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 Post subject: The Indian Army in Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Sun Sep 09, 2007 12:36 am 
The Indian Army in Sri Lanka

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Source Copyright © BHARAT RAKSHAK

Indo-Sri Lanka accord was signed in Sri Lanka on 29 July 1987. This was to be upheld by an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The first phase envisioned the supervision of the surrender of arms by the various militant groups. Soon some 24 AN-12s and AN-32s flew into Palaly carrying two Indian Army battalions constituting the IPKF.

On July 30th, Lieutenant General Depinder Singh, the Indian Army's GOC-in-C Southern Command flew into Jaffna to discuss arrangements with the Sri Lankan forces. The next few days saw the bulk of an infantry brigade comprising the Sikh Light Infantry, the Maratha Light Infantry, the Mahar Regiment plus supporting elements had landed in northern Sri Lanka. By August, the 54th Infantry Division under the command of Maj Gen Harkirat Singh and the 340th Indian Inf Bde had landed in Sri Lanka.

The initial phase of the agreement called for the disarmament of the various militant groups followed by the formation of the Interim Administrative Council. This was to have proportionate representation from various groups but the LTTE wanted to dominate it. Part of this fascist outlook was the massacre of political rivals and Sinhalese groups. A group of captured LTTE militants committed suicide in the custody of the Sri Lankan Army. These gave the LTTE the excuse it wanted.

A political decision was taken to disarm the LTTE if necessary by force. Meanwhile on October 8th, the LTTE carried out mortar and machine gun attacks on IPKF patrols. Following a high level Defence Ministry meeting on October 10th, the IPKF commenced its operations, code named 'Pawan' on the night of 11/12 October 1987.

Operation Pawan - The Battle for Jaffna

The rules of engagement for this operation were strict and once again tied the Indian Army's hands. Use of artillery, heavy weaponry and offensive air support was forbidden to minimise civilian casualty and damage to property. The Indian Army's plan was to cripple the LTTE guerrilla network by capturing its headquarters in Jaffna City, a task the Sri Lankan Army had tried this for many years but had not succeeded. Pushed by the political/bureaucratic establishment the Army made a hasty plan. However it had only 91st Brigade under Brigadier J. Ralli consisting of only three battalions. One was at the front, one at point Pedro and one west of Palaly.

Furthermore each battalion was staffed to only 50% and had none of its heavy weapons as they had not been expecting a fight. The IPKF push into the city was contested by the LTTE at every nook and corner. It had to fight against heavily armed guerrilla, in a heavily built up and densely populated urban area already fortified and extensively mined during the three years of war with the Sri Lankan Army.

Both sides took heavy casualties. Furthermore all the approach roads were pitted with Claymore mines or huge drums filled with explosives, buried in the ground. The whole area was flooded with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) which could be detonated by remote or radio control from over a kilometre away. One such explosion killed 29 IPKF personnel. The attack took place along five axis to the city.

RAID ON JAFFNA UNIVERSITY, 12 OCTOBER 1987

Jaffna University (JU) was the tactical headquarters of the LTTE. The Indian military leadership planned a quick commando raid to round up the leadership and thus cut short the Battle for Jaffna. The JU area was extremely built up. From the air the city was packed with the red & green of tiled roofs and palm trees. There were just two open patches, a football field and a smaller playground.

The plan was to land a company of 70 men from 10 Para Cdo. to secure the football field. A second wave was to follow with a company of the 13th Sikh LI. If all went to plan the heliborne troops would be linked with troops coming by land. But unknown to the IPKF, the LTTE had intercepted IPKF radio communications and knew the plans. It had sighted the landing zone and was waiting. The first wave of Mi-8 flew in and began disgorging the Para Cdos. They immediately came under heavy fire especially from 0.50 machine guns. The LTTE had the range and position right.

Sepoy Lok Ram recounted, "We thought everything was fine but as we were sliding out of the helicopter we came under heavy fire from all sides. It was an impossible situation, as people would come out of the houses fire at us and disappear right back. There were gunmen on tree tops including coconut trees. Since we were ordered not to use heavy weapons it was impossible to advance. We were fighting an enemy we could not even see."

Heavy and sustained machine gun fire pinned down the commandos killing six of them instantly. The Mi-8s were damaged but made it back to base.

What followed is the most painful story of the Battle of Jaffna. In the dark with heavy machine gun fire the second wave of choppers brought in a platoon of Sikh LI and landed on the other smaller playground. This was a few yards from the Jaffna University but is separated by several lanes of booby trapped buildings. The Sikhs soon realized something was wrong as they landed smack on the LTTE's battlements. Bullets rained on them.

The three helicopters were hit and pilots barely managed to nurse them back to Palaly. Their grim assessment: The platoon was likely to be wiped out as would any reinforcements. The commanders made the devil's choice: leave the platoon to its fate.

Fate was hopelessly cruel to the young commander of the platoon, Major Birendra Singh. The first man to get hit on landing was the radioman. This severed contact from Palaly. They could reach the commandos on short range walkie talkies. The commandos asked him to join them. But like a good infantryman he waited for the rest of his company. Little did he know that it was not coming. And by the time he knew he was encircled.

The first assault came at dawn. The troops fought valiantly and repelled it. As more assaults were launched the situation became grim. Each assault left them with less men and ammunition. Finally at 11:30 a.m. on October 12th, with the last bullet fired the troops led a bayonet charge. They were cut down to the last man but one. That man, Sepoy Gora Singh, was taken POW and later released. Sepoy Singh helped to reconstruct one of the most poignant battles in the history of the Indian Army.

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For the LTTE this was a morale booster. The Sikhs were stripped of their weapons, uniform and equipment. Their bare bodies were displayed at the nearby Nagaraja Vihar temple and then burnt with a barrel of oil. The battle field was littered with pieces of Sikh LI's uniforms and equipment along with thousands of .50 MG shells.

Meanwhile the commandos were still holding out. Their commander, Lt. Col. Dalbir Singh, led a rescue mission with three T-72 tanks. The roads were hopelessly booby trapped. The commander of the tank group, Major Anil Kaul, improvised brilliantly. Knowing the rail tracks passed behind Jaffna University, he drove his tanks on the Palaly-Jaffna rail line. Passing through the narrow lanes, an RPG-7 fired on him, hitting the turret. The explosion severed his wedding ring finger. Splinters hit him in the eye and arm. His men put him on morphine and they fought their way to the Para Cdos. A little later the 4/5 Gorkhas and remainder of the 13 Sikh LI linked up.

The Para Cdos superior training saved the day. They conserved ammo and even picked up all their dead and weapons. For 18 hours they prayed and fought. The LTTE leadership came perilously close to getting wiped out. It's Chief, Prabhakaran, was injured in the foot. The 13 Sikh LI now holds a special Ardas & Akhand Panth on October 12th every year to honour their 30 lonely and gusty comrades on the brutal killing fields of Jaffna University.

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At this point the major operational base for the IPKF was Palaly airbase. This was a hub of LTTE activity and therefore a constant battle to secure it from guerrilla attacks. The IPKF was badly overstretched. On October 15/16 it halted its advance to stabilize its front. A massive airlift was undertaken to reinforce it with 3 brigades and heavy equipment. These included T-72s and BMP-1s. The improvised controllers worked round the clock to fly in troops and equipment. While the IL-76s and An-12s moved the heavy equipment the AN-32s, Hs.748s and Indian Airlines B737s brought in the troops. So heavy was the traffic that the runway in Tamabaram (Madras) cracked with the repeated take offs and landings. The Mi-8s and Mi-25s, as well as Cheetahs, were flown in. By end of October the IAF flew 2200 tactical transport and 800 helicopter sorties.

Operation Pawan resume

Now reinforced the fighting resumed. In some areas the anti-personnel mines were countered by rolling BMP-1s and T-72s over them. But there was another weapon in the LTTE arsenal which the IPKF found hard to combat - snipers. Located in buildings, treetops and even coconut palms, equipped with powerful telescopic infra-red sights they took a heavy toll. Helicopters flying below 2000 feet were shot at damaging five, although all were recovered. By selectively killing officers and radiomen the LTTE would bring advances to a grinding halt.

Take the case of 4/5 Gorkhas. As part of 72 Brigade the battalion was supposed to move up to Jaffna and link up with the heli borne troops at the Jaffna University campus. There, it followed the T-72 tanks and rescued the Para Commandos. But while the tanks moved out, the Gorkhas bringing up the rear came under fire from four temples dominating the main road crossing in Uramparai.

Under orders not to fire back at temples, the Gorkhas tried to close in. The battalion adjutant, Major N.J.D. Singh - a tough Manipuri - was hit on the head and died instantly. Another company commander, Major Anil Gardner had the entire flesh of his leg blown off by a Claymore mine. Major A.A. Verghese the other company commander and the only Tamil speaker in the whole unit, went into a house full of crying women and children to comfort them. As he turned to leave an old woman shot him in the back. It became disastrous, when Lt. Col. I.B.S. Bawa was shot just under his heart. Along with the other wounded he was moved to a dried up well, the only cover available. With the helicopters unable to come in because of withering fire the wounded had to wait for tanks to fight their way through. By the time they made it at 4:30 p.m., Lt. Col. Bawa died. Only two Officers in the battalion survived trough the fighting, One was the second-in-command Major Randhir Singh.

The other was a young subaltern, Lt. Raj Sinha, who had joined the Army in 1984 and experienced this battle after three years of service. Lt. Sinha was running from post to post seeing that the wounded were taken care of and fighting with the LTTE with whatever was left of the battalion along, with bullets whizzing past him, He could never imagine why the bullets went past him without hitting him. With just these two officers at the helm, the battalion became unfit for further operations till officer reinforcements were flown in. Elsewhere a BMP-1 of the 72 Brigade with Colonel D.S. Saraon was blown by a mine killing him and the entire complement of nine men. The IPKF was forced to improvise by having its officers avoid pips of ranks, wearing slouch hats and carry oversize back packs. As advances got bogged down, the battalions should have taken the time to manoeuvre around the defenders. Instead, due to pressure from New Delhi more troops were thrown into the furnace. But the mines continued to harass the IPKF. Frustrated, the IPKF cut off power to Jaffna to counter it.

To compound the IPKF's problems, it was impossible to distinguish between the Tigers and civilians. Many a times they would open fire on a IPKF unit, hide their weapons and merge with the civilians. Sepoy Govindan, Madras Regiment, says, "It was impossible to say who was a Tiger and who was not. Everyone male or female above the age of 10, could be armed and dangerous. We saw little girls producing guns from under their frocks and shooting at us. How do you fight them?" The turning point came when IMSF commandos broke out of the besieged Jaffna port and cleared the heavily mined Navanturai Coastal Road. This allowed the crucial link up between 1 Maratha Light Infantry in the fort under Colonel T. Brar and the advancing troops of 41st Brigade. This sealed off the Nallur area.

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It took two weeks of bitter and hard fighting for the IPKF to wrest Jaffna and other major cities from the LTTE. Unfortunately many of the LTTE had ex-filtrated out of Jaffna. All this time the Mi-25s were not authorised to be used. Finally as patience ran out, the order to use these powerful gunships was given. In its debut at attacking LTTE entrenchments in Chavakacheri it was used to devastating effect. For only a handful of IPKF casualties, Chavakacheri was wrested from the LTTE. Contrast to the 600+ casualties in Jaffna, this speaks monuments of the political leadership of India. Battered in Jaffna, the LTTE fled southwards. Its hard core fighters moved to the safety of the jungles by skirting the coast of Jaffna from Point Pedro to Elephant Pass, sheltered by the impenetrable jungles and criss-crossed waterways of the Nittkaikulam jungles.

Indian Special Marine Force

On the midnight of 21 October 1987, an Indian Navy destroyer moored 5 miles outside Jaffna Harbour. 18 men slipped over the sides into two Gemini motorised assault craft. Clad in black wet suits with light sub machine guns, underwater explosives and daggers strapped to their sides they were a deadly lot. Each Gemini craft towed a wooden raft strapped with more explosives. The target: the narrow & heavily mined channel leading to the Guru Nagar jetty, the hub of LTTE supplies to Jaffna city. In addition to the booby traps, LTTE snipers and machine guns overlooked the channel from high rise building around it.

The journey took three painstaking hours as they had to pause to unhook the mines, every few, now & then. Once in sight they switched to the wooden rafts and paddled so that noise of the Gemini craft would not give them away. One team attached explosives to the jetty while the other sorted the LTTE's Yamaha motor equipped 35 knot speed boats. While placing explosives on the boats they were spotted and came under a hail of machine gun fire. They fired back at the tell tale flashes. Within five minutes the 2 Gemini craft roared back into the harbour and opened up covering fire.

By dawn, the 18 men were back on their mother ship with no casualties. This was the second mission of the newest special force of the Indian Armed Forces, the Navy's Indian Special Marine Force. Patterned & initially trained after the US Navy Seals, they soon proved capable of taking any mission on land, air or sea. Their debut occurred a few days before, when they were air dropped in the beleaguered Jaffna Fort. With the help of 10 Para Commando, they broke out and cleared the heavily-mined Navanturai Coastal Road, all the time under constant fire from roof tops and sniper positions. This allowed the crucial link up between 1 Maratha Light Infantry in the fort and the advancing elements of 41st Brigade.

Three days after the Jaffna lagoon raid they were back to destroy the remaining boats. This time they swam for more than a mile under water to reach their targets. Under fire they suffered a few wounds but managed to destroy the remaining boats. Lt. Arvind Singh in charge of all three raids was awarded the MVC (Maha Vir Chakra) for his outstanding performance. Throughout the IPKF operations, the IMSF was used to launch raids in the areas bordering the lagoons.

INDIAN AIR FORCE IN SRI LANKA

On the aftermath of the disastrous Jaffna University attack, the Indian Air Force realized the urgency of bringing in more firepower to support Army operations and SHBO activities. The damage to the Mi-8s could have been avoided if there was more firepower to suppress ground fire and if the Helicopters had additional armour to protect themselves.

No.125 Helicopter Squadron under Wg Cdr SC Malhan was sounded out to move south to take part in the Jaffna Operations. It is believed six Mi-25s were initially flown to Jaffna very soon after the Jaffna Helidrop Operation. The detachment was under the command of Sqn Ldr Rajbir Singh, who had been with the squadron since October 85.

The first strike mission was flown on 26th October over Jaffna. Flt Lt Atanu Guru, who had only recently completed conversion flew the sortie over the Karaitivu Causeway linking the Jaffna peninsula. As soon as he arrived over the causeway, he noticed five vehicles of the LTTE attempting to flee towards Karaitivu. It didn't take much time for the 12.7mm bullets to find their mark. Guru destroyed all the five vans and several LTTE militants were killed. These causalities were later confirmed by an IPKF ground party that reached the site later on.

The next day, 27th October, a two ship mission was flown to the town of Chavakacheri, led by Sqn Ldr Rajbir Singh. It was reported that the Indian Army incurred the least losses , thanks to the deployment of airpower, but the operation was not without criticism. The attack from the air was witnessed in person by India Today correspondent, Shyam Tekwani, who was covering the conflict from the LTTE' side. Tekwani reported that several civilians were caught up in the initial attack and were killed. This deployment of the attack helicopters was later confirmed by the Southern Army Commander, Lt Gen Depinder Singh.

The Action at Mulai

On 3rd November 1987, 1st Para Commando was tasked to advancing against LTTE Targets at Mulai. No.125 Squadron dispatched two Mi-25s flown by Sqn Ldr Rajbir Singh and Flt Lt Atanu Guru to fly ahead and strike at militant strongholds near the place. Rajbir arrived over the area and found himself in the midst of some heavy machine gun fire. He used his front gun to hit the ground targets in multiple runs. Two LTTE boats were destroyed in the initial attacks. While doing his third run flying against a Machine gun emplacement, he felt his Mi-25 shudder under hits from the ground. He immediately pulled out of the attack to assess the damage to this helicopter. He found his left engine RPM had fallen rapidly and was probably damaged. The Oil Pressure in the engine had also fallen rapidly indicating a heavy oil leak.

Rajbir immediately switched off the port engine and commenced his return flight to base. He had a choice of jettisoning all his armament stores - the rocket pods under the stub wings which still had a few rockets in them, but chose not to do so as the stores would fall in rebel captured area. Flying with the relatively heavy payload on a single engine would put enormous stress on the aircraft. A forced landing would mean that the aircraft and the aircrew will fall in the militant hands. For Rajbir, the choice was clear, he coaxed the aircraft back to Jaffna where he bought in the aircraft down to a smooth rolling landing. Subsequent inspection revealed that the R/T system was also knocked out by the ground fire.

Meanwhile a call was received by a beleaguered detachment of the Para Commandos who came under withering fire from the LTTE positions. Atanu Guru who was left holding the fort after Rajbirs departure assessed the situation. The Para commandos were hardly three hundred meters away from the LTTE positions. There would be no room for error. As he came in to attack the ground positions, the LTTE militants directed a heavy stream of anti aircraft fire at him. Ignoring the streaks of tracer coming up to him, Guru continued firing his forward gun into the enemy positions. The militants fire was no match for the battering they got from the Mi-25s weapons. They soon withdrew from their positions. Guru had used up nearly a thousand rounds in his attack.

The close air support from Rajbirs and Guru's Mi-25s was so effective that 1 Para was able to overcome the LTTE positions. They managed to capture a flag belonging to the LTTE which was sent to No.125 Squadron as a token of appreciation.

It is estimated that during the 20 days from 11 to 31 October some 2,200 tactical transport and 800 assault helicopter sorties were carried out to fly in troops, weapons, vehicles, stores and various other equipment, primarily to Palaly and China Bay airfields in northern and eastern Sri Lanka from bases in southern India, and to fly out the mounting casualties to military hospitals of the Southern Command. In addition, Boeing 737s were employed for troop transport, throwing commercial schedules out of gear for many days.

Fall of Jaffna

It took two weeks of bitter fighting for the IPKF to wrest control of Jaffna and other towns from the military control of the LTTE. During the second half of October 1987 the Indian Air Force carried out more transport and helicopter sorties in support of the ground forces than at any similar period of time in the history of the country's armed forces. The Mi-25 gunships were employed to interdict the movement of militants from the Jaffna Peninsula to the neighbouring islands and mainland of Sri Lanka. The LTTE had attempted to bring in reinforcements of personnel and logistics and had later on exfiltrated its cadres from Jafna, and the Mi-25s were used in the lagoon areas to destroy militant boats and vehicles.

In the words of Lieutenant General Depinder Singh, "We used helicopters for carrying troops but when they came under sniper fire we had to bring down suppressive fire in turn." The first use of Mi-25s for close air support was on 29 October when Mi-25s attacked LTTE entrenchments in the Chavakacheri area, 32 km east of Jaffna, with rocket and cannon fire, enabling the 11th and 12th Madras battalions to overwhelm the last resistance and effect a link-up. In another action, Mi-8 helicopters flew in para commandoes to areas on the western part of the peninsula and on to islands to engage LTTE strongholds. Mi-25s patrolling the Point PedroVadamarachchi and the Moolai-Telliapalli roads destroyed a number of LTTE vehicles, from Manner to Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass to Vavuniya. As the operations progressed, it became clear that the LTTE was concentrating itself in the Nittikaikulam area since it was proximate to the eastern seaboard, whose lagoons and rivulets the LTTE knew thoroughly and from where it received supplies. These included the latest weaponry, as well as communications equipment to control its far-flung cadres.

Shifting to the Jungles

With the LTTE slipping into the jungles the overstretched IPKF began to build up for the long haul ahead. The 36th Infantry Division along with 2 additional brigades was brought in. It took over responsibility for the Trincomalee - Batticaloa and Vavuniya sectors while the 54th Division consolidated in Jaffna. Then in Feb 88 the 4th Mountain Division and 57 Infantry Division came in and took over Vanni and Batticaloa sectors from the 36th. The Jaffna sector was the smallest, about 60 km by 30 km) with a population of 200,000. About 16 to 20 battalions were employed in this sector. Then began the daily rituals of mine and IED explosions, unearthing of arms and shootouts with groups of LTTE men. The town of Jaffna was under the charge of Brigadier Manjit Singh. A tough and temperamental individual, he would lead some of his operations from a BMP.

His impatience with his command led him to sack two of his COs, his Brigade Major and his Signal Officer. But his personal bravery and dynamism was beyond reproach and was later decorated with the MVC. He held Jaffna well although there was always tension in the town. When his Brigade was pulled off the task was passed on to Brigadier JS Dhillon. A man of few words Dhillon moved in quickly. He used his forces intelligently constantly thinking of changes. Small units scurried around the town in vans, cycles, mopeds and autos. They would scurry across backyards and over walls constantly changing their directions. Sometimes 3 to 4 columns would move in parallel in opposite directions, lashing out LTTE hideouts and also being able to provide covering fire. He made good use of the BMPs to keep the Eastern Coastal route clear.

The Vadarmachi town was held by Brigadier Samay Ram. He was a very calm man totally unperturbed. He was a hard thinker and was able to simulate the same in his subordinates. When his men were attacked from the Nallur Kandsawamy temple he refused to attack it back because of 30000 civilian refugees in the temple premises. The standoff was resolved when the LTTE keeping in mind civilian casualties choose to withdraw. A huge cache of arms and ammunition was found in the temple courtesy the son of the head priest an LTTE member. His excellent rapport with the locals, led to a lot of cooperation from the local heads. North of Jaffna extending into Kankesanthurai and Kayts island was the domain of Brig JK Ralli. Shrugging of the criticism of his units in the early battles he used innovative tactics and constantly evolving battle drills to keep the LTTE on its toes. He was the first to build an intelligence network from the ground up. A couple of units rehabilitated themselves into efficient outfits.

In the jungles of the South, around the Killinochi farmlands, rimmed by the thick jungles of Vanni were the forces of Brigadier Jaspal Singh. The IPKF devised tactics to suit the terrain. In order to sustain operations for a longer time, without having to rely on air supplies, he established road axes for essential vehicles to penetrate the jungles for as far as possible. He planned artillery & mortar cover for all his vehicles ensuring immediate fire support. The Chetaks and Cheetahs were employed to guide artillery and Mi 25s towards the targets. Instead of indiscriminate jungle bashing, attacks were made on well identified targets. Wherever the opportunity arose for operations in flat farmlands BMPs were used aggressively. The area left of Pachchilaippali, the south eastern strip of land between Jaffna & Elephant Pass on the lagoon in the south were LTTE strongholds.

As all the routes to Jaffna and Vadamarachi passed through this the IPKF tried to make inroads here. But the LTTE wisely preferred to keep low and bypass the IPKF rather than confront them. But soon under the charge of Brigadier Panag, a veteran of the Naga campaign things began to change. LTTE trails were picked up and ambushes set constantly. While the coasts were being hit, Panag kept the pressure on land with a series of deceptive mobile posts. In the lagoons a number of frail assault boats manned by Colonel Dahiya's engineers kept engaging the superior LTTE water borne forces. South across the Killinochi belt in Mulaivithu was the largest concentration of LTTE camps and cadres. In charge of this area was Brigadier Palsokar. His men were involved in the maximum number of battles. Major action was observed in Alampil (May 88), Nittukaikulam (Sept 88) and Nayuru April May 89. These places were interconnected and heavily defended indicating the presence of the LTTE leadership.

Jungle Bashing: Operation Trishul and Viraat

About this time, the IPKF's doctrine of counter-insurgency against the LTTE was evolved. The answer was not to maintain strongholds in the Jaffna peninsula, but to actively conduct search and destroy missions against LTTE camps and bases in the dense tropical forests of the North. This 'Jungle Bashing' would involve aggressive patrolling by the individual infantry units . This also resulted in the casualties mounting steadily. but the professional pride and esteem of the Indian Army served to steel its morale.

The first phase of IPKF operations in the area was codenamed Trishul and Viraat. It spread out over the Northern provinces from Mannar to Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass to Vavuniya. As the heat turned up the LTTE started operating more from the Nittaikulam areas close to the lagoons and rivulets it new so well. This was where its supplies continued to be delivered. The LTTE was hit hard losing area commanders and leaders every day. In one instance an IPKF assault in Mullaitivu in Feb 88 almost trapped the IPKF's top leadership. A gallant rearguard action by Prabhakaran's guards ensured his escape.12 LTTE men were found dead after the fight.

Operation Trishul was launched in April 1988. Its result were modest, hundreds of weapons seized and few killed but it kept the pressure up. Operation Viraat was launched in May/June 1988. A force of 15,000 armoured personnel, infantrymen and paratroopers were used. During the operation the IPKF stumbled across well prepared defenses. It consisted of concrete bunkers with electric generators. A few guerillas were captured or killed but most melted away. But sometimes, the LTTE struck back. When they did do so, it was at the time and place of their own choosing. So vulnerable convoys and lone vehicles became the targets for ambushes. The LTTE were masters at the use of landmines and improvised explosive devices. For a while, these IED attacks were neutralised by the cutting off power to the Jaffna Peninsula. but it was not a permanent solution. Thus the Army suffered a number of causalities to these ambushes. Ambushes by gunfire were rare, and when carried out by the LTTE, they found that the army bounced back with great fervour. The army rose to the occasion in these small actions. Young officers and soldiers displayed extraordinary courage and bravery in the face of death.

Of particular mention would be two soldiers of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles. 1/11GR was one of the original battalions that was inducted for the fighting in Operation Pawan. After the Capture of Jaffna, its mission was primarily sending patrols on 'Search & Destroy' missions. One Patrol on such a mission on 16 March 1988 in the Vallankulam Pannai area ran into an ambush when enfilade gunfire rained down on them from the dense jungle growths. The Gorkhas hit the ground and returned fire. Slowly they organised themselves and extricated themselves out of the site. In the Melee, two Jawans got separated from the main column, Havildar Devinder Singh Gurung and Rifleman Rajender Bahadur Thapa were both pinned down by heavy fire. By the time they could extricate themselves, the main column has disappeared, as both were presumed to be missing in action. As both the jawans were making their way through the undergrowth, they came under fire from LTTE Snipers. In the exchange of fire, Havildar Gurung was hit in the thigh and was not able to move. Rifleman Thapa then picked up Havildar Gurung and carried him on his shoulders to a hut nearby, returning the odd burst that came his way with fire from his Ishapore rifle.

Once in the hut, Rifleman Thapa administered first aid to Havildar Gurung and surveyed the situation around him. The LTTE had identified the two soldiers hideout and slowly have started encircling the Hut from a distance. Even as the LTTE Militants slowly made their way to the hut, Rifleman Thapa picked them off with single shots from his Ishapore. His main concern was to save ammunition, and use it efficiently. Resisting the temptation to waste the ammunition in general direction of the militants, Rifleman Thapa used it only when he could clearly identify his target. The exchange of fire went on and on well into the next day. Early morning on March 17th, a patrol sent by 1/11GR in search of the two missing soldiers was drawn to the hut by the sound of gunfire. The LTTE Militants decided to call it a day on the sight of the approaching patrol and fled. Rifleman Thapa and Havildar Gurung were thus recovered safely. Rifleman Thapa kept a cool mind and as a result he was able to keep the LTTE Militants at bay for more than 17 Hours. During the time, he fired only 22 rounds, and was well a target for hundreds of rounds fired by the AK-47 Rifles of the LTTE. Two dead militants were recovered as well as another wounded LTTE man. It wasn't always the Jawan or the NCO that displayed such bravery and courage, young officers barely out of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) thrust into the sweltering Jungles of Jaffna too showed that they could give a fitting reply to the LTTE.

On 19 July 1988, a convoy of a two vehicles of the 7th Battalion of the Assam Regiment was making its way from Madurengkenikulam to Mangani to collect dry rations. In charge of the detail was a young subaltern, 2nd Lt. Rajeev Sandhu, who was barely six months out of the IMA. 2nd Lt. Sandhu was traveling in the Mahindra Jeep, leading the way to the 1 Ton Nissan truck which was trailing 50 meters behind the jeep. Driving the jeep was Sepoy NKKS Rajkumar, 2nd Lt. Sandhu was in the next seat. Sitting in the rear was L/Nk Nandeshwar Das and Sepoy Lalbuanga. As the vehicles reached a track junction, a rocket fired from the undergrowth hit the jeep, lifting it into the air and overturning it to the side. Immediately a fusillade of fire from the AK-47s straddled the overturned Jeep. When the volley of fire ended, and silence descended on the ambush site, the LTTE militants knew that this was one convoy that never made it to the Army base. They came out of their ambush positions to pick up the weapons and equipment of the fallen soldiers.

But one Indian Soldier still had his wits around with him. Out of the view of the militants, 2nd Lt. Sandhu, was dragging himself with his 9mm SMC Carbine out of the wreck. Both his legs were smashed when the rocket hit the jeep, the subsequent volley of fire had wounded him and he was bleeding profusely. He checked the other occupants of the jeep. None of them were conscious. In fact the initial blast of the rocket was borne by 2nd Lt. Sandhu. The machine gun fire that followed killed both Lance Naik Das and Sep Lalbuanga in the rear. Driver Rajkumar was wounded and unconscious. Sandhu tumbled out of the Jeep and crawled to a fire position. As one of the LTTE militants by the name of Kumaran approached the Jeep. Despite his legs being totally smashed and his body ridden with bullets, 2nd Lt. Sandhu lifted his carbine with blood soaked hands and sprayed Kumaran with bullets, killing him instantly.

However, the bleeding had already taken its toll. 2nd Lt. Sandhu succumbed to his wounds and injuries. A grateful nation recognised his bravery with the award of a Maha Vir Chakra in 1990. 2nd Lt. Sandhu was just 22 years old when he died in Sri Lanka. Incidents like these were what kept the LTTE from underestimating the fighting prowess of the Army. They knew that they could not compare the fighting calibre of the Indian Soldier to that of the Sri Lankan Army. The Indian Soldier was coming from a background of operational exposure in areas like the Jungles of North east and the Mountains of the North. Death and Hardship were not a stranger to him, thus He was more ready and more experienced in fighting back to the hit and run tactics of the LTTE.

Operation `Checkmate'

As a run-up to the Provincial Council elections, the IPKF launched Operation `Checkmate' in several phases to root out the Tigers. In the actions, the LTTE suffered grievously and, in one instance, the IPKF almost caught the top LTTE leadership. The LTTE's carefully sited positions were destroyed, and it was again on the run. The main purpose of the exercise was to ensure that the LTTE would not have the capability to disrupt the elections.

The Jungle Bashing soon came to a halt, as the IPKF concentrated on the upcoming Provincial Council elections. Operation Checkmate ended by the middle of October 1988.

Operation Baaz - Extension of Operations:

With the success of the Provincial Council Elections and Sri Lankan Parliamentary elections the IPKF resumed operations. It now faced some hard choices. There needed to be a purpose to avoid drop in troop morale due to sense of aimlessness and lack of clarity in purpose. But while it figured out the best course of actions normal Operation Checkmate was resumed.

The aim was to continue to hound the LTTE forcing it to come to the peace talks. While parleys were going on in India the IPKF focused on the strongholds in the Nittikulam district north east of Vavuniya. This led to some fierce fighting including hand to hand. One such action took place on the shores of the Nayuru lagoon, south of Alampil. The shores of the lagoon are densely forested. One of the Battalions freshly inducted after the Operation Viraat was the 6th Battalion of the 8th Gorkha rifles regiment. 6/8GR was vested with the task of being the scout unit in the Jungle Bashing mission of Operation Baaz, and they started their operations in the last week of February. On 02 March 1989, two Companies of 6/8 GR set out on a 'reconnaissance mission'. This was a mission to search and weed out any LTTE elements, the details had 48 hours worth of rations with them while on the move. The Unit was not expecting much action. Till then, their activities in Sri Lanka involved only manning of road blocks and conducting searches at these road blocks. Their only hour of excitement was when they nabbed a hidden Dinghy and an outboard motor being carried in a Tractor-Trailer.

As the Lead platoons made their way through the thick and dense jungle, One of the sections in the front ran into an ambush. The LTTE men opened fire with their LMGs and AK Rifles, killing or wounded five of the Gorkhas. Though the Gorkhas returned fire, the LTTE casualties could not be ascertained . Even as the fighting was going on, the Gorkhas realised that they had stumbled upon the outer defences of a major base. In such a case there would be a couple of tiers of defensive positions before the main camp a good 10 - 12 km behind. This was the reason the LTTE outer defences were holding their ground. This spurred on the Gorkhas to renew their assault with more fervour. By nightfall the fighting became confused. The Commanding Officer of the Gorkha's Colonel V.K. Bakshi sent back calls for more reinforcements. As the Gorkhas ran out of ammo they drew their kukhris and waded into the LTTE. Somewhere along the line Colonel Bakshi was fatally wounded. By morning the fighting was all over a 4 km front. Helicopters flew in reinforcements. An infantry company dropped from the other side of the lagoon to help the Gorkhas ran into heavily booby trapped trails. By afternoon 5 battalions of the Army were in the area moving towards the lagoon. By March 7 when the operations were over 70 LTTE personnel were killed. The main group including the leadership melted away. Colonel Bakshi was awarded the MVC posthumously.

The Mi 8s continued to fly in reinforcements. After 2 days of build up the IPKF again resumed operations. By March 15 almost a full Division of IPKF troops were involved. The IAF intensified its operations. No 109 HU ferried in troops, ammo, equipment and food. MI 25 gunships operating out of China Bay flew large number of attack sorties guided in by Chetak helicopters. CASEVAC duties were shared by Chetaks and Mi-8s.

These operations had a telling effect on the LTTE. The IPKF meant business. It will not sit by in camps. It had the will and the ability to seek the Tigers in their lair even if it meant booby traps, mines and casualties. It was this mounting pressure, while no means a defeat but a steady decimation of its units which caused the LTTE to seek peace talks with the Sri Lankan Govt on April 25 1989. The IPKF had finally brought the parties to the table for a political solution which was the only long term solution in this type of ethnic conflict.

The LTTE Agrees for Peace Talks

The LTTE while not defeated was slowly being decimated. It had to confront the inexhaustible resources of the IPKF which was prepared to stay on for years. Its cadres and junior leaders were being wiped out regularly in the urban areas. It was primarily a jungle force albeit one with the support of the majority of Tamils. Still it was worried at the increasing influence of the moderate parties, the NEPC and the CVF. Little by little people were accepting the way of life.

On the other side Colombo continued to hem and haw over the NEPC. Opposition to the accord led by the new President Premadasa.

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As an ironic twist to this development, the new President of Sri Lanka soon called up on India to withdraw the IPKF from the Island. He even opened up secret channels to the LTTE to arm them against the Indians.A new Govt also took power in India.

The UF Govt of V.P. Singh was committed to the withdrawal of Indian troops. Events took a rapid turn when Colombo and LTTE under pressure from the Indians agreed to peace talks in June 1989. The LTTE finally had to come to the peace table. The Tamils were now paradoxically unhappy at the IPKFs departure but had to bear the start of a new ordeal. The IPKF started reducing its units progressively.

After some brinkmanship and with the IPKF ready for any eventuality, the issue was finally resolved on 28 July 1989 with an agreement for a phased withdrawal. Six hundred IPKF soldiers left for India the very next day, but the major de-induction process began in October 1989. Thirty-two months after the IPKF's arrival in Sri Lanka, the last batch of soldiers returned to Madras harbour aboard INS Magar on 25 March 1990.

The IPKF sacrificed so many of its officers and jawans to no avail. 1,157 Indian Soldiers died in Sri Lanka, it has been a life of bitter memories. The palm fringed towns, farms, placid lakes, beaches and lagoons soon descended into chaos. Within months the NEPC and CVF were in disarray. The LTTE marched back in. And soon the peace between Colombo and the LTTE collapsed and bitter fighting resumed.

The Tamils in Sri Lanka are being put through the meat grinder again. Many prominent Tamils who had so vociferously protested against the IPKF on the LTTE's behalf were gunned down at the first hint straying from the path. The supreme irony is that man who led the LTTE's brilliant fight against the IPKF Mahathayya was branded a RAW spy and tortured to a state of near death. He has not been seen since. It is believed that Mahathayya was done to death on Prabharkaran's orders.


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