Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Bitter truth about Jayasikurui




The 31st chapter of the 845-page book comprehensively dealt with the gradual transformation of large scale Vanni offensive to defensive posture in the wake of the Army bringing large territory under its control, both east and west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. The deployment of additional troops, in the Vanni theatre, had been at the expense of overall security in the Eastern Province. The LTTE had allowed the Army to move in to Vanni jungles, unopposed, thereby paving the way for the government to make some grandiose claims. The shortage of troops, particularly experienced battalions, had been so severe, that the 20th battalion of the Sri Lanka National Guard was deployed on the Mankulam front to face the enemy.

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Recovery of six artillery pieces by troops led by Special Forces Brigade Commander Colonel Jayavi Fernando, in the general area north of Thandikulam, in the aftermath of the first LTTE counter-attack on troops, engaged in Operation Jayasikurui, on June 10, 1997, was never meant to be revealed.

Special Forces had been to the area, a day after the senior artillery officer in charge of the long range guns claimed that he destroyed them to prevent the weapons from being captured by the LTTE. The then Overall Operations Commander, Maj. Gen. Asoka Jayawardena, had authorized the destruction of the artillery pieces due to the inordinate delay, on the part of the battalion commander, issuing orders to protect the gun position and, thus failing in his duty. Having received approval to destroy the guns, the commanding officer had retreated towards Thandilulam, believing the LTTE would recover them, hence his treacherous act would never be known. What he didn’t know was that the Army would regain the area the following day.

The then Lt. Colonel Kamal Gunaratne (KG) had been on the Joint Operations Command staff and was aware of the incident.

LTTE strikes back

The Gajaba Regiment veteran, in his memoirs Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal (Road to Nanthikadal), dealt with the first devastating LTTE counter attack on the headquarters of the 55 Division, at Thandikulam, and adjoining areas, exceptional leadership given by Maj Nandana Senadeera (10 battalion Gajaba Regiment) and Maj Manoj Peiris (8 battalion Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment) in rescuing those who had been trapped at the 55 Division headquarters, as well as those who lacked courage to face the enemy.

The writer has already examined Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal on Oct 5, Oct 12 and Oct 19, 2016. Today’s piece is the fourth, with focus on Jayasikurui. The final piece on KG’s work will be carried next Wednesday (Nov 2).

The 53 Division was the second Division engaged in the offensive with the initial primary objective of securing Puliyankulam.

Among those who had been trapped there were Brigadier Shantha Kottegoda, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 55 Division, Brigadier Nihal Marambe, Colonel G. A. Chandrasiri and Lt. Colonel Mendaka Samarasinghe.

KG recollected, with sadness, Maj. Senadeera receiving gunshot injury to his face while leading 10 GR troops from the front. Senadeera had been KG’s deputy during his tenure as the 6 GR Commanding Officer.

In spite of taking heavy losses, the Army had been able to regain the lost territory within two days.

The Army repulsed the second LTTE counter attack, on Jayasikurui troops, deployed at Periyamadu, on June 24, 1997.

Failures on Vanni front

KG dealt with the formation of the 56 Division to hold territory, captured by Jayasikurui troops. In addition to the newly established Division, the Defence Ministry directed the Navy, Air Force, as well as the police, to provide personnel for the same purpose. They had been tasked to deploy Brigade strength groups in support of the Army.

KG explained the extreme difficulty in having required the number of troops due to reluctance on the part of the youth to join the Army, especially its infantry. The Army had been able to recruit less than 1,500 youth when the requirement was for 10,000 men during the time of Jayasikurui. Those who had joined the Army, at the height of the war, were from families living in abject poverty. They had no option but to join the Army. Many recruits had believed that even if they died in combat their parents and siblings could benefit from the compensation paid by the Army. In spite of extreme difficulties, the Army had to somehow restore the overland Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, to ensure supplies to about 500,000 civilians living in the Jaffna peninsula as well as over 30,000 security forces and police personnel.

Govt, Army mislead country

The war veteran revealed that the then government, and the Army, perpetrated a despicable fraud on the youth to quickly enhance the strength on the Jayasikurui front. As the youth had been reluctant to join the Army, they were recruited to the Navy and the Air Force and deployed on the Vanni front, following basic training. For want of a cohesive plan, and required instructors, they hadn’t been properly trained before being deployed. The Navy and the Air Force hadn’t given any indication to them that they were recruited especially for deployment on the Jayasikurui front. The Army had deceived the youth by recruiting them especially for the Armour and Artillery Regiments as well as the Military Police and then attaching them to infantry formations. The infantry hadn’t attracted youth due to heavy losses on the front, hence the project to deceive them. KG also revealed that the Special Forces and Commando Regiments directed to take in youth in large numbers, select the best and send the rest to infantry formations. The then government had no option but to deceive the country to obtain the required number of youth. The Army prevented those who had completed 12 years of service from leaving, deserters were forcibly brought in and deployed on the front and general amnesty offered to deserters to re-join the Army. Their re-deployment caused low morale among fighting formations resulting in severe problems. However, there had been a section that served the nation faithfully after having returned to the front taking advantage of the general amnesty.

The war veteran also found fault with the government and the Army leadership, for recruitment of members of rival Tamil groups to the Army. A desperate Army, struggling to find troops for the Jayasikurui campaign, had gone to the extent of deploying a National Guard battalion, especially raised to protect the Sri Maha Bodhiya, in case of a fresh LTTE raid in Mankulam. According to KG, the 20th battalion of SLNG had comprised those who had re-joined the service following retirement.

Ill-fated Vanni strategy

KG dealt with the deployment of heavy guns by the Navy, without taking into consideration the actual ground situation, the failure on the part of the Army leadership to brief the then de facto Defence Minister, Anuruddha Ratwatte, regarding the precarious situation on the ground, a section of the officers bypassing the chain of command to keep in touch with Ratwatte, and the difficulty experienced by Overall Operations Commander in receiving situation reports from Brigadier Wasantha Perera’s 53 Division.

KG mercilessly criticized the overall strategy adopted by the Army engaged in Jayasikuri with the focus on ill-fated strategy vis-a-vis the LTTE tactics which caused maximum possible losses on the advancing Army. The Gajaba veteran had been disappointed and expressed his frustrations, in no uncertain terms, that during the time of Jayasikurui, the Army lacked the wherewithal to conduct operations behind enemy lines, while the LTTE achieved tremendous success in such operations, repeatedly.

Shocking seizure of mortars

KG highlighted the unprecedented LTTE operation, leading to the group seizing 38,000 rounds of 81 mm medium mortars, ordered by the Army from Zimbabwe and the Jayasikurui troops having had to experience the Zimbabwean mortars. The irate soldier also revealed the crisis caused by ordering Chinese ammunition for 100 mm main weapon mounted on Soviet era T 55 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs). The entire stock of Chinese ammunition had to be discarded due to them being built for Chinese specifications and certainly not suitable for Soviet barrels. The Fourth Armoured Regiment, deployed in support of Jayasikurui troops, suffered due to the foolish decision to order Chinese ammunition.

Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal dealt with the controversial issue of acquiring low quality arms, ammunition and equipment, and also obtaining ammunition not being compatible with guns, as in the case of 100 mm barrels mounted on T 55 MBTs. KG highlighted the acquisition of Chinese built T 63-2 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) at a massive cost to the taxpayer in spite of them not being able to withstand even small arms fire. They had to be subsequently used to move wounded soldiers as well as ammunition and other equipment. KG recalled the Armoured Regiment troops referring to APCs as worthless ice cream vans.

Heroic resistance

Recalling the third LTTE counter attack on Jayasikurui troops, mounted on Aug 1, 1997, KG discussed the swift collapse of defences, west of Omanthai, within minutes, and the Army successfully repulsing fierce assault on 55.1 Brigade Headquarters. KG credited the 55.1 Brigade Commander Colonel Tissa Jayawardena and Commanding Officer of the 8th battalion, Gajaba Regiment Maj. Prasanna Wickremasuriya for repulsing the attack.

Those at the Omanthai Army camp repulsed four attacks on that day while troops regained the territory lost on the previous day.

KG gave a superb account of the then Maj. Chagi Gallage, Commanding Officer of the 6 GR, spearheading an assault to capture Puliyankulam following several failed attempts by the 53 Division. KG suggested that Gallage’s expertise should be made available to those studying at military schools.

KG acknowledged that the government and the Army leadership repeatedly deceived the public through false media statements as regards the battlefield situation. KG discussed the capture of Puliyankulam and the two Divisions, advancing northwards towards Kanagarayankulam, along the Kandy-Jaffna road, rapid progress against the backdrop of Colonel Jayavi Fernando’s Special Forces making significant territorial gains. The veteran dealt with the devastating LTTE assault on the 53 Division, positioned at Karappakutti, as he predicted 24 hours before in response to a query posed to him by the then most senior staff officer, attached to the Joint Operations Command, Brigadier Susil Chandrapala. KG admitted that he didn’t know whether Brig. Chandrapala alerted the 53 Division as regards the possibility of an LTTE assault on Karappakutti.

LTTE stuns 53 Div

Having overrun Karappakutti within hours, the LTTE removed arms, ammunition, equipment, heavy vehicles, et al. They also seized Brig. Wasantha Perera’s brand new caravan along with eight bulldozers belonging to the Engineering Regiment. By the time the Army had regained Karappakutti, three days later, the LTTE had removed everything.

KG asserted that the Army had suffered due to most senior officers, in charge of various operational headquarters entirely depending on those who could converse in English and prepare reports in the same language. KG speculated whether the then 53 Brigade Commander Brig. Wasantha Perera decided on positioning troops at Karappakutti or his staff officers did.

KG also examined the debacle suffered by the Second Commando Regiment in an abortive operation to capture Mannakulam, west of Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. The veteran infantryman asserted that the Commando Regiment had been assigned a task normally given to the infantry, thereby inflicting crippling losses on the elite formation. The Second Commando Regiment had run into the LTTE trap soon after the Army captured Mankulam junction.

The 31 chapter of the 845-page book comprehensively dealt with the gradual transformation of large scale Vanni offensive to defensive posture in the wake of the Army bringing large territory under its control, both east and west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. The deployment of additional troops, in the Vanni theatre, had been at the expense of overall security in the Eastern Province. The LTTE had allowed the Army to move in to Vanni jungles, unopposed, thereby paving the way for the government to make some grandiose claims. The shortage of troops, particularly experienced battalions, had been so severe, that the 20th battalion of the Sri Lanka National Guard was deployed on the Mankulam front to face the enemy. The Army went to the extent of closing down training facilities and deploying unprepared youth in support of Jayasikurui. The war veteran underscored the folly in the Army leadership throwing all formations under its command to achieve the then government’s primary objective - to restore overland Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.

The same chapter discussed the LTTE forcing the Army to rapidly retreat on all fronts in the northern theatre, killing of Vadamaratchchy Brigade Commander (52.4 Brigade) Brigadier Larry Wijeratne, the Army bringing in more territory under its control and finally the worst defeat experienced by the Army during the conflict. There hadn’t been a worse defeat than the humiliating downfall at Elephant Pass, in April, 2000.

The writer covered a hastily arranged media conference, at Army headquarters, where the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya and Chief of Staff Lionel Balagalle explained the crisis on the front (New strategy needed after Elephant Pass loss, says Army chief-The Island, April 26, 2000). Lt. Gen. Weerasooriya, while strongly defending the decision to quit Elephant Pass, during the third week of April, 2000, asserted that a delay in vacating the base would have caused debilitating losses (Pass withdrawal purely military, says Army Chief-The Island, April 24, 2000). Censorship prevented the media from reporting the pathetic ground situation. The Army faced humiliating defeat in the Jaffna peninsula with the LTTE poised to clear the entire Vanni region of military presence.

Hostility among senior officers, at various levels, including that of Divisions, undermined the overall war effort. KG revealed exchange of words between the General Officers Commanding 55 and 56 Divisions engaged in Jayasikurui in the presence of Overall Operations Commander. The Army suffered for want of team effort against the backdrop of deaths, casualties and desertions in formations. The infantry had been in dire straits with the battlefront crisis threatening to overwhelm the military leadership. According to KG, the situation had been worsened by officers receiving command appointments purely on the basis of seniority. KG cited the appointment of a senior artillery officer holding the rank of a Brigadier as the GOC of the elite 53 Division to prove his allegation.

LTTE exploit Norway peace effort

KG expertly dealt with the Norway-led peace effort, the LTTE exploiting the situation to consolidate its power, exposure of Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) run operation leading to the deaths of covert operatives, LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham arriving in the Vanni, in a Maldivian Air Taxi, accompanied by his Australian-born wife, Adele, split caused by Karuna, efforts made by the then Eastern Commander Rear Admiral Wasantha Karanngoda to face the growing LTTE challenge and the then UNP administration working overtime to discredit the navy officer.

KG recalled him being given the command of the Air Mobile Brigade (53.1) attached to the 53 Division. Having served as the Brigade Commander of 55.2 Brigade, deployed at Nagarkovil, at the onset of Norwegian spearheaded peace process, Air Mobile command was KG’s second appointment as a Brigade Commander. KG asserted the Air Mobile Brigade as an elite formation credited with excellent battlefield performances. The Gajaba veteran remembered the formation of the Brigade under the able leadership of Gemunu Watch veteran Brigadier Hiran Halangode. The writer dealt with the leadership provided by Halangode especially during the eelam War II in the Batticaloa theatre. The Air Mobile Brigade had been ready to face any eventuality as it was in continuous training at a special facility set up at Eluththumaduwal by the then Colonel Udaya Perera. The Muhamalai based Brigade accommodated troops from other fighting formations at what was called Air Mobile Training enclave.

KG also examined fighting between the LTTE and its breakaway Batticaloa-Ampara faction with the military struggling to come to terms with the situation.

Wrong assessment

However, the writer believes that KG’s assertion that a statement made by a top UNPer (Milinda Moragoda) regarding UNP presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s role in the LTTE split prompted Velupillai Prabhakaran to deprive Wickremesinghe of the Tamil vote does not hold water. Although there was no doubt that Moragoda had irked the LTTE, the polls boycott needed to be examined meticulously against the backdrop of allegations that there had been an understanding between the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Camp and the LTTE. The LTTE seemed to have felt confident in dealing with Rajapaksa than Wickremesinghe and believed in its capability to overwhelm President Rajapaksa. Obviously, Prabhakaran hadn’t taken into consideration the return of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, formerly of the Gajaba Regiment to Sri Lanka. KG recalled the Sinha Regiment veteran Sarath Fonseka receiving the appointment as Commander of the Army, on Dec 6, 2005, resumption of claymore attacks in the northern theatre, on the same day and the then Defence Secretary, retired Lt. Colonel Rajapaksa, accompanied by Army Chief Lt. Gen. Fonseka, visiting headquarters of the 4th battalion of the Gemunu Watch at Muhamalai front-line. KG recalled him meeting Rajapaksa, who had been his Commanding Officer years ago, for the first time after Rajapaksa quit the Army.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Mullaitivu debacle



Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at

the recent launch of retired Maj. General

Kamal Gunaratne’s Rana Maga Osse

Nanthikadal at the Kularatne hall, Ananda

College. Gunaratne is seated next to former

President Rajapaksa. Mrs Chitrani

Gunaratne is seated next to KG. Wartime

General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 57

Division retired Maj. General Jagath Dias

is seated in the second row. Sri Lanka’s

former Ambassador in Geneva and veteran

political analyst Dr Dayan Jayatilleka and Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka are also seated in the second row. Both Gunaratne and Dias served in the celebrated Gajaba Regiment.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne (KG) in his memoirs, Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal (Road to Nanthikadal), described the July 1996 Mullaitivu debacle as the worst defeat experienced by the Army, during the conflict.

KG launched the book on September 6, 2016, the day he retired after serving the Army for three and half decades. At the time, the war ended in May 2009, KG had been the General Officer Commanding the elite 53 Division, credited with killing LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The Island already dealt with KG’s memoirs, on Oct 5, and Oct 12, 2016. The following is the third piece, with the focus on the Mullaitivu debacle.

Having faulted the then political leadership, for maintaining the isolated Mullaitivu base, in spite of it being absolutely of no assistance to the overall military deployment, in the Northern Province, KG discussed, in detail, the swift collapse of the coastal Brigade. The Mullaitivu deployment comprised 9 battalion of the Sinha Regiment (9SR) and 6 battalion of the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment (6 VIR). There had been a small naval contingent, consisting of about 40 personnel. Except for those who had been on leave, the rest died in the hands of the LTTE.

The situation, at the base, had been so bad, in the run-up to the July 18, 1996 LTTE assault, KG described Mullaitivu Brigade as an open air prison camp. In the absence of overland supply route, over 1,200 personnel, deployed there, had to be supplied by sea and air. The Navy and the Air Force had been struggling to move supplies to the useless base throughout its existence.

Recollecting him being trapped, in Mankulam, in 1990, at the onset of the Eelam War II, the author compared the Army thwarting a large scale LTTE assault on Mullaitivu at that time and the pathetic failure to defend the same base, six years later.

KG squarely blamed the then Mullaitivu Brigade Commander of the Gajaba Regiment (an officer holding the rank of Colonel) and the Commanding Officer of the 9, SR for the humiliating defeat. An irate KG explained the circumstances under which the duo had left the base, on the day before the assault, in contravention of specific Army headquarters directives, leaving an inexperienced Major T. R. Aliba (6 VIR) to face the multi-pronged assault.

For want of proper supervision, and counter measures, in case of a large scale attack, the LTTE had been able to overwhelm the base, within 24 hours. KG castigated the then top Army leadership for foolishly believing that Mullaitivu could be saved by minefield, put in place, before the Gajaba officer assumed command of the 25 Brigade at Mullaitivu. KG talked contemptuously of the Brigadier who had also commanded the Brigade, involved in Operation Riviresa I, to liberate Jaffna town. KG discussed how the Brigadier had been unceremoniously shifted from Operation Riviresa before the conclusion of Riviresa I.

Only several dozens of personnel survived the LTTE assault on Mullaitivu

KG’s account on Mullaitivu debacle revealed that there hadn’t been supervision at all, at any level, until the LTTE struck. The war veteran pointed out the folly in positioning two 122 mm artillery pieces, four 120 mm mortars and 15, 81 mm mortars at one position. There had been an attack from the direction of the Nanthikadal lagoon leading to collapse of the defences on the Western side. The Chapter on Mullaitivu discussed the heroic efforts made by air borne Special Forces troops, the Army leadership, sending back the Brigadier and Major, who left the Mullaitivu base, on the day before the attack, and them leaving the battlefield in the first available helicopter, claiming they too received injuries in an attack mistakenly directed by the Air Force. According to KG, an Italian built Sia Marchettis had attacked Special Forces troops on the ground, killing 17 and wounding scores of others. The Brigadier and the Major had taken advantage of the Sia Marchettis attack, carried out around 4.30 pm, on July 18, 1996, to get themselves evacuated.

While exposing cowards, KG named those who gave leadership to reinforcements at the risk of the lives. KG recollected the courageous leadership given by Lt. Colonel Fazly Laphir, the Commanding Officer of the I Special Forces Regiment killed in the abortive mission. KG also referred to the leadership given by Major Jayantha Ratnayake as well as Lieutenant Colonel Raj Wijesiri also of the Special Forces. The latter had been the Commanding Officer of the Second Special Force Regiment.

Reinforcements withdrew under heavy fire on July 25, 1996. Having mounted the assault at 1.20 am, the LTTE overwhelmed the base within hours and by the time first reinforcements landed on the late afternoon of July 18, 1996, the base had fallen and the enemy seized all long range weapons.

Anyone wanting to know the gradual development of the war-winning Army should definitely read KG’s memoirs. The author had fearlessly acknowledged faults on the part of the Army leadership, as well as senior command and control structure, as they battled the LTTE. There had never been a better account of the humiliating Mullaitivu defeat.

It would be pertinent to examine the battlefield situation in the run up to the Mullaitivu debacle. The Mullaitivu defences collapsed in spite of being manned by two regular battalions, backed by artillery, and mortars. Fortunately, for the Army, there hadn’t been any armoured fighting vehicles deployed at the ill-fated base. The Army suffered the Mullaitivu debacle during the then Lt. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte’s tenure as the Commander of the Army (May 1, 1996 to Dec 15, 1998). Lt. Gen. Daluwatte had obviously felt relatively comfortable that the LTTE lacked the wherewithal to launch a large scale operation. The Army

liberated the Jaffna peninsula during Lt. Gen. Gerry De Silva’s tenure (January 1, 1994 to April 30, 1996) as the Commander of the Army. Having liberated the entire Jaffna peninsula, in 95/96, the Army leadership explored ways and means of restoring the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.

In late June/July 1996, Lt. Gen. Daluwatte ordered a sizable ground offensive, north of Trincomalee. Government censored print and electronic media reports pertaining to the security situation. All reports had to be faxed to the Government Information Department before they could be published. Those at the Government Information Department went out of their way to prevent the public from knowing the truth. They deleted entire paragraphs, names, battalions and any specific reference to losses suffered by the military. In the absence of internet, Mrs. Kumaratunga’s government had been largely successful in depriving the public of their right to know. The government operated on the premise as long as the people could be kept in the dark actual battlefield situation is irrelevant. However, the LTTE almost, on a daily basis, issued situation reports from its International Secretariat, situated in the UK.

In mid-July, 1996, the LTTE mounted an attack on troops deployed in Sarasalai, south in Tennamaratchchy, killing 13 personnel. Although, the Army acknowledged 13 deaths, the actual loss of life could be much higher. It was the biggest attack, on the Army, in the Jaffna peninsula, since the recapture of Jaffna town.

Also in July, 1996, the LTTE killed Jaffna town commander Brig. Ananda Hamangoda. Obviously, the stepped up activity in Jaffna was meant to deceive the Army.

The LTTE seized control of Mullaitivu even before first hell-borne Special Forces landed a couple of km, south of Mullaitivu, on the evening of July 18, 1996.

The then Military Spokesman Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe, as well as the de facto Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte, continued to insist the base could be saved even 48 hours after the LTTE seized control of it. The then main Opposition, the UNP exploited the crisis on the northern front to its advantage. By then, the UNP had conveniently forgotten the worst defeat experienced by the Army, in early November, 1993, at the tail end of the UNP administration. The LTTE overran a large section of the Pooneryn-Nagathevanthurai security complex on the Vanni mainland killing several hundred Army and Navy personnel. The then Army Commander Lt. Gen Cecil Waidyaratne resigned from his post, on Dec 31, 93, having taken responsibility for the defeat. However, the then Maj. Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte, who had been the Northern Commander, at the time of the Mullaitivu debacle, survived to become the Commander of the Army on May 1, 1996. Daluwatte survived even after the demeaning Mullaitivu defeat. Mrs Kumaratunga promoted him to the rank of Gen and placed in charge of the Chief of Defence Staff. Her successor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, rewarded him with a diplomatic posting.

Daluwatte (May 1, 1996 to Dec 15, 1998) was seen seated alongside Gen. Gerry Silva (January 1, 1994 to April 30, 1996) and Gen Srilal Weerasuriya (Commander of the Army Dec 16, 1998 to Aug 20, 2000) at the launch of Ranamaga Osse Nanthikadal at the Kularatne hall, Ananda college, on Sept 6, 2016.

KG briefly dealt with despicable LTTE attempts to sabotage essential food supplies to the Jaffna peninsula. Subsequently, KG discussed the transfer of his battalion from the Jaffna peninsula to Sittandy in the Batticaloa District in late 1996. Identifying the then Batticaloa Brigade Commander as a person who had entered politics after retirement, the war veteran revealed severe difficulties experienced by battalion commanders due to the Brigade Commander demanding fish and wild meat free of charge. KG unmercifully explained the Commanding Officers of volunteer battalions deployed under the purview of the Batticaloa Brigade having to provide wild meat and fish. KG refrained from mentioning the name of the Brigade Commander. The Gajaba veteran discussed the difficulties he had to face in the wake of his refusal to provide wild meat and fish at the expense of his troops. KG’s 6 GR had been the only regular battalion deployed at Sittandy (battalion headquarters), Kaluwankerni, Mawedivembu and Vavnathivu. The KG’s account on Batticaloa Brigade Commander is evidence that those who had served the Army suffered at the hands of their own officers. Revelation of the Brigade Commander refusing to call for a helicopter to evacuate two of KG’s soldiers in the night due to the recurring enmity between the two, highlighted the crisis on the front.

KG recalled the efforts made by his 6GR with the support of the Special Forces to suppress LTTE in the Batticaloa district.

The former 6 GR battalion commander also discussed his troops under the then Captain Sudath Dabare’s command fighting ferociously in the face of an LTTE attack, on Vavnathivu detachment, in early March, 1997, and 6 GR troops vacating Mawediwembu, subsequently and the reaction of the Batticaloa Brigade Commander to expose those who had swiftly claimed credit for victories while holding junior officers responsible in case of defeat. According to KG, the Brigade Commander referring to the fight put up by the Army at Vavnathivu had declared that his (Brigade Commander’s) boys taught a good lesson to Karuna’s buggers (one-time SLFP Vice President and Minister). Referring to the 6 GR vacating Mawediwembu detachment, the Brigade Commander had declared Kamal Gunaratne’s buggers didn’t give a good fight.

KG received a transfer to Joint Operations Headquarters, Colombo, in April 1997. The then Major Chagi Gallage succeeded KG as 6 GR battalion commander. Gallage played a significant role in the Army over the years leading to Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism in May 2009. Gallage, now a Major General, functions as Director General, Infantry.

The author castigated the Army leadership for setting up a special fighting formation to neutralize the growing threat posed by the Sea Tigers. The war veteran described the swift collapse of the foolish project in the wake of the Sea Tigers killing five Special Forces personnel and wounding five more in an attack, off Pulmoddai, in early September, 1997.

KG discussed the growing difficulties experienced by the Navy in ensuring supplies to the Jaffna peninsula. Supplying the armed forces, as well as the large civilian population, had been an extremely difficult task. The military top brass had felt that there was an urgent requirement to restore one of the two overland supply routes to the Jaffna peninsula. Having considered the restoration of the Mannar coastal road (A 32) via Pooneryn across the Jaffna lagoon, the Army finally decided on the Kandy-Jaffna road. Maj. Gen. Asoka Jayawardena of the Infantry had been the Joint Operations Headquarters chief at the time of Operation Jayasikurui was planned.

There had never been an account of Jayasikurui better than the one given by KG. Having perused the section that dealt with Jayasikurui twice, the writer believes that the revelations therein are surely surprising and shocking. The then Mrs Kumaratunga’s government and the Army leadership had perpetrated a massive fraud, not only on Sinhala civilians, but the fighting forces as well. KGs’ is surely the most comprehensive account of Jayasikurui, the largest ever ground offensive undertaken by the Army up to that time. Of the three Divisions which took part in Operation Riviresa, 53 Division under the then Brigadier Wasantha Perera. Brigadier Shantha Kottegoda, had been named the General Officer Commanding (GoC) of newly raised 55 Division. As KG had been on Maj.. Gen. Asoka Jayawardana’s staff, he received an opportunity to study rapid preparations made to launch the offensive. The offensive got underway on May 13, 1997.

Having discussed the 55 Division and 53 Division launching operations along the A9 road and from Weli Oya, respectively, KG faulted the setting up 55 Division headquarters at Thandikulm. The two fighting formations were to secure Puliyankulam along the A9 road and then advance northwards. KG explained the then Army leadership providing the 53 Division with expert support of the Special Forces and Commandos. The strengthening of that Division had been done on the basis of it being the main front whereas the 55 Division was to play secondary role. The 53 Division, having launched its advance from Weli Oya was to move westwards across Nedunkerni to Puliyankulam.

KG acknowledged that Brigadier Kottegoda’s formation had been exposed to the LTTE and was in a difficult position even at the onset of the offensive due to extremely difficult terrain his troops had to fight in.

In the wake of Jayasikurui, the Joint Operations Headquarters was moved to Vavuniya.

Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal explained how Jayasikurui neutralized LTTE threat on Sinhala settlements in the Weli Oya region.

In spite of mounting losses on both fronts, the Army leadership remained confident of achieving the primary objective. Against the backdrop of capturing Jaffna peninsula, the Army leadership believed the LTTE challenge could be met.

The Mullaitivu debacle had been forgotten.

KG expertly narrated Jayasikurui offensive until the first LTTE counter attack on the 55 Division headquarters on June 10, 1997, caused devastating losses.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Army in Jaffna political conspiracy

Confirmation of secret meet at Palaly ahead of Aug. 94 polls




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having realised the urgent requirement to train the Army to fight, in built-up areas, the then government had sought Israeli assistance, in early 80s. Retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne (KG), in his memoirs, Ranamaga Osse Nanthikadal (Road to Nanthikadal), provided an excellent detailed account of fighting battalions receiving Israeli expertise at the Maduru Oya. KG talked proudly of having an opportunity to undergo training as the youngest Company Commander (C Company of 3 GR). Subsequently, there had been two more training courses for Platoon Commanders as well as joint exercises with support arms, including armour.

The Israeli experience had been crucial for the Army, tasked in 1987 to regain Vadamaratchchy, in the Jaffna peninsula. (The US facilitated the Israeli entry into Sri Lanka, amidst strong Indian opposition. New Delhi fiercely opposed Israeli presence here though, today, the Jewish State is one of our giant neighbour’s closest allies. A foolish President Ranasinghe Premadasa ordered the Israelis out, in early 90s, following unsubstantiated allegations regarding Tel Aviv providing training to the LTTE. Sri Lanka invited Israelis again in the wake of the worst ever debacle, at Elephant Pass in 2000.

KG briefly compared the difficulties, faced by the Navy in performing its duties, with that of the Army. The Gajaba veteran recollected the services rendered by the Fast Attack Craft (FAC) flotilla, Special Boat Squadron (SBS) as well as Rapid Action Boat Squadron (RABS) in the face of the immense threat posed by Sea Tiger suicide squads. KG admitted that had he joined the Navy, instead the Army, he could have faced far greater risks and difficulties.

Chapter 11 of the 845 page Ranamaga Osse Nanthikadal entirely covered Operation Liberation, the first ever ground offensive in which the Army deployed Brigades. The efforts made by 3 GR troops to rescue wounded Second Lieutenant Indrajith Peramunage, a six foot two inch officer, wounded in action during Operation Liberation, underscored the Army’s strength. KG explained that four men sacrificed their lives and eight others were wounded, while trying to rescue Peramunage. KG had been bitter about India coming to the rescue of the embattled LTTE, facing a decisive defeat, French jets, of the Indian Air Force, violating Sri Lankan airspace as helpless Sri Lankan military watched, Indian Air Force whisking Prabhakaran, his family as well as some key members of the organization, from Sudumalai, Jaffna, to Tamil Nadu, and the deployment of the Army to quell the second JVP inspired insurgency.

KG, in his memoirs, paid a glowing tribute to one-time National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali as one of those few who had provided political leadership, at national level, to the war effort.

Ranamaga Osse Nanthikadal revealed a clash between I GR and Jammu and Kashmir Rifles, deployed at Sumedagama, Trincomalee, on Dec 22, 1988, leading to the death of an Indian soldier. The IGR contingent, that had been involved in the clash, was commanded by the then Second Lieutenant Shantha Dissanayake. Swift intervention by senior commanders, from both sides, prevented further escalation though Indian troops destroyed two bunkers, manned by the Sri Lankan Army, by the time the situation was brought under control. Shantha Dissanayake discussed the battle at Sumedagama with the writer, in July, 2013, during an interview at his Colombo headquarters. Dissanayake held the rank of Brigadier and was responsible for security in Colombo.

Having perused J.N. Dixit’s ‘Assignment Colombo’, KG explained Indian actions in Sri Lanka. Dixit had been India’s top diplomat here during 1985-1989 period. Anyone genuinely interested in knowing first-hand account of fighting against Tamil separatists, and various other developments, should peruse KG’s memoirs. The war veteran expertly dealt with the Araly Point, Kayts blast on the morning of Aug. 8, 1992 leading to the deaths of much respected Maj. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Brig. Wijaya Wimalaratne and several other senior Army and Navy officers, including the then Northern Naval Commander, Rear Admiral Mohan Jayamaha. KG bluntly discussed a shameful development involving a woman, who identified herself as Rohini Hathurusinghe, wife of a soldier with the Gajaba Regiment. Mrs Hathurusinghe emerged in the wake of the Araly Point blast. Although, the military believed it had been an accidental blast, Mrs Hathurusinghe, at the behest of some very influential persons, propagated the lie that the then President Premadasa conspired with Brig. Wimalaratne to kill the Northern Commander. Mrs Hathurusinghe alleged that Brig. Wimalaratne, after having planted an explosive device in the ill-fated vehicle, inadvertently got into the driving seat of the vehicle. KG bitterly recalled him unsuccessfully trying to convince a Presidential Commission inquiring into Araly Point blast that it was accidental. In spite of KG having a good rapport with the Commission, headed by Supreme Court judge Tissa Dias Bandaranayake, KG, the then Commanding Officer of 6 GR, deployed in Kayts, couldn’t convince the Commission. The writer and senior colleague Norman Palihawadana, who had been the defence correspondent for both The Island and its sister paper, Divaina, covered Mrs. Hathurusinghe’s despicable project.

Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, too, in an exclusive interview with the writer, a few years ago, roundly dismissed allegation directed at Brig. Wimalaratne. KG called Kobbekaduwa and Wimalaratne as the greatest Sri Lankan military commanders ever.

KG recollected seeing the then Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Clancy Fernando’s motorcade passing him near the Slave Island railway crossing a couple of minutes before being blasted, opposite the Colombo Taj. The suicide attack on VA Fernando prompted a sharp change in security measures adopted by senior officers stationed outside operational areas. KG also discussed President Premadasa’s dislike of the military and the Nov 1993 Pooneryn debacle, introduction of shoulder-fired heat seeking missiles, as well as the conduct of EPDP (Eelam People’s Democratic Party) and its leader Douglas Devananda. The 26th Chapter in its entirety discussed the humiliating defeat suffered by the Army at Pooneryn.

The Chapter 27 discussed alleged large scale attempt by the Army to engage in malpractices, in some parts of the Jaffna peninsula, in support of the then ruling UNP. KG described the Army receiving specific instructions to back the then administration, in the peninsula, and organised malpractices in Jaffna islands. The author had been the Commanding Officer of 6 GR deployed, in Kayts, at the time the then government directed the Army to help re-elect the UNP. KG expressed relief that those who had been behind the project meant to ensure UNP victory, giving it up at the last moment, leading to Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga leading the PA to victory at the August, 1994, parliamentary polls. KG revealed that he felt like quitting the Army after having heard the political conspiracy.

The writer covered the alleged UNP bid to involve the Army in its effort to retain power at the August, 1994, general election. The present day UNP leadership couldn’t have been unaware of the despicable project.

The Gajaba veteran explained an LTTE suicide attack on SLNS Sagarawardene off Mannar in Sept., 1994, in the wake of President Kumaratunga initiating a direct dialogue with the LTTE. The author pointed out the absurdity in the Captain of the ill-fated vessel, Captain Boyagoda, being accused of collaborating with the enemy. Boyagoda (now Commodore) discussed the surprise attack on SLNS Sagarawardene, his capture and eight years in LTTE captivity, in his memoirs ‘A Long Watch: War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka’ launched several months. The writer had the opportunity to examine Boyagoda’s autobiography, authored by Ms Sunila Galappatti, just before KG’s book launch. Recollecting the difficulties experienced by Captain Boyagoda’s family, as a result of unsubstantiated accusations, KG complained how people asserted some of those categorized, as missing, fought for the LTTE. KG recalled Major Azad of Army Commandos killed in an abortive raid at Kattaiparichchan, Trincomalee, being accused of providing commando training to LTTE cadres.

Having briefly dealt with the assassination of UNP presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake, in Oct., 1994, a few weeks after the sinking of SLNS Sagarawardene, KG asserted that the LTTE deprived the Sinhalese of another capable leader.

Unlike wartime Navy Commander, the then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda and Commodore Boyagoda (promoted to the rank after his release from LTTE captivity), KG expressed opinion on political matters and issues as well as other contentious issues. Karannagoda discussed his life in the Navy in Adishtanaya, launched at the tail end of the Rajapaksa administration. In the absence of the governments’ attempt to record wartime events, memoirs of retired senior officers had received public attention, with KG’s memoirs being the most discussed.

KG had the courage to talk about the Army’s pathetic failure to ensure proper meals to troops, deployed in the Jaffna peninsula, against the backdrop of the military losing the Kandy-Kandy A9 road. Severe difficulties, faced by the SLAF, in sustaining flights to Palaly, Jaffna, after the LTTE brought down two Avro transport aircraft, in April, 1995, killing over 100 officers and men. Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal explained severe difficulties in providing basic food to officers and men stationed in the Jaffna peninsula and Jaffna islands. KG acknowledged that he turned a blind eye to troops, deployed in Kayts, under his command, procuring poultry, goats and cows belonging to Tamil people, much to their anger and disappointment. The controversial practice had been widespread in operational areas.

KG recollected some of his troops returning to base, after having caught a large stock of fish, using hand grenades, being stopped by the then Brigadier Sarath Fonseka. The deployment at Kayts had been under the overall command of hot tempered Sinha Regiment veteran Brig. Fonseka. The writer read that particular section several times and the incident proved that the Brigade Commander realized the difficulties experienced by troops.

Having explained the crisis, caused by the sudden introduction of surface to air missiles, the Gajaba Regiment veteran explained that helicopter pilots, deployed for casualty evacuation missions, engaging in dangerous manoeuvres to avoid possible missile attacks, difficulty in providing regular air transport to and from Palaly and grounding of Sia Marchettis and Pucara attack aircraft. The Italian Sia Marchettis and Argentine built Pucara aircraft hadn’t been able to operate in the face of missile threat. Instead of acquiring aircraft capable of bombing LTTE targets, the SLAF had acquired Chinese interceptors in spite of them not being suitable at all to meet the then requirement.

KG had extensively dealt with failures and shortcomings on the part of the military and the government before discussing Sri Lanka’s first large scale ground offensive in which the Army fought, in Division strength, in late 1995, to bring the entire Jaffna peninsula under state control. KG’s memoirs provided an excellent and detailed account of Operation Riviresa with the focus on 6GR, under his command, assigned to the newly created 52 Division. KG candidly declared that he didn’t have faith in his Brigade Commander who feared the war. Identifying the Brigade Commander as an officer attached to the celebrated Gajaba Regiment, KG contemptuously asserted his superior never liked him (KG) and he, too, disliked him. However, KG had refrained from naming the officer though he was identified at a subsequent chapter as the senior officer in charge of the first Brigade to collapse, during the war.

KG discussed the responsibilities given to three Divisions, namely 51, 52 and 53, tasked to liberate Jaffna town. KG asserted that the 53 Division, commanded by the then Brigadier Janaka Perera, as the most powerful of the three formations and was given the challenging task of seizing territory required to be used as launching pad for Riviresa. Although the 53 Division had conducted ‘Thunder Strike’ to achieve the Army’s objective in Sept. 1995, an LTTE counter attack, at one point, threatened to undermine the operation. KG credited IGR, then commanded by Major Sumedha Perera, for thwarting the LTTE assault causing heavy losses on the enemy. (Sumedha Perera retired recently in the rank of Major General).

Riviresa got underway on Oct 17, 1995.

KG’s comment on Riviresa made really interesting reading with him expressing opinion on various officers in charge of fighting formations. Hot tempered Brigadier Neil Dias of the Artillery had been in charge of 51 Division, Brigadier P.A. Karunatilleke, of the Armoured Corps, placed in command of 52 Division, and Brigadier Janaka Perera, formerly of the Engineers, and then Commandos, in charge of elite 53 Division. KG recalled Karunatilleke gunning down a Staff Sergeant identified as Lewle at Ranasevapura Army camp when the latter fired a T 56 assault rifle at Tamil civilians brought there in the wake of LTTE attack on Sri Maha Bodiya. Karunatilleke had been a Lieutenant Colonel at that time and acted promptly to ensure the safety and security of Tamil civilians.

KG grieved the death of close relative Sub Lieutenant Vajira Neluketiya in a terrorist attack on Oct 17, 1995, on the day of the launch of Operation Riviresa. Neluketiya had been selected to undergo a special training course in Russia at the time of his death caused by an LTTE underwater attack on an SLN vessel at Trincomalee. The young officer’s grieving parents had buried Neluketiya’s body in their garden.

In relation to Operation Riviresa, KG discussed failure on the part of infantry battalions to sustain speed, inordinate delay in advancing after having captured enemy strong points and also being over cautious. KG asserted that they could have achieved better results by sustaining speed in spite of heavier casualties at the onset of offensive action.

KG provided a riveting account of the battle for Urumpirai, during Operation Riviresa. The war veteran described fierce ground battles involving his battalion (6 GR) and the 4 SLLI before his troops achieved what the other unit couldn’t. The retired officer bitterly complained about a despicable attempt made by another Brigade to take the credit for 6 GR achievement. KG castigated those who had sought personal gain at the expense of others.

KG had the courage to discuss issues which hadn’t been previously ignored. The shocking miscalculation made by the Artillery led to six rounds of 120 mm mortars being fired at 6 GR troops spearheading assault on Urumpirai. ‘Friendly fire’ caused the deaths of six troops and wounded 12. The Army had been always reluctant to acknowledge the deaths caused by ‘friendly fire.’

Having captured Urumpirai, 6 GR troops had destroyed a statue put up by the LTTE in honour of an LTTE cadre who committed suicide after being captured by the Army. The author emphasized the pivotal importance of destroying all monuments belonging to the LTTE while proudly declaring that during his command, he unwaveringly uprooted all statues and other monuments.

The removal of the Brigade Commander under whose command KG’s 6 GR fought took place in the immediate aftermath of 6 GR seizing Kondavil junction. KG explained the circumstances under which the Gajaba Regiment officer received transfer orders amidst an absurd bid to claim credit for success at Kondavil. KG attributed their success to speed maintained by 6 GR. In spite of fierce resistance, the LTTE couldn’t stop the Army and, by Nov. 1995, the LTTE commenced gradually withdrawing from the Jaffna peninsula. The Army brought Jaffna town under its control during first week of Dec. 1995. However, the LTTE had fighting units in Tennamarachchi and Vadamaratchchy divisions which were brought under Army control, subsequently.

KG blamed the Navy for not having a tangible plan to intercept and destroy LTTE cadres as they withdrew across the Jaffna lagoon. The Gajaba veteran expressed the view that the Navy could have caused immense losses on the LTTE had there been an effective operational plan meant to destroy enemy forces crossing the Jaffna lagoon.

(The then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga earned the wrath of the Tamil Diaspora for bringing Jaffna peninsula under her control. Liberation of Jaffna is undoubtedly Mrs Kumaratunga’s greatest achievement during her presidency. President Kumaratunga earned the wrath of the Tamil Diaspora and some Tamil politicians for ordering the Army to regain the Jaffna peninsula. An angry Rev. Father S.J. Emmanuel, President of the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum, had called Mrs Kumaratunga mother of all wars).

Operation Riviresa I (Oct – Dec 1995) had been Sri Lanka’s first MAJOR large scale offensive undertaken against the LTTE. Compared to Operation Riviresa I, Operation Liberation (May-June 1987) meant to clear Vadamaratchchy, in the Jaffna peninsula, had been relatively a smaller though it was surely the first significant battle against terrorists.

KG had a knack for explaining developments in the battlefield as the LTTE gradually transformed itself to a conventional fighting force.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

A war that can’t be won...

Shocking revelation of Army Commander agreeing with Minister that LTTE cannot be defeated



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Having perused retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne’s (KG) memoirs ‘Ranamaga Osse Nanthikadal’ (Road to Nanthikadal), the writer felt that the period, from early 80s to the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, on the night of Aug. 12, 2005), should be discussed before examining Eelam War IV (Aug. 2006-May 2009). Ranamaga Osse Nanthikadal is a must read for those appreciative of the armed forces triumph over the LTTE, in May, 2009, after battlefield gains, debacles amidst political and military miscalculations, and Norwegian intervention.

KG dealt with an incident at Nagarkovil, in Vadamamaratchy (Jaffna peninsula), soon after the signing of a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), in Feb. 2002, to underscore the growing threat, posed by the LTTE, in the wake of the then UNP-led United National Front (UNF) administration as well as the Army top brass bending backwards to appease terrorists. At the time of the Nagarkovil incident, KG had been the 55.1 Brigade Commander, an appointment he received before the CFA. Having taken over the Brigade, deployed along the northern front line, KG had seized an LTTE fortification, situated 200 meters, south of Nagarkovil junction. Soon after the signing of the CFA, the LTTE had demanded that the Army withdraw from that position to facilitate the Norwegian-led peace process.

Due to KG’s refusal to quit the forward position, the LTTE had sought Norwegian intervention to get rid of the Army point. Subsequently, the then powerful Minister Milinda Moragoda, accompanied by Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, had visited KG’s Nagarkovil headquarters before proceeding to the Army point. KG explained that Moragoda, having praised the peace process called for the withdrawal of troops from the disputed territory. Moragoda explained the requirement, to compromise, to ensure the success of the peace process. When KG stressed that position couldn’t be vacated, under any circumstances, Moragoda bluntly declared the Army could never defeat the LTTE. KG quoted Moragoda as having told him that the Army could never win this war. Although, the Army had waged war for about 20 years, it couldn’t bring the war to a successful conclusion. As the Army couldn’t achieve success, in the future, the government was going ahead with negotiations. Therefore, quit the disputed territory to facilitate the peace process.

Much to the disappointment of KG, the Army Chief had endorsed Moragoda’s position. KG examined the stand taken by Moragoda and Balagalle on behalf of the political and military leaderships, respectively, to highlight the Army’s plight. KG described their disgracefully fearful response to terrorists with disgust. KG couldn’t stomach the commander of the Army meekly giving into Moragoda, who, at that time, wielded immense political clout. Moragoda had been a member of the then government’s four-member peace negotiating team tasked to engage in talks with the LTTE. The team comprised Prof. G.L. Peiris, Moragoda, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem and career diplomat Bernard Goonetilleke, the first head of the Peace Secretariat.

A few weeks later, Army headquarters shifted KG, from Nagarkovil, to the Army Command and Staff College. Obviously, Balagalle felt that KG’s presence, at Nagarkovil, could undermine the ‘peace project’ and moved him out of the then temporarily-merged North-East province. KG declared that Balagalle’s endorsement of Moragoda’s assertion that the Army could never have finished off the LTTE caused him great pain and disappointment. According to KG, it had been the first such distasteful experience KG had been a Lt. Col at that time he took over the 55.1 Brigade, in the run-up to the CFA.

However, the war veteran hadn’t examined efforts made by the government to hinder reportage of incidents taking place in the Northern and Eastern areas in spite of the CFA. The government ordered the closure of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) operated Wanni Sevaya, meant for troops and police deployed in the Northern Province (Wanni Sevaya closed down, The Island April 7, 2002). The government ignored the Army’s call to restore the special SLBC radio (Military wants Wanni Sevaya restored, The Island April 19, 2002). The government also ordered the Army to stop releasing daily situation reports, pertaining to LTTE activity, to the media, while the LTTE prohibited the sale of the EPDP’s Thinamurasu, a weekly Tamil national newspaper (Incidents continue in east but no situation reports, The Island April 5, 2002) and (LTTE bans EPDP’s Thinamurasu The Island, April 5, 2002). Pressure was also brought on the writer to discontinue coverage, though a section of the military provided the required information.

Having studied KG’s thorough coverage of battlefield developments, including the fall of the isolated Mullaitivu Army base (July 1996), the disastrous Jayasikurui offensive (May 1997-Dec 1998), and the humiliating defeat at Elephant Pass (April 2000), the writer felt Moragoda shouldn’t be faulted for being so frank in his assessment of the Army’s capability. KG had painted an extremely bleak battlefield picture in the northern theatre of operations where the LTTE held the upper hand, especially in the wake of the Army giving up territory, brought under its control, both east and west of the Kandy Jaffna A9 road in 1997, 98 and ‘99.

KG dealt with Operation Riviresa, conducted in late 1995/96, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency, to regain the Jaffna peninsula. Having liberated the Jaffna peninsula, the Army experienced the Mullaitivu debacle, in July 1996, but regained Elephant Pass-Kilinochchi section of A9 road by Sept. 1996, before Mrs Kumaratunga initiated secret talks, in May, 1999, with the LTTE, through Norway. Five years later, Dr Rohan Gunaratne endorsed Moragoda’s view that the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. The writer had highlighted Dr Gunaratne’s assertion on a number of occasions, in the aftermath of him switching allegiance to the war-winning government. On March 22, 2007, online the Bloomberg news agency quoted Gunaratne as having said that Sri Lanka’s war couldn’t be won by either side. A story, captioned ‘Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger Rebels Fight a War That Can’t be Won,’ by Colombo-based Anusha Ondaatjie, quoted head of terrorism research at Singapore’s Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Gunaratna as having asserted: "Continuing the current spate of violence is not going to bring about a different outcome, or change the status quo. Both parties have developed significant support to be able to recover from losses, but this type of warfare is protracted." Gunaratna declared: "What is needed is a negotiated settlement to the conflict."

The website also quoted Gunaratna as having claimed: "The two parties have decided to fight each other", hence conveniently forgetting the circumstances leading to Eelam War IV, in Aug 2006. Gunaratne ignored that the LTTE forced the war on the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The government responded to the LTTE military challenge reluctantly, after making a desperate bid to revive the Norwegian initiative. Three months after Dr Gunaratne stressed the need for a negotiated settlement, the military liberated the entire Eastern Province.

Dr Gunaratne, another old boy of Ananda College had been among those who were invited by KG to address the gathering at the launch of Ranamaga Osse Nanthikadal and its English version, Road to Nanthikadal, at the Kularatne Hall of the College, early last month. Perhaps, KG hadn’tbeen aware of Dr Gunaratne’s previous assertion that the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated, hence the pivotal importance of pursuing negotiations, whatever the provocations.

The Norwegians, too, believed in the LTTE’s capability. According to Pawns of Peace (the evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka), the mediation team, headed by the then Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, involved in the Sri Lankan initiative, in May, 2007, asserted that all observers believed that the conflict couldn’t be won by military means, and the majority was of the opinion that the government wouldn’t be able to defeat the LTTE militarily. Norway launched Pawns of Peace, in Sept. 2011, at an event, with the participation of Moragoda, among others. Obviously, KG hadn’t examined Pawns of Peace, or one-time Indian Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit’s memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’, launched in January, 2004, which dealt with Indian intervention leading to the destabilization of Sri Lanka. Dixit revealed New Delhi intervened, in Sri Lanka, due to then President JRJ’s relationship with the US, Pakistan and Israel. According to him, India also feared the emergence of separatism in Tamil Nadu, unless New Delhi intervened in Sri Lanka, on behalf of the Tamil speaking people.

Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim from Pawns of Peace: "Strategic thinking thus tends to hinge on the premise that at some point, a new stalemate may emerge, either because the LTTE rolls back the front-line (as it did several times in the past), or resorts to guerrilla style tactics to avert defeat. In hindsight, Norway underestimated the GoSL’s strength, both militarily and politically. The team considered a wide range of likely and less likely scenarios, but (like most observers at the time), it did not reckon with the sequence of events that was to follow: a strong SLFP-led coalition and a military victory."

KG hadn’t made any reference to veteran Canada-based political and defence analyst, D.B.S. Jeyaraj Declaration, in late Dec. 2008, that the LTTE had the wherewithal to roll back the Army on the Vanni east front. In an article titled WAR IN WANNI: WHY THE TIGERS ARE DOWN BUT NOT OUT, Jeyaraj maintained the circumstances under which the LTTE could inflict massive defeat on the Army.

About 10 days after Jeyaraj’s prediction, the then Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s Task Force I /58 Division and Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias’s 57 Division captured Kilinochchi. The liberation of Kilinochchi, on January 1, 2009, effectively ended the possibility of an LTTE fight back. The capture of Kilinochchi and the A9 road, northwards up to Elephant Pass, sealed the fate of the LTTE, with several fighting formations rapidly surrounding LTTE units in the Vanni east.

KG had been the GoC of the 53 Division, on the Jaffna front-line, at the time the Army brought Kilinochchi under its control. The triumph over the LTTE, in Kilinochchi, in early, January, 2009, should be studied against the pathetic ground situation as explained by KG during three phases of the conflict. By the time, the UNP took over, the Norwegian led peace process (initiated by President Kumaratunga, in May, 1999) in the wake of Dec 5, 2001 parliamentary polls, the LTTE had been in a commanding position. KG had the knack to lucidly explain the situation with the focus on ground operations and related developments. There had never been a similar attempt by a senior Army officer who had been involved in all four phases of the Eelam War.

*KG dealt with the failure on the part of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) to provide required intelligence during Eelam War I, II III though the same Directorate subsequently earned the respect of the services. The war veteran asserted that the war could have been brought to a successful conclusion if the DMI managed to correctly assess Prabhakaran’s safe house.

*KG attributed Sri Lanka’s ultimate triumph, over terrorism, to LTTE overestimating its capabilities, underestimating the military, split caused by Karuna, as well as the transformation of the group from being guerrilla to a standing Army.

*However, KG’s assertion that the LTTE lacked political clout is essentially wrong. Although, the PFLT (People’s Front of Liberation Tigers) in spite of being recognized by the Election Secretariat, in Dec. 1989, at the behest of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa, didn’t make headway, Prabhakaran found a willing political ally in the five-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Later, TULF leader V. Anandasangaree quit the unholy alliance though the grouping relentlessly pursued LTTE agenda, both here and abroad, until the very end, in May, 2009. The TNA remains committed to the LTTE separatist project. The passage of Resolution 30/1, on Oct 1, 2015, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is evidence of the TNA’s successful campaign on the diplomatic front. TNA leader R. Sampanthan today holds the post of Opposition Leader in Parliament.

*KG exhaustively explained the sacrifices made by the Sinhala youth in the battle against terrorism.

*The writer wholeheartedly agrees with KG’s dismissal of widely held notion that they (soldiers) should be prepared to sacrifice their lives for the motherland. Instead they should survive to annihilate the enemy.

*Comparison of sacrifices made by the infantry with other fighting formations during the conflict.

*Gradual expansion of the Army, KG with Rajarata Rifles, its deployment in Jaffna during referendum in 80s, isolated terrorist attacks, troops on the rampage, withdrawal from Jaffna finally leading to disbanding of the proud infantry formation. Army headquarters amalgamated Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment with Rajarata Rifles to form Gajaba Regiment.

*KG had acknowledged that inexperienced Army had rampaged in Jaffna in the wake of losing a Rajarata Rifles soldier and he gleefully watched what was taking place.

Those who had bought fast selling Ranamaga Osse Nanthikadal expecting commentary on the largest ever combined security forces campaign conducted against the LTTE with the focus on the elite 53 Division commanded by KG, would have been surely disappointed. KG hadabsolutely no intention of shielding anyone in the military or a particular political party. KG had the courage to accept responsibility for shortcomings on his part at an early stage of his military career. The war veteran also dealt with widespread indiscipline among troops and the failure of the officers to ensure discipline during the early stage of the conflict. The Army had been woefully unprepared to fight an enemy trained in India by military instructors. The Army had initially suffered for want of required training, foreign expertise and equipment though quality of combat troops gradually improved in the run-up toOperation Liberation, in 1987.

*KG also dealt with an issue hitherto ignored by the military. KG admitted that the Army forcibly took over poultry, cattle and even goats for their consumption much to the heartburn of those who had been struggling to make ends meet. There had been officers and men who shared their meals with the poor in operational areas. However, regardless of the Army’s efforts to win over civilians, they essentially supported members of various Tamil terrorist groups.

=KG recollected 1 GR (First battalion, Gajaba Regiment) troops providing security to the then Opposition Leader A. Amirthalingam, in early Nov. 1984, when he travelled from Jaffna to Fort, in the Yaldevi. Amirthalingam had been on his way to attend the slain Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s funeral. Although KG’s task had been to protect the train from a possible terrorist attack, on the day Amirthalingam travelled in Yal Devi, KG’s primary task had been different. KG had to deny an opportunity to an irate soldier causing some harm to the veteran politician. Obviously, there had been a threat on Amirthalingam’s life due to his venomous attacks on the government and the Army. In spite of KG deploying a couple of trusted troops to thwart an untoward incident during the long journey, Amirthalingam lodged a complaint with Army headquarters against I GR troops. The LTTE assassinated Amirthalingam on the afternoon of July 13, 1989, in Colombo. The killing took place close on the heels of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa entering into a dialogue with the LTTE. The President lacked the foresight to realize the LTTE strategy. Prabhakaran exploited President Premadasa’s weakness to get rid of the Indian Army, in March, 1990, to launch Eelam War IV. KG has expertly dealt with these developments.