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 Post subject: Eelam War I - 'Operation Liberation' - Vadamarachchi
 Post Posted: Sat May 27, 2006 1:19 am 
Eelam War I - 'Operation Liberation' - Vadamarachchi

Source: SL Army / The Broken Palmyra
@ LL / 2006

In October 1981, a soldier of the army was killed in Stanley Road Jaffna. Since then skirmishes took place on and off until the 23rd of July 1983 when 13 soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army were ambushed and killed by the LTTE at Thirunelveli, in Jaffna. This single incident created a new dimension in the northern conflict in Sri Lanka and also affected the country's image adversely.

Since then the separatist war in Sri Lanka was converted into a conflict, which yet obstructs the development of this country due to soaring defence expenditure. During the past fourteen years, there were many major operations conducted against the LTTE.

'Operation Liberation' was conducted to wrest control of the Vadamarachchi area in the Jaffna peninsula, and was aimed at forcing the LTTE to enter negotiations. For the first time in the military history of Sri Lanka, two brigades were launched into an offensive operation in the early hours of 26th May 1987. These two brigades, under the command of late Lt. Gen. Denzil Kobbekaduwa and late Maj. Gen. Vijaya Wimalarathne were able to complete the capture of the Vadamarachchi area within five days.

Major General Denzil Kobbekaduwa

Probing and diversionary action for the operation to recapture the peninsula had begun by 18 May. Operation Liberation was planned and executed with commendable efficiency. Being a small country with limited resources, the manner of deployment of resources and timing was of crucial importance. To this end the capacity to gather and analyse intelligence had been strengthened with foreign, and particularly Israeli, help to an admirable degree. As far as this approach went, the government had in Mr. Athulathmudali, the National Security Minister, a competent man.

On 18 May, a diversionary column of troops had marched Northwest from Elephant Pass. Around 20 May, diversionary actions were also launched in Navatkuli and Palaly. Colonel Radha, the L.T.T.E. commander for the Mannar district was killed in action at Navatkuli. Radha, a mild-looking ex-bank officer, was noted for his daring. The Ceylon army made a rapid advance towards Atchuvely through Iddaikkadu from Palaly. When the advance commenced, the L.T.T.E. is said to have had 15 men in the area. More men were then ferried in by vehicles and the advance was fiercely resisted. This thrust too turned out to be diversionary as the army withdrew on the 23rd. Throughout the whole operation, the Sri Lankan forces enjoyed unchallenged freedom of the air. India had seemingly decided that the L.T.T.E. should at best be able to do no more than an arduous holding operation. It did not possess anti-aircraft weapons.

Operation Liberation proper, commenced on 26 May. The opportune moment to commence the operation came when the security forces learnt from intelligence reports that the L.T.T.E. leader Prabhakaran was in Valvettithurai. The populated area of Vadamaratchi is in the form of clusters towards the Northern sea coast. A wide open space which extends from Thodamanaru lagoon geographically separates Vadamaratchi from the rest of peninsular Jaffna. Movement across this open space is relatively easy to monitor. Prabhakaran's presence together with this geographical factor gave military sense to an attempt on Vadamaratchi. The control of Vadamaratchi and the rest of the northern coastline would leave the remainder of the Jaffna peninsula exposed along a broad front, stretching the L.T.T.E.'s resources to impossible limits. Although Prabhakaran's presence at Valvettithurai was then denied by the L.T.T.E., it was later admitted by L.T.T.E. men in a conversation with Colonel Wimalaratne of the Sri Lankan army.

The conversation took place in Palaly shortly after the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987 and was reported in the Situation Report Column in the Weekend of 27 September, 1987.

The operation was executed by Colonel Wimalaratne and Brigadier Kobbekaduwa. One infers from this conversation that not only were the Sri Lankan forces aware of Prabhakaran's presence in Valvettithurai, but also had pretty good intelligence of his location. To the question why the Ceylon army failed to seal off Prabhakaran's escape, the Colonel replied that the army had lost some time in negotiating booby traps.

Here is an extract from the report:

Kumarappa, one time L.T.T.E. "commander" for Batticaloa and now in the Tiger hierarchy and his colleagues last week talked over coffee to one of Sri Lanka's top military men in the anti-terrorist battle, Colonel Vijaya Wimalaratne at the I.P.K.F. headquarters in Palaly. The conversation, interestingly enough centred on some of the battles the two sides fought. A Tiger militant asked Colonel Wimalaratne who led one brigade through Vadamaratchi during Operation Liberation, why he did not overrun a sector in Valvettithurai where Tiger leader Prabhakaran and area leader Soosai were trapped. "I wish we knew that," replied Colonel Wimalaratne, "When troops began surrounding Valvettithurai, a section of soldiers, who encountered booby traps, delayed to reach their areas to seal off that spot. That is where the Tiger leader slipped out from."

Independent sources have said that both houses belonging to a businessman in Valvettithurai who had entertained Prabhakaran were bombed a short time after the latter had left. An unspecified number of the L.T.T.E. cadre reportedly lost their lives in the gruelling process of getting Prabhakaran to safety by moving Eastwards and then through Mulliveli, Southwards. Preoccupation with this had alone created considerable disarray in L.T.T.E. ranks.

The army moved out of Thondamanaru on the 26th. This was accompanied by heavy aerial bombing and shelling, particularly in Valvettithurai. There was also military activity, bombing and shelling near the Jaffna Fort. The Government later claimed that this was diversionary. By the 28th Udupiddy and Valvettithurai had been taken. This was the difficult part, involving several landmine barriers. After this the L.T.T.E. resistance petered out and Vadamaratchi was taken by 1 June. One group of soldiers were heli-dropped at Mulli. One column took Nelliady and advanced northwards to Pt. Pedro. Another group of soldiers advanced eastwards towards Pt. Pedro by running in three lines. The L.T.T.E. was not given the time to regroup or to put up fresh land mine barriers. The L.T.T.E. made a quick withdrawal abandoning its vehicles and a large quantity of arms.

About 8000 troops from the Gemunu Watch and Gajaba Regiments were involved in the recapture of Vadamaratchi. The L.T.T.E. was taken by surprise by what had happened. The Ceylon army had over the past three years been motivated and trained to make a steady disciplined advance under fire. It was not the so-called rabble army of 1983.

Air and naval support had also been boosted with the annual defence expenditure running at U.S. $500 million or 20% of the national budget. There was something to be said for the technocratic approach. The killing rate during the army's recapture of Vadamaratchi was of a low order compared with when an unprepared army took on Sinhalese insurgents of the J.V.P. in 1971.

Surprise and initiative continued to be on the side of the Sri Lankan army. It had the northern coast under its control from K.K.S. eastwards. It now moved Westwards along the coast and advanced Southwards towards Tellipallai meeting with next to no resistance. Atchuvely was again taken after a barrage of shelling. The B.B.C.'s Mark Tully quoted the army command at Palaly as having hopes of taking Jaffna within the next 48 hours. The L.T.T.E. was in a bad way. Though rhetoric abounded, the fleeing southwards into Sri Lankan held territory or to India of even the L.T.T.E.'s most ardent supporters was a reflection of current expectations.

Then came the well publicised convoy of fishing vessels from India with relief supplies on the 3rd June, their being refused entry and then the Indian air drop of 25 tons of relief supplies on Jaffna the following day. This marked the end of the Sri Lankan offensive.

The L.T.T.E. knew that its image had taken a beating. The initiative was now firmly lodged across the Palk Straits. Prabhakaran issued a statement welcoming what was termed India's humanitarian concern. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, whose government was reeling from extensive press exposure, particularly by the Indian Express, of corruption in high places and payment of kickbacks in arms deals (estimated at ,20,000,000 from Bofors of Sweden and ,15,000,000 from the West German submarine deal), now became the instant hero of the Tamils of Ceylon.

As a result of this Operation, the entire area of Vadamarachchi was brought under the control of the Security Forces. This was a severe blow to the LTTE as Vadamarachchi is the birthplace of the Tiger leader, V.Prabakaran, and also most of the senior cadres of the LTTE are natives of Velvettithurai, the main township of Vadamarachchi. Consequent to this operation, the Army was entrusted with the administration of a large number of civilians.

The 'Hearts and Minds' campaign was at its height and the population was gradually being drawn towards the Government and the Security Forces. Before the Security Forces commenced the next phase of the operation, aimed at gaining control of the entire Jaffna peninsula, Indian pressure started mounting and climaxed with the forced food drop by the Indian Air Force.

The Peace Accord with India was signed on the 29th of July 1987, and the Indian Peace Keeping Force, (IPKF), began arriving, thus making a new dimension in the separatist war in Sri Lanka.

The Army was confined to barracks in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. This enabled the troop withdrawal from this region in large numbers, to facilitate their deployment in the southern part of the Island to suppress the JVP uprising.

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