ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY Part 14 D
Posted on March 28th, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The Eelam war IV victory can be interpreted historically, as yet another Sinhala triumph over Tamils, when they threaten to destabilize the country. This is not the first time that the Sri Lanka army, acting on its own, defeated Tamils in the north.

In the Gampola period, when Ariyachakravarti, the head of the Pandya outpost at Jaffna, attacked, the Sinhala king ruling at Gampola (forget the name) refused to fight or ran away or some such thing. The army took over and defeated the Tamil invader.

In 2002, the army was in a similar position. The armed services had angrily observed the deliberate bungling of Eelam war II and III. Then came the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002. The Sri Lanka army deeply resented the Ceasefire Agreement. The soldiers had told Kamal Gunaratne in 2005, at Muhamalai, that they preferred an honorable war rather than be insulted and ridiculed by the LTTE.

Like in the Gampola period, the armed services decided they were going to fight and they were going to win. Preparation for winning the war started during the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002-2005.

Under terms of the Ceasefire agreement negotiated by Norway and underwritten by the US, EU, and Japan, the military was ordered to suspend all operations and return to base. Kamal Gunaratne observed that the soldiers were sitting passively at FDLs and their combat efficiency had deteriorated. The government showed no desire to improve the army during this ‘rest’ period.

Eelamists would have hoped that the army would rot away, but that did not happen. Instead, the armed forces used the Ceasefire period to improve the forces. Even before the Ceasefire, during Eelam Wars II and III, despite the defeats, the armed forces had managed to develop additional capabilities.  The capability to mount large scale amphibious operations, for instance, was developed during Eelam War II.   Army conducted Special Infantry Operation Team (SIOT) training sessions during the Ceasefire,  

The army made a detailed analysis of what they had done wrong in Eelam war II and III. Kamal Gunaratne received valuable input from those who took part in earlier battles, including sergeant majors and sergeants. We rectified the weaknesses and improved our strengths, he said. New products were tested such as a new type of claymore bomb.    

An Air Mobile training enclave with capable course instructors and excellent facilities had been set up at Muhamalai, during the ceasefire, on the personal initiative of Col Udaya Perera. It was an excellent facility, with imposing entrance, good accommodation, superb curriculum, and capable teachers, said Kamal Gunaratne.

In 2005 Kamal Gunaratne initiated fresh training for his troops. He found that combat efficiency had fallen to a low level because the soldiers had been sitting passively at the Forward Defence Lines, obeying the Ceasefire.  All soldiers,   old and new had to be freshly trained.  The soldiers were enthusiastic.

It was not possible to train everybody at once. Therefore, a platoon from each battalion was selected and given six weeks of training. At the end of which they were combat-ready with enhanced combat skills, physical fitness, and a high level of fighting spirit and morale. Kamal Gunaratne made soldiers and officers train together, to develop team spirit and rapport.

 The best soldiers from this preliminary course were sent to a ‘Special Infantry Operatives   Training Course’,  where they were trained in target shooting,  marksmanship,  sniper attacks, and maximum use of limited ammunition. They became competent and accomplished infantry soldiers.  Soldiers with weak marksmanship improved.

This group was then trained further staring with a Signals training course conducted by the Signals Corp. This trained the soldiers in handling communication equipment, including the highly secure communications devices in the field. Then the group was sent to the School of Artillery for training in obtaining artillery support, and direction of artillery fire.

They were then sent to the Air Force for training in how to obtain air support for combat. Then came a course on the use of explosives, conducted by the Engineering Corp, then lastly a special training at Commando or Special Forces training schools were inter alia they also learned GPS, first aid and physical training.    The Commandos and Special Forces always accommodated our requests despite their busy schedules, said Kamal Gunaratne. 

This combined intensive training transformed the infantry soldier to an extremely efficient and capable warrior. This group of soldiers received a badge at the end and increased pay. They were then asked to go back and train the others. You could see the infantry improve before your eyes, said Kamal Gunaratne.  Firing skills were honed to the highest standard. Even the weakest soldier improved.

This was not all.  ‘Rifle companies’ were given special training at Maduru Oya and Minneriya training schools.    They received training in advanced combat skills, high tech weapons training, and jungle warfare. 

The ‘Support companies’ trained in operating mortars, machine guns. Selected Non commissioned officers were sent to Non-Commissioned Officers Training School in Kala Oya for leadership training so that they could provide their troops with good junior level leadership.  Special Operations Platoon and Recce platoons were given specialist training. This was not officially sanctioned training but was an initiative of a group of visionary commanding officers who got together at a personal level and planned this, said Kamal Gunaratne.  

The soldiers had to be physically very fit since they carried into the battlefield, protective helmet, body armor, weapons, ammunition, food, and water, which put together weighed a lot. They had to carry all this while moving through minefields. The soldiers also had to be trained to withstand the high temperature of the north.

LTTE mostly attacked us during the night. The soldiers were therefore scared of darkness, said Kamal Gunaratne. We showed them that for infantrymen, darkness is our best friend as we are not visible to the enemies. We inculcated this in the minds of our soldiers and trained them in night fighting. Finally, they became good night fighters.  They were also trained in GPS night vision.

In 2005 the government changed, Mahinda Rajapaksa became President and Gotabaya Rajapaksa was Secretary, Defence. The two brothers prepared for war. They changed their attitude to the war. Instead of the defeatist ‘, We can never win this war,’ they substituted ‘We will definitely win this war’.

Thanks to Eelam War II and III, there was a reluctance to join the army. Also, the public had been given a poor image of the soldier. Gotabaya Rajapaksa took steps to change this. ‘Army karaya’ was replaced with ‘ranaviruwa’.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa decided that an advertising campaign that would simultaneously bring in recruits and also change the negative image of the soldier was needed. Rs. 1 billion worth of advertising was negotiated free of charge, with all local media companies contributing. Triad Advertising was given the account.

 Initial agency research showed that a major shake-up in the attitudes and perceptions of the general public was essential before attempting to attract new recruits. A stronger, more positive image of the soldier had to be crafted first, in order to create respect for this profession.

Instead of depicting the soldier as a Rambo-style hero in battle, Triad produced an advertisement that said the soldier was one of us”. The images showed touching, intimate moments of family life. By presenting the soldier as a son, a daughter, a fiancé, a neighbor and a friend, the communication created a strong bond between the soldiers and the general public, said, analysts.

My recall is that there were three different presentations, set in three different backgrounds, catering to different ethnic, religious and age groups. The impact of the advertisement was not in the visuals but in the song.  The song had meaningful lyrics, a haunting melody and was sung beautifully, with feeling.  It became a hit. Mobile phones used it as a ring tone” due to its popularity. The images, lyrics, and music were an emotionally charged combination that appealed to the viewer, said, analysts.    

Acceptance of the “Api Venuwen Api ” communication campaign by the people was instantaneous, said Kamal Gunaratne. Recruitment figures showed an increase in numbers as never before. Desertion rates reduced. Troop morale skyrocketed.  We were quickly able to expand the troops, said Kamal Gunaratne. 

Gotabaya Rajapaksa as Defence Secretary inquired from the field commanders about the needs of the soldiers and then took steps to supply them.    Having been a soldier himself, he understood.  Salaries and allowance of the armed forces were increased substantially.     The soldiers were given good uniforms with body armor and equipped with good weapons. He also saw to the welfare of their families.

The total strength of the army was increased from 120000 to 230,000.    This enabled the army to create sufficient infantry formations to take the battle into the hitherto enemy-held territory, through deep penetration units and frontal assaults from several directions, said Kamal Gunaratne  

The army expanded its divisions. New divisions, brigades, battalions were started.   The nine Divisions were increased to 20 divisions. The 55th  Division was made an offensive division. The army also created three new offensive divisions, 57th, 58th, and  59 divisions. 

A new mechanized infantry regiment was created and armored personnel carriers were imported for them from China. This regiment was able to travel across the country at high speed fitted with powerful machine guns. This gave additional power to the 53rd division.

Military intelligence was revamped under Major Kapila Hendawitarane. The intelligence community began working together for a common purpose, said Jayanath Colombage. After 2005, there was one chief of national intelligence, and all the agencies reported to him. This allowed us to acquire actionable, precise intelligence.

The latest technology was adopted. Satellite images were made available. Special Forces and commando regiments were provided with satellite phones and commanders were provided with satellite imagery of any area as demanded.   Attacks planned in a sophisticated manner using satellite imagery were highly successful. LTTE camps, training centers and other military facilities located deep within the Wanni jungle were fully destroyed, using these.

 The Special Forces branch of the army,  which included, I believe, the commandos,  had developed specialized skills and were a force to be reckoned with. They had been trained in counter-insurgency, counter-guerrilla, jungle warfare and urban warfare. They knew long-range patrolling, jungle patrolling, waterborne operations and heliborne operations.   They had gained extensive experience in Eelam war II and III.

Three new groups were formed. Home guards were transformed into Civil Defense Force. the number was increased from 18,000 to 42,000. They were given new uniforms, new weapons, and asked to look after the border villages. The soldiers there were brought back into fighting.   

Battalions of injured but well enough to function soldiers were deployed to secure the road network during the fighting. Those who could fight, including cooks, were released for duty, replaced by those disabled. Human rights groups had objected, said Kamal Gunaratne.   

Disabled soldiers dressed in civilian clothes were placed in public places in the south to observe suspicious behavior. They sat in public places like bus halts and railway stations and maintained vigilance, in rain and shine, with and without food or comforts. They rendered an invaluable service to the nation, said Kamal Gunaratne, many citizens are unaware of this.   

A new company, Lanka Logistics and Technologies Ltd was created for the procurement of military items from vendors. This eliminated middlemen and arms dealers.      Navy got new ships, air force got new planes.       Essential weapons such as missiles, battle tanks, artillery, mortars and radar systems were bought.      

Sri Lanka Electrical and  Mechanical Engineers Unit were asked to repair weapons, using parts from old or obsolete weapons. The unit also sent teams to the war zone to repair equipment like night vision goggles. The Ordnance Corp repaired items like helmets and reissued them.  

After making the Sri Lanka Army stronger, we were waiting for a day for the Government to give us the final nod to commence Eelam War IV,  said Kamal Gunaratne  We knew that the LTTE was also getting prepared to attack us. We had profiled and studied the capabilities and modus operandi of every senior LTTE leader and when we heard that a particular LTTE leader had arrived on the scène, we knew what he would do.

 In July 2005, LTTE closed Mavil Aru anicut.  in the second week of Aug 2006, LTTE carried out simultaneous attacks in the north and east. That was the start of Eelam War IV. ( continued)

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