ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY Part 13G
Posted on February 18th, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

Sri Lanka army had established a Northern Command in Jaffna peninsula, long before the Eelam wars started. The Headquarters of the Northern command was at Palaly, coordinating headquarters was at Gurunagar  and there were camps in Thondamanaru, Point Pedro, Valvettiturai and Elephant pass. Navy had its Elara naval base at Karainagar. I could not find out when this Command was set up. The army was there to stop illegal immigration and check smuggling.  I could not find out when this operation started either, but it was in progress in 1964.  

The Eelam war was the Sri Lanka army’s first proper war.  The army, though inexperienced, was not frightened of facing a civil war. Once they got over the initial shock of getting killed by LTTE, they were ready to retaliate. The Saliyapura army camp was established in Anuradhapura in 1983. 

The army quickly started training for war. The army quickly started training for war. By 1985 the number of battalions increased new battalions were formed, also specialized units.

 In 1985, a training school was established at Maduru Oya, using the buildings that had been built by the company doing the Maduru oya dam.  In addition to recruitment training, the army also started to train majors. Five battalions were trained for this in 1985. They were trained at Maduru oya, Saliyapura, Tissawewa, Palaly and Vavuniya, respectively.

It appears that by 1985, the army also knew how to fight in the jungle. We are not told how or when they acquired this knowledge.  3GR had conducted many operations inside the Wanni jungle and we had much experience in jungle combat, said Kamal Gunaratne. But we did not have much experience in fighting in built up areas, (FIBUA).

In 1986  the services of the Israel army were obtained for training in FIBUA. A complete town with houses, streets and roads were built inside Maduru oya for this course.  The Israelis conducted two courses in FIBUA for company commanders. It was mandatory for all commanders to attend these courses.

The training covered all aspects of fighting in built up areas. The training was thereafter extended to platoon commanders as well. We tried to send as many of them for this training, as possible, said Kamal Gunaratne. Then we trained the troops. The FIBUA course made us more professional, he said.

The Commandos and the Special Forces, the two most formidable forces in the Eelam wars, were also started in the 1980s. The Commando unit was started in 1980. It was based at Diyatalawa. The Commandos   were given a course of training In Anti – Hijacking and Hostage Release operations, by instructors from the British SAS Force.  Some of the commandos had also undergone an airborne course at the Indian Air force training school.  The Commandos played a major role in the Vadamarachchi operation.

The Special Forces started as the Combat Trekker Team in 1985. It was renamed Rapid Deployment Force in 1986 and Special Forces (SF) in 1988. The SF was started by Maj. Gen. Gamini Hettiarachchi with the encouragement and support of Colonel Lafir. However, very few senior officers supported him. His requests for additional troops, weapons and equipment were not welcomed, said Kamal Gunaratne.

The first SF team consisted of   38 handpicked soldiers from ‘almost all the regiments of the Army’, with Hettiarachchi and Lafir as teachers. The first training course was from August to December 1985 at Ganemulla and Maduru Oya. We were given training on small group operations and jungle tactics. We were trained by a Major and a Warrant Officer from the USA.

The first year was very tough” they recalled. Our entire teams’ intention was to complete the training successfully as early as possible and become a deadly threat to the enemy,” they said.    Hettiarachchi and Lafir were a great inspiration to the 38 trainees, the trainees said. Col. Lafir was more dedicated and enthusiastic than us. I wondered why a senior officer was taking so much trouble. They wanted to create a distinctive group,” said one trainee, interviewed in 2010. Formation of the Special Forces in 1985, was one of the best initiatives of the army, said Kamal.

The army also got itself trained at other levels. Training was given in other fighting skills, such as tank infantry, calling for artillery fire support, direction of artillery fire, and use of artillery fire, how to advance in heavily mined land, handling of improvised explosive devices, and booby traps, use of machine guns and the correct time and place for the use of anti-tank weapons, for them to be most effective.

We came out of the training as a tough outfit with motivation, training, dedication, physical fitness and highest level of combat efficiency. Such was the meticulous and elaborate preparation that went into the Operation Vadamarachchi, said Kamal Gunaratne.

The Sri Lanka army was perfectly capable defeating the LTTE, had it been allowed to do so.   The Vadamarachchi Operation of 1987 was launched to finish off the LTTE. Vadamarachchi was aborted before it went into its second phase. President J.R.Jayawardene did not allow the army to go ahead. This disgraceful action of President J.R. Jayewardene should be placed on record and never forgotten. 

The Eelam wars need not have gone on for thirty years. President Chandrika Kumaratunga on taking over in 1994 had summoned several officers including General Fonseka to obtain their views on the war and they had all said that the LTTE could be defeated. The method advocated was the one followed in Eelam War IV, clear the east, then go into the north, through the Vanni, pull LTTE out, push them down to the east and finish them off. Throughout the war, there were military leaders, such as Kamal Gunaratne, who firmly maintained that the war could be won.  

We now move to Eelam wars II and III. Ranasinghe Premadasa, D.B. Wijetunge and Chandrika Kumaratunga held the post of President of Sri Lanka, during Eelam Wars II and III. D.B.Wjetunga dismissed the claims of the LTTE and ordered that the East be cleared of the LTTE .Premadasa and Chandrika were highly accommodative towards the LTTE and the worst army defeats took place under them. Chandrika ridiculed the military and neglected the needs of the fighting military. She took back Jaffna, certainly, but within months, the military began gradually losing control of the Vanni region.

Eelam war II must be remembered for the outrageous role played by President Ranasinghe Premadasa. He joined up with the LTTE. He ordered the army to vacate some of its bases, including those at Valvettiturai and Point Pedro   and permitted LTTE to move into prime military positions. LTTE constructed fortifications and stationed guns  in attack positions  around all the Sri Lanka army camps in the north. The army was stuck inside its bases at Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Kokavil, Mankulam, Mullaitivu and Jaffna Fort.

Prremadasa then ordered the Sri Lanka army to hand over army weapons to the LTTE. Truck loads of weapons, some brand new, still in their polythene wrappings, were handed over to the LTTE, by the army, deep inside the jungles. LTTE received these with smiles, greetings and hugs. The soldiers viewed this with abhorrence. They knew that someday these weapons would be turned against them.

Eelam War III   was LTTE’s most glorious period. They captured key districts such as Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, and took over the Elephant Pass base. By the end of Eelam War III, the LTTE had control of nearly 30% of the entire island and were running a government there under the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement.  (Continued)

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