vital decisions were taken. WK underscored the importance of him taking over the Navy at the auspicious time of 10.10 am as suggested by Soma Rajapaksa. WK had been such a firm believer in astrology; the Navy launched major operations in accordance with auspicious times. Six ships had left Colombo and Trincomale harbours within a 36 -hour time span, in keeping with auspicious times. The vessels had begun leaving harbours at 2 pm on Sept 2, 2007. Commanded by the then Captain Travis Sinniah (present Commander East, Sinniah holds the rank of Rear Admiral), the Task Force, comprising two vessels each, had specific intelligence provided by the US. Could the Navy have succeeded without US intelligence, even if it had the services of the best astrologer in the world, is a question some may ask. The writer doesn’t think so.

Adishtanaya is a must read for those wanting to know the Navy’s role in the successful conclusion of the war, in May, 2009. In hindsight, WK may have missed the opportunity to command the Navy, had Clancy Fernando succeeded in roping in then Colonel Sarath Fonseka to undermine WK’s career on a trivial matter.