13th June 1999
The Sunday Times cameraman Alfred Silva took
this picture of these soldiers firing their way at an
enemy position. during training exercises.
The next day they were out in battle during
Iqbal Athas reporting from the battlefront in the north
Security Forces Headquarters in Jaffna launched 'Operation Whirlwind' at dawn on Thursday to strike Tiger guerrilla positions in Pooneryn and Paranthan whilst troops resumed 'Operation Rana Gosa 4' in the Wanni.
Sri Lanka Air Force aircraft strafed LTTE positions in Pooneryn after a move to induct troops by air was aborted at the eleventh hour. This was when SLAF Mi-17 helicopters with troops came under heavy ground fire as they were about to land.
An Mi-24 helicopter gunship began strafing LTTE positions. One SLAF official said the pilots saw explosions in at least three bunkers. An Mi-17 and an Mi-24 helicopter were slightly damaged but were airworthy, the official said. There were no casualties to troops. Tiger guerrilla casualties were also not known.
At the same time as troops attempted an airborne landing in Pooneryn, soldiers manning the western defence lines at Paranthan broke out towards Pooneryn. Heavy fighting erupted after they advanced into Tiger guerrilla dominated terrain.
Troops had smashed at least nine heavily fortified LTTE bunkers after they ventured nearly two and half kilometres into uncontrolled territory.
In a retaliatory strike, Tiger guerrillas fired an artillery barrage killing an officer and two others. During the assault on LTTE bunkers an officer and 17 soldiers were killed and 58 others, including five officers, were injured.
Army officials said at least 50 guerrillas were killed and pointed out that radio intercepts had confirmed the figure. But the clandestine Voice of Tigers declared it lost 16 of its cadres during the encounter. The two pronged attack during "Operation Whirlwind", it has now become clear, was a diversion for troops to resume 'Operation Rana Gosa 4' in the Wanni. At dawn on Thursday troops broke out from their defences and fought their way (on the western flank of A-9, the Kandy- Jaffna Highway) to recapture a large chunk of territory.
"Operation Rana Gosa 4" commenced at the auspicious hour of 7.46 a.m. when troops broke out from three different fronts. The 53 Division moved ahead of the defences from Palampiddy.
Troops from most of 55 Division broke out from an area north of the Giants Tank whilst one Brigade advanced along the Madhu-Parapakadththan Road.
The same day phase one of "Operation RanaGosa 4" was completed. The second phase began on Friday night when troops advanced past Ottaipalan, Ilupaikadavai and beyond. A four kilometre gap between the two Division was linked by troops of the first battalion of Special Forces.
For the first time there was a night move by an entire Division during "Rana Gosa 4." The link up was completed by 1.20 am on Saturday.A Press release issued in Colombo by the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence gave details of the operation and listed the areas re-captured. It quoted statistics from the Government Agent, Mannar, to say there were nearly 20,000 residents in 358 square kilometres re-captured. However, military sources said the figure according to their initial counts was in the region of 8,000.
As a result of the successful conclusion of "Operation Rana Gosa 4" the defence lines of the security forces (west of A9- the Kandy Jaffna highway) now runs contiguous until the western coast, just south of Nachchikuda where the LTTE is known to have a Sea Tiger base. Troops avoided an assault into the village of Periyamadu, known to be heavily fortified by Tiger guerrillas.
Although troops took the LTTE by surprise during their night advance, it is not immediately clear why the LTTE did not offer resistance. Military sources said radio intercepts of radio transmissions revealed the LTTE became aware troops had already stretched their defence lines to the western coast.
'Operation Rana Gosa 4' was under the overall command of Security Forces commander, Wanni, Major General Lionel Balagalle.
Touring the battle areas of Elephant Pass accompanied by Cameraman Alfred Silva, I saw heavily armed troops undergo battle drills and live firing exercises somewhere in a jungle area. Their morale was high and the firing was to absolute precision as they advanced in a mock operation to attack enemy bunkers.
Small arms fire and explosion of grenades rent the air.
A false move by any soldier would have meant instant death. But it worked with clockwork precision. I was then unaware the men were just about to go into battle.
By The Sunday Times Defence Correspondent
In an unexpected and surprise move, the Government has relieved Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte, from his post only a week after his appointment as the Chief of Defence Staff and reconstituted the Joint Operations Headquarters.
The powers conferred on him to command the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police for anti-terrorist operations have been withdrawn.
A new Gazette notification issued under the signature of President Kumaratunga, titled Emergency (Joint Operations Headquarters) Regulations, stipulates the creation of a new post — a General Officer Commanding (GOC). Gen. Daluwatte has been named to this post and will head a reconstituted Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH). A gazette notification appointing him is yet to be issued.
The tasks assigned to him in this new position are only advisory or supervisory with no command and control authority. In terms of the new notification, the duties of the GOC have been defined as follows:
* It shall be the duty of the General Officer Commanding Joint Operations Headquarters to implement the directions issued to him by the President and the Minister in charge of the subject of Defence;
* to advise the President and the Minister in charge of the subject of Defence on matters regarding national defence, national security and military operations when called upon to do so by the President or such Minister;
* to advise the President and Minister in charge of the subject of Defence on the preparedness of the Armed Forces and the Police Force to engage in anti-terrorist operations;
* to maintain a database regarding defence and military operations.
The Joint Operations Headquarters, according to the Gazette notification, will consist of General Officer Commanding — Joint Operations Headquarters, Commander of the Army, Commander of the Navy, Commander of the Air Force, Inspector General of Police, Director Military Intelligence, Representative of the Directorate of Internal Intelligence and Representative of the Directorate of Foreign Intelligence.
Last Thursday's notification replaces the Gazette of May 27 promulgating the Emergency (National Security Council) Regulations No 1 of 1999.
In accordance with this, the armed forces and the Police engaged in anti-terrorist operations were brought under the command of Gen. Daluwatte. His duties were defined as:
* to implement the directions issued to him by the President ; and the National Security Council and conveyed to him on behalf of the President, by the Deputy Minister of the Ministry in charge of Defence and the Secretary to the Ministry of the Minister in charge of the subject of Defence.
*to advise the National Security Council on the operational capability and preparedness of the armed forces and the police force under his command.
* to maintain a Joint Operations Headquarters in order to achieve above.
Thursday's gazette notification has annulled these regulations and replaced it with the JOH Regulations.
Authoritative sources said yesterday the new changes came following strong protests raised by Deputy Defence Minister, Anuruddha Ratwatte, over the CDS system. He is learnt to have had a lengthy meeting with President Kumaratunga to point out what one source described as 'deficiencies' and 'shortcomings.'
The new move jolted the defence establishment. One high ranking official who did not wish to be identified said "JOH responsibility as an independent body in the chain of military command is reduced to a nebulous link between the Commander-in-Chief headed by the National Security Council/Ministry of Defence and the operational field commands. In such circumstances, a situation of 'authority without responsibility' could arise." He added: "Any vagueness in authority, superimposed on a hierarchical military system where command and accountability are crisply defined, can only end in confusion. This will be at the expense of military ineffectiveness - the very factor joint control is designed to improve."
Political pressure is being exerted to transfer the South's top police officer after he defied and clashed with the PA's leading figure in the Galle district on election day.
Education Minister Richard Pathirana is reported to have stormed into the office of the Deputy Inspector General Bodhi Liyanage and accused him of supporting the UNP at the Southern Provincial council elections. But DIG Liyanage, in charge of police election operations in the South, refuted the charge and had an heated exchange of words with the minister. Reports said the DIG who have served many years in the North hit back hard and told the minister that the duty of the police was to obey and act according to the law rather than the whims of any politician.
The angry minister then changed his line of fire saying officers working under DIG Liyange were supporting the UNP. The DIG responded that Mr. Pathirana, like any citizen, could make an official complaint against any particular officer and he would inquire. DIG Liyanage told The Sunday Times he believed his staff had carried out the duties in a free and fair manner and he rejected any allegation of political bias. He said he had informed the IGP about the incident.
See also political column
By Chris Kamalendran
With a world watch on the official exhumation of the alleged Chemmani mass grave on Wednesday, the family of the soldier in the centre of it, has been given additional police protection following death threats to them.
Police said yesterday they had stepped up security at the Kegalle residence of the family of soldier Somaratna Rajapaksha, while the soldier himself was ringed by some 25 prison guards yesterday before being brought to Colombo and then to Chemmani.
Kegalle Police Senior Superintendent J. S. Udawatta said that additional security had been provided to the family in Kegalle following a request made by the Human Rights Commission.
The request was made after the family members allegedly received death threats over the week.
Soldier Rajapaksha, convicted of the rape and murder of Jaffna schoolgirl Krishanthy Kumaraswamy some two years ago, made the claim of a mass grave where he said hundreds of disappeared persons had been buried.
Prisons Commissioner P.Baskarasingham told The Sunday Times yesterday the convict was being given a security cordon of 25 guards to prevent any danger to his life.
He is now in Bogamabara prisons and will be brought to Colombo before being flown to Jaffna for Wednesday's exhumation which has attracted international attention.
A team of forensic medicine experts are due to conduct the inquiries under the supervision of a Jaffna Magistrate, watched by scores of local and foreign journalists and international observers.
The Government has granted observer status to three international organisations — the Amnesty International, Asia Foundation and Physicians for Human Rights — for the exhumation process.
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