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.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

TRIUMPH following massive DEBACLE on Vanni front



By Shamindra Ferdinando
The 59 Division, raised at Weli Oya, had been tasked with achieving one of the most difficult objectives in ground operations in the Vanni. Then Brigadier Nandana Udawatta of the Armoured Corps, having received the appointment as the first General Officer Commanding (GoC), of the 59 Division, faced the daunting task of liberating the LTTE stronghold, Mullaitivu, on the northern coast. Presently, Udawatta functions as the Adjutant General. The old Royalist now holds the rank of Major General.

The Army vacated Mulllaitivu, in June, 1996, following a humiliating defeat, during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency.

The 59 Division troops had to fight through unbelievably difficult terrain since it commenced operations, in January, 2008. Udawatta’s formation had to fight on the Vanni front, east of the A9 alone, whereas the 57 Division (GOC Brig. Jagath Dias/retired recently) and Task Force I, aka TF I (Colonel Shavendra Silva/ presently Maj. Gen. Commanding 53 Division) fought west of the A9. At the time the 59 launched operations, both the 57 Division and TF I had been struggling on the Central, and Mannar fronts, respectively.

The then Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, repeatedly brought the Divisions Commanders under heavy pressure. Brigadier Udawatte had been under tremendous pressure to sustain the offensive, in the Mullaitivu jungles, regardless of losses. The Sinha Regiment veteran wanted all formations deployed on the Vanni front to pursue specific objectives with the 59 Division tasked to take on some of the toughest enemy units, deployed in the Vanni.

The Division comprised (1) 59-1 Brigade consisting of 1SR, 11 GW, 14 VIR, (2) 59-2 Brigade consisting of 12 SLLI, 14 SR, 14 (V) GR, and (3) 59-3 consisting of 15 SLLI, 9 VIR and 7 GW.

The 59 Division overran the Muhagam LTTE base (May 30, 2008), Michael base (July 4, 2008), Suganthan base (July 27, 2008), Jeevan base (August 16, 2008). The 59 Division secured the western part of the Nayaru lagoon, on August 21, 2008. The 59 Division regained Kumalamunai and Othiyamalai, on November 11, and Nov 29, 2008, respectively. LTTE abandoned Mullayaveli, on Dec 16, 2008. The 59 Division took Kumalamunai and this success was followed by the seizure of Othiyamalai (November 29, 2008) and Mulliyaveli (December 16, 2008).

The 59 Division achieved its primary objective, on January 25, 2009, with the capture of Mullaitivu.

The Division received the backing of both armour and artillery. The elite Special Forces, and Commandos, threw their weight behind the 59 Division, depending on battlefield requirements.

Liberation of Mullaitivu is certainly one of the most significant achievements during the war and all those who had contributed to that accomplishment could be proud of their role.

Tigers overwhelm 59 Div

In the wake of Mullaitivu’s fall, the LTTE mustered all available units to mount its last major offensive, action in the general area of Puthukudirippu, on Feb 1, 2009 (West of Mullaitivu lagoon). Although Army formations, deployed there, seemed to have had the strength to face any eventuality, the LTTE quickly took the upper hand. The LTTE’s final offensive, at one point, overwhelmed the entire 59 Division.

A deeply worried Army Chief Lt. Gen. Fonseka ordered the then 53, GOC, Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne’s (KG), to deploy his formation, in support of the 59 Division.

KG, in his memoirs, "Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal" (Road to Nanthikadal) extensively dealt with an almost week long LTTE final offensive. KG had taken four days leave, since January 31, 2009, and was away in Colombo, when the LTTE struck. Before going on leave, KG had rescued Brigadier Sathyapriya Liyanage’s Task Force III fighting east of the A9 road, off Mankulam. The 53 Division and TF III had taken two weeks to stabilize the situation there. KG explained that Brig. Liyanage’s troops had been deployed in such a difficult terrain that it took five hours for a wounded man to be carried, to reach a helicopter landing site, to evacuate him.

According to KG, the initial assault, directed at forward positions, held by the 59 Division, had claimed the lives of over 200 personnel. Hundreds had been reported missing due to loss of radio contact with units. Troops had fled their positions, paving the way for the LTTE to exploit the situation. The Army leadership continued to insist they were in control, though chaos prevailed on the Vanni east front. Brig. Udawatta, too, had been on leave. With the 59 Division facing defeat, Lt. Gen. Fonseka had directed KG to join the battle.

KG recalled how an angry Lt. Gen. Fonseka warned him that people would spit on them if they failed the nation now. The situation had been so bad, the Army Chief asserted that they were facing a crisis, similar to that of Vanni, in 1999, where the entire front collapsed within days. While Udawatta had reached his rear headquarters, at Mulliyaweli, by air, KG flew to the front where the fighting was taking place. Gajaba veteran KG had stayed there as the Air force struggled to bring in reinforcements. KG had wanted Special Forces on the front as the 59 and 53 Divisions faced a determined enemy, hell-bent on destroying them.

The then Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, told the writer, a day or two before the 61 Independence Day celebrations, in Colombo, that the Army was experiencing a major crisis on the Vanni east front. One-time Commanding Officer of 1 GR, Lt. Col. Rajapaksa, asserted that a major failure on the Vanni east front could have had a disastrous impact on the entire war. But, the Army had the wherewithal to suppress the enemy offensive and sustain the campaign until the war, against the LTTE, could be brought to a successful conclusion. The then Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara of the Engineers had an extremely difficult task to perform. Brig. Nanayakkara couldn’t have briefed the media, as regards the ground situation in the Vanni, as both political and Army leaderships believed it could undermine the overall war effort. But LTTE propaganda machine couldn’t be thwarted. The world knew what was happening on the Vanni east front. The LTTE probably felt that both the 59 and 53 Divisions could be annihilated. Had that happened, the entire Army effort could have collapsed. The LTTE realized that their 1999 achievement, on the Vanni, could be repeated.

Jeyaraj’s prediction

Had the LTTE succeeded, Canada-based veteran political and defence analyst D.B.S. Jeyaraj’s assertion, in the third week of Dec, 2008, would have been realized. Jeyaraj declared 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 a massive defeat on the Army.

The situation had been so bad, the SLAF launched over a dozen missions, involving jets and No 09 Attack helicopter squadron, in support of the Army. Fighting continued, on a wide front, as Independence Day was celebrated in Colombo. Jets launched from Katunanayake air base attacked LTTE around 11.30 am as battles continued. It would be pertinent to mention that Tokyo Peace Co-Chairs, namely the US, EU, US and Norway called for an immediate ceasefire to stop fighting. Although, there hadn’t been any reference to the situation on the Vanni east front, the then Defence Secretary Rajapaksa quite rightly dismissed Co-Chairs move. Having participated at the Independence Day celebrations, Rajapaksa told the writer that the offensive wouldn’t be stopped and so-called no-fire period, proposed by Co-Chairs, to evacuate the sick and the wounded, was not acceptable. Nothing short of unconditional surrender of arms, and cadres, could bring an end to the offensive, Rajapaksa declared (Lanka rejects move to throw lifeline to LTTE-The Island, February 5, 2009). But, the Army faced a grim situation on the front.

KG recollected his efforts to boost the morale of the 59 Division, warning the formation that facing the enemy was its responsibility. KG insisted that the 53 Division had been brought in to face an emergency and the battle still remained the responsibility of the 59 Division. KG reproduced what he told officers and men of the depleted formation in a pathetic situation. "If you win no need to explain. If you lose, you shouldn’t be there to explain."

KG explained reasons for delaying the deployment of his Division. The 59 Division continued to man the first line of defence. A large scale assault, on the morning of Feb 2, 2009, led to the 59 Division losing approximately 5 kms territory. The LTTE maintained an offensive posture. However, KG expressed the belief that the Army could manage the ground situation as long as it didn’t lose control, though territory was lost.

KG explained the Army Chief’s repeated interventions to ensure the senior Army leadership, on the ground, took tangible measures to thwart the enemy offensive. Although, the Army Chief’s interventions, sometimes had interfered hectic efforts on the front, KG unreservedly admitted they greatly benefited from the war veteran’s advice. By Feb 2 evening, Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias (now retired), Special Forces Brigade Commander Colonel Nirmal Dharmaratne (presently GOC, 55 Division deployed in the Jaffna peninsula) and Artillery Brigade Commander Colonel Priyantha Napagoda (presently Director, Veterans Affairs) had joined KG as the Army explored ways and means of halting the enemy advance, paid a glowing tribute to the Army Chief for providing everything he requested for as the battle entered a crucial stage. By then, the LTTE had infiltrated the defended area and was engaged in directing artillery and long range mortar fire at specific targets within that area. Troops battled inside with small groups of infiltrators. On the following day, the Army recovered 15 LTTE bodies while preparing to face a fresh assault.

Fortunately, the 59 Division had the support of the Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs). Those mobile MBRLs, deployed in the Jaffna peninsula, had been moved overland to the Vanni theatre in the wake of the restoration of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road. In addition to MBRLs and various types of artillery pieces, newly acquired 122 mm Chinese artillery provided tremendous gunfire support during the battle. Special Forces scattered all over the Northern and Eastern regions had been swiftly airlifted to the north of Oddusudan in support of the 59 and 53 Divisions. The writer is of the opinion had the LTTE retained resources to mount a large scale simultaneous assault somewhere else, the Army couldn’t have thwarted the LTTE’s final offensive. Obviously, the LTTE lacked wherewithal to conduct large scale offensive action on two locations.

Tigers deploy T 55

KG described the deployment of T 55 Czechoslovakian built Main Battle Tank (MBT), the one the LTTE seized from the Army base, at Pooneryn, in early Nov 1993, on the afternoon of Feb 3. The Gajaba Regiment veteran gave a thrilling account of the battle involving the LTTE’s MBT, Corporal Chandrasiri Bandara of the Special Forces blowing up an explosives packed enemy double cab at the cost of his life, LTTE breaking through parts of Army front-line with troops simply running away from their positions. The Feb 3 battle, in the evening, at one point threatened to cause total collapse of Army lines with the LTTE pouring perhaps all available reinforcements. Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias had been with KG at the time the LTTE forced the breakthrough at two locations. At the first location, according to KG, one and half infantry battalions had fled causing widespread confusion on the entire font. In the wake of the LTTE breakthrough, senior officers present there, namely KG, Jagath Dias, Nirmal Dharmaratne, Priyantha Napagoda and Chandigarh Fernando struggled to contain the situation. They had been badly shaken and were in a dilemma as the LTTE stepped up the assault.

The daunting task of halting the LTTE advance fell on the Special Forces manning positions atop an LTTE built earth bund, about two kms behind the collapsed Army front line. There had been two squadrons of Special Forces who had managed to persuade the retreating infantry to stop there and to fight back. KG described the successful Army counter attack as a miracle.

The author recalled chaos on the front, and in Colombo, as the Army struggled to control the situation, on the Vanni east front, the day before the Feb 4, 2009, celebrations. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had been with Sarath Fonseka at the Army headquarters’ Operations Room as fighting continued into the night. There had been fresh attacks on Feb 4. According to KG, the Army had fought one of the fiercest battles of the entire eelam war on the evening of Feb 4. In hindsight, the LTTE knew that its survival solely depended on defeating the 59 and 53 Divisions on the Puthukudirippu front. KG recalled a devastating LTTE assault on the point where the Army front lines, facing the north and east, met. Even the Special Forces had found it extremely difficult to hold the line as the LTTE threw everything it had against the Army’s elite. Special Forces officer, Kosala Wijekoon, fighting on the front, at one point, called for immediate MBRL fire. KG recollected top Artillery officer on the spot Napagoda declining that request as MBRL fire could have caused losses among own troops. However, Wijekoon had insisted that only MBRLs could stop the LTTE assault. Once the KG and Jagath Dias took responsibility for whatever possible consequences, Napagoda had ordered ten rounds of 122 mm rockets out of 40 mounted on a vehicle, directed at the enemy. When a jubilant Wijekoon reported devastating losses inflicted on the enemy, Napagoda ordered ten more rockets and followed by the remaining 20. Several Special Forces personnel died due to MBRL fire and some suffered injuries but the LTTE lost the initiative there. Gradually, the Army stabilized the situation on the front.

Shocking lapse

KG dealt with the formation of Task Force Eight in the immediate aftermath of the February 1 week battle. A Task Force comprised two Brigades whereas a Division consisted of three Brigades. Each brigade comprised three battalions. Having appointed Colonel G.V. Ravipriya as the senior officer in charge of Task Force Eight, Lt. Col Lalantha Gamage and Lt. Col. S. Welikala had received appointment as Brigade Commanders of Task Force Eight. The 4 VIR (Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment) of Lt. Col. Gamage’s Brigade had received the credit for killing LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, on the morning of May 19, 2009.

KG explained the failure on the part of those who had been under his command to take sufficient counter measures to thwart a LTTE suicide attack. Lt. Gen. Fonseka, too, had specially warned of the possibility of a suicide attack across the Oddusudan-Puthukudirippu road. Although, those who had been responsible for effectively blocking the likely entry point for LTTE suicide vehicle or vehicles, had repeatedly assured KG that defences and obstacles were in place, the LTTE easily breached the line. A locally modified armour plated truck had easily broken through the Army lines and rapidly advanced towards KG’s headquarters. Having failed to stop the advancing monstrous vehicle with several Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) attacks, KG directed armour to thwart the LTTE attack. Three T 55 tanks led by Maj. Venura Dissanayake engaged the enemy vehicle. KG credited Corporal Dissanayake of Maj. Dissanayake’s T 55 tank for stopping the armour plated LTTE vehicle with five rounds of 100 mm ammunition. There had been 18 LTTE cadres in the toppled vehicle. Troops shot dead all 18 terrorists who had been firing from the vehicle as it advanced towards KG’s headquarters, where in addition to the author, Jagath Dias, Nirmal Dharmaratne, Priyantha Napagoda, Sudath Perera, G.V. Ravipriya and Nishantha Wanniarachchi were in.

Having castigated KG for the lapse on the part of officers under his command, the Army Chief ordered two senior officers removed immediately.

KG also dealt with the Army Chief making available 10 brand new T 55 MBTs in support of infantry under his command and soldiers accidentally recovering two brand new Chinese manufactured 130 mm artillery pieces, the recovered guns first fired at the enemy as well as the support provided by jet and helicopter squadrons.

Final battle The Army marked the official opening of the Kandy-Jaffna road with the movement of 20 buses, carrying 600 troops, from Anuradhapura to Jaffna. KG discussed the liberation of Puthukudirippu, following a two and half month bloody battle, involving the 53 and 58 Divisions, and the final large scale confrontation between the Army and the LTTE, in early April, 2009. That battle, too, involved 53 and 58 Divisions. The April battle caused nearly 600 deaths among LTTE units. The dead included several top cadres, including one-time northern commander ‘Colonel’ Theepan. KG castigated the ITN for crediting the 58 Division with Theepan’s killing. The Gajaba veteran insisted that Theepan had been killed by 6 GR attached to the Air Mobile Brigade. In the wake of the early April, 2009, defeat, the LTTE lost its wherewithal to effectively resist the Army. The collapse was just weeks away. KG dealt with the efforts made by the Army to prevent Prabhakaran from fleeing the land to be captured dead or alive by the Navy. That effort had to be examined against the backdrop of enmity between Lt. Gen. Fonseka and the then Navy Chief Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, undoubtedly most successful Army and Navy chiefs ever.

The Army brought the war to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009 when 4 VIR troops recovered Prabhakaran’s body with a gaping hole on his head.

(Comment on Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal concluded)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Muhamalai debacles and Elephant Pass triumph



by Shamindra Ferdinando

The Oct. 2006 battle for the LTTE front-line at Muhamalai, initiated by the Army had caused devastating losses among Jaffna-based security forces fighting formations, with the Armour, particularly the Fourth Regiment suffering staggering losses. Undoubtedly, it had been the single worst defeat experienced by the Armour in the entire eelam war.Gajaba Regiment veteran Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne (KG), in his memoirs, ‘Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal’ (Road to Nanthikadal) discussed the humiliating defeat experienced on the Muhamalai front leading to him (the then General Officer Commanding (GOC) 55 Division), Brigadier Samantha Sooriyabandara (GOC, 53 Division), Brigadier Nandana Udawatte (Brigade Commander, Armour) and Colonel Shavendra Silva (Brigade Commander, Air Mobile Brigade) being summoned to Temple Trees on Oct 17, 2006. In addition to members of the National Security Council (NSC), the then Brigadier Udaya Perera, Director of Operations at Army headquarters had been there to receive a first hand briefing from those who spearheaded the disastrous offensive. Both President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had been present.

Perera had been Air Mobile Brigade Commander before KG replaced him in March 2005 in the run up to presidential polls in Nov, 2005. By the time the Army suffered the shocking Muhamalai defeat, KG had received appointment as GOC, 55 Division and another experienced Gajaba officer, Colonel Shavendra Silva had taken over the Air Mobile Brigade comprising 3 SLLI (Sri Lanka Light Infantry), 5 battalion Gemunu Watch and 6 battalion Gajaba Regiment. In fact, Shavendra Silva had been shifted from the Diyatalawa Military Academy to take over the Air Mobile Brigade immediately after the LTTE mounted a successful assault on the Army front line on August 11/12, 2006. The LTTE smashed through the Army line though it couldn’t hold onto the newly captured area. Having regained the area given up at the onset of the LTTE offensive by late August, 2006, the Air Mobile Brigade under Shavendra Silva’s command spearheaded a successful operation to capture the first line of LTTE defences. It was quite an achievement.

According to KG, the abortive bid in Oct 2006 had caused severe turmoil with a section of the media unjustifiably castigating the 53 Division Commander and the Air Mobile Brigade Commander for the humiliating defeat. The situation had improved in the wake of the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, accepting responsibility for the failed offensive.

The writer had an opportunity to meet Lt. Gen. Fonseka at Army Headquarters in the wake of the Muhamalai debacle. The then Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara on the instructions of the Army Chief arranged for a selected group of journalists to receive a briefing from Lt. Gen. Fonseka, who explained the circumstances under which the Army made a bid to evict the enemy from the LTTE front-line. Castigating those who had been critical of the offensive, the Army Chief asserted that had the Army succeeded even at a great loss of men and material, the situation would have been different. The Army, the Sinha Regiment veteran asserted had no option but to exploit the situation soon after the eviction of the LTTE from its first line of defences in Sept. 2006.

MBRL fire on T 55 tanks

KG comprehensively dealt with the Oct, 2006 battle, the last major offensive action on the Muhamalai front until April 2008. KG revealed the loss of main battle tanks under controversial circumstances due to negligence and shortcomings on the part of the Armour Regiment as well as 40 rounds of rockets being fired at own tanks and troops trapped in LTTE territory at a crucial stage of the battle. KG dealt with various stages of the ambitious offensive meant to pave the way for the Army to conduct large scale offensive action on the northern front. In hindsight, had the Army succeeded in Oct 2006 on the northern front, the overall military strategy would have been different. In the wake of the crushing defeat suffered by the 53 Division and losses experienced by the 55 Division, the Army put major offensive action on the northern front on hold. The author asserted that the Army shouldn’t have undertaken large scale offensive action soon after the capture of the LTTE’s first line of defence on Sept 9, 2006 on the Muhamalai front.

The Gajaba veteran gave a superb description of troops regaining their first line of defence by August 26, 2006 from which they had been evicted on the night of Aug 11/12, 2006, extremely difficult conditions experienced on the front, sacrifices made by fighting troops, the role played by the then GOC, 55 Division Maj. Gen. Sanath Karunaratne, capture of the first line of LTTE defence on September 9, 2006, Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s intervention during subsequent action also on the Muhamalai front to appoint the author as GOC, 55 Division before the abortive bid made on Oct 11/12, 2006 night. KG revealed how Lt. Gen. Fonseka constantly kept him (Fonseka) abreast of the battlefield developments. The retired Maj. Gen. also discussed with him being promoted to the rank of Brigadier and appointed as GOC, 55 Division in place of Sinha Regiment veteran Maj. Gen. Karunaratne. Appreciating services rendered by his predecessor, KG, in his memoirs recollected Karunaratne defending the strategic Elephant Pass base in 1991, when the LTTE laid siege to it.

KG hadn’t hesitated to discuss two issues hitherto avoided by the top Army leadership. KG castigated those responsible for producing a spate of Sinhala movies such as Sulanga Enu Pinisa, Sudu Kalu Saha Alu and Mage Sandai for demeaning the military at the time of war. Having praised the then Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera for strongly campaigning against such films, KG revealed that the then government forced the navy officer to give up his campaign.

The writer dealt with the despicable campaign directed at the military at that time. Undermining the military had been almost fashionable at that time with the cinema being cleverly used to discourage the Army. The cinema also targeted the families of military men depicting them in bad light.

KG examined the way the police targeted the Army over the years much to the disappointment of the armed forces. Anyone wanting to know the bitter truth about the war and matters such as shoddy treatment of fighting men, failure on the part of successive governments to provide even basic facilities to the Army and special status given to the Air Force and the Navy at the expense of the Army should peruse KG’s memoirs. The author explained how an Air Force man went to the extent of pulling the then Colonel KG’s underwear from his travelling bag and difficulties experienced by thousands of men going on leave via Palaly air base and those struggling to return to Palaly from Ratmalana.

KG hadn’t sought to deceive the public. In fact those who bought Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal had been forced to learn the actual ground situation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces at the time a reluctant Army launched counter offensive in response to the LTTE declaring eelam war IV in second week of Aug 2006. Mavil aru, the writer believes is only a diversionary tactic meant to achieve total surprise on the northern front. Army headquarters had been so confident at that time (in Aug 2006) that it went ahead making plans to conduct joint training exercises with the US and KG was in Colombo to finalize plans. KG had been at a popular Indian restaurant in Colombo with his family and some close friends when Army Headquarters had directed him to rush back to Palaly which he did the same day.

A relentless campaign

The military brought Eelam War IV to an end within two years and ten months with the 53 Division under KG’s command killing LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on the morning of May 19, 2009. The vast majority of those who had bought KG’s memoirs first read the section that dealt with Eelam War IV before perusing other chapters.

The author explained the Army leadership deciding against re-launching of large scale offensive action on the northern front due to a variety of reasons. Although the author repeatedly asserted that 55 Division under his command and Brigadier Samantha Sooriyabandara’s 53 Division as the only offensive formations in the Army, the military leadership felt the Divisions couldn’t achieve required progress primarily for two reasons.

A large scale offensive would have been severely undermined by lack of space for two divisions to conduct operations simultaneously. The twelve km wide Muhamalai front had prevented effective deployment of armour due to space constraints. Against the backdrop of the humiliating Muhamalai defeat in Oct 2008, the Army wouldn’t have wanted to gamble on the same front. Faced with the daunting task of meeting the LTTE challenge in the northern theater, the Army leadership had raised 57 Division (third offensive formation) for large scale operations on the Vanni front. KG dealt with the then Brigadier Udaya Perera’s role in the formation of the third offensive division though he faulted Army headquarters for appointing Sumith Manawadu whom he described as a weak GoC. Subsequently, Lt. Gen. Fonseka had replaced the first GoC of 57 Division with Brigadier Jagath Dias, another Gajaba Regiment veteran. The author examined the formation of the 57 Division against the backdrop of the Army leadership deciding against shifting both 53 and 55 Divisions or one of them from the Jaffna peninsula to the Vanni. KG asserted that had the divisions described by him as the two most powerful formations moved out of the peninsula, the Army couldn’t have thwarted LTTE plans on the northern front.

KG explained relentless efforts made by 55 and 53 Divisions to tie up the LTTE on the Muhamalai front.

Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal discussed gradual progress made by the 57 Division (launched operations in March 2007), deployment of the newly created Task Force I (September 2007) under the then Brigadier Chagi Gallage, formation and deployment of 59 Division (January 2008) under the then Brigadier Nandana Udawatte. However, Gallage, who had played a significant role in the East and other theatres was replaced after he suffered a heart attack, by the then Brigadier Shavendra Silva. At the time, Shavendra Silva received a directive from Army headquarters to take over Task Force I, he had been the Air Mobile Brigade Commander, one of the formations attached to 53 Division.

However, KG’s explanation in respect of a disasterous operation undertaken by the Army in April 2008 on the northern front revealed that the Army believed that the LTTE defences could be overwhelmed. In the prelude to the operation, the 53 Division had been deployed south of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road towards Kilali. The 55 Division had been deployed east of the A9. Revelation that KG hadn’t even been in Jaffna at the time of the launch of the offensive highlighted the crisis on the northern front. However, in the wake of April 2008 debacle, Lt. Gen. Fonseka placed the 53 Division under KG’s command. While KG had received the command of the division which he described as the life of the Army, Brigadier Prasanna Silva succeeded KG as the 55 Division GOC.

Sooriyabandara removed

Brigadier Sooriyabanda, who had given leadership to the 53 Division during high intensity battles in Aug, Sept and Oct 2006 as well as in April 2008 on the Muhamalai front was moved out of Jaffna unceremoniously. Sooriyabandara left the peninsula a deeply disappointed and broken man. He never had an opportunity to command a fighting formation again.

It would be pertinent to mention that the 53 Division and 55 Division though KG repeatedly declared as the best offensive formation the Army had, couldn’t defeat the powerful LTTE forces deployed along the northern front. The author seemed to have overestimated the capabilities of the two divisions while comparing them with 57 Division (on the Central front), Task Force I (Mannar front) and 59 Division (Weli Oya front) at the time of the disasterous April 2008 offensive.

The bottom line is that the LTTE forces on the northern front commanded by Theepan had the wherewithal to withstand two formidable divisions which included the Mechanized Infantry Brigade comprising over 150 light tanks. In addition to the Mechanized Infantry, the 53 Division included the Infantry Brigade Infantry and Air Mobile Brigade.

KG dealt with the passing away of Kandiah Balasegaran alias "Brigadier Balraj on May 20, 2008 due to a heart attack at Puthukudirippu. Considered the best among the experienced field commanders, Balraj’s departure certainly affected the LTTE’s morale.

Progress on all fronts had been extremely slow with the LTE offering fierce resistance with the 57 Division and Task Force I advancing west of the A9 road and the 59 fighting on the Weli Oya front. In support of the overall ground forces effort, Lt. Gen. Fonseka launched Task Force III under Brigadier Satyapriya Liyanage to move across the A9 road from the west to the east. By Sept/Oct 2008, the LTTE faced certain defeat on the Vanni west front due to Task Force I making significant progress. Although, Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal made no reference to LTTE deployment, Prabhakaran had no option but to withdraw some of his battle hardened units deployed across the Muhamalai front and re-deploy them to halt Task Force I and 57 Division.

KG expertly dealt with the Task Force I seizing Pooneryn and turning towards Paranthan on the A9 road, 57 Division entering Kilinochchi and major developments in the northern theatre. However, contrary to Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal, 57 Division had captured the southern part of Kilinochchi, while Task Force I had entered the town from the northern side.

Having suffered heavy losses during previous attempts to advance on the Muhamalai front, the 53 Division and the 55 Division finally succeeded in evicting Theepan’s forces from their first line of defence. According to KG, fighting had lasted for a week from Oct 15, 2008 onwards.

KG dealt with the Jaffna based divisions resuming major assaults on the next line of LTTE defence on January 5, 2009 and him delaying the 53 Division push southwards towards Elephant Pass on a request made by the 55 Division. The 55 Division leadership, according to KG expressed the opinion that it would be unfair by them if the 53 Division deployed its Mechanized Infantry Brigade for a rapid push towards Elephant Pass. The 55 Division had opposed them being left out of the honour in regaining Elephant Pass and. KG had given up his intention to rush towards Elephant Pass. By the time, 53 Division and 55 Division reached Elephant Pass after having passed Iyakachchi, there hadn’t been any LTTE presence. The LTTE had been convincingly defeated there by Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s Task Force I.

Having captured Pooneryn on Nov 15, 2008 following a fierce battle, Shavendra Silva’s troops turned eastwards and rushed towards Paranthan. The writer in War on Terror revisited series dealt with Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s formation achieving the unthinkable. Having captured Pooneryn on Nov 15, 2008, Brigadier Silva cut across Vanni west, regained Paranthan on the A9 road on Dec 31 and then brought a large section of Kilinochchi town (Southern part) under government control. Then, he turned towards Elephant Pass forcing the LTTE to quit Elephant Pass, hence the absence of terrorists in Elephant Pass when 53 Division and 55 Division reached the strategic point on January 9, 2009.

The positioning of the Task Force I north of Paranthan led to the swift collapse of the LTTE’s northern defence line. In fact, by Dec 31, 2008, Task Force I had reached the Kandy-Jaffna road and was in a position to simultaneously threaten both Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass. Having set up elaborate defences to face an Army advance from northwards across the Muhamalai front-line, the LTTE lacked the wherewithal to counter a rapid advance from the South. The LTTE would never have anticipated an offensive formation fighting its way northwards from Mannar (along the coast line) to the strategic Pooneryn area, turn eastwards and take Paranthan, rush southwards and take a large part of Kilinochchi, and then proceed to Elephant Pass.

The Army lost Elephant Pass in April 2000. There hadn’t been another instance of a fully fledged Division (54 Div) comprising four brigades collapsing in spite of having continuous overland main supply routes to Palaly and Kankesanthurai.

(The writer dealt with Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal on Oct 5, 13, 19, 26. The fifth part on Nov 2 and the final piece on Nov 9).