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How Eelam War IV was Won 2

Article Index
How Eelam War IV was Won 2
The Tamil Tigers’ use of civilians has been widely acknowledged
One of the most daring operations
Everywhere you turned there were bunkers
Creating Capabilities The Sri Lankan Military and the LTTE
Sri Lankan Air force
All Pages

The 59 Division, under Armoured Corps officer General Nandana Udawatte, was charged with penetrating the great Andakulam forests, which stretched from Weli Oya to Mullaitivu. These were very different in character to the jungles of the Vanni. They were mostly primary forests, which had never been cut or cleared. Here, great trees grew close together, shutting out the sky and forming a thick canopy overhead. The ground was carpeted with crackling twigs and fallen leaves and sound here carried much further. Unlike the Vanni jungles, there was very little undergrowth and the going was much easier The lines of vision too were much clearer and from the tops of trees, you could see for great distances It was here that the Tamil Tigers had brought the Indian Peace Keeping Force to a grounding halt. Since then, the penetration of these forests had been seen as an impossible task and many experts predicted that the Mullaitivu jungle would have been turned in to a killing field. In February 2009, General AS Kalkat reflected.

The LTTE surprised the IPKF by booby trapping the forest near Mullaitivu; they knew the terrain like the back of their palm and put up fierce resistance…It is one of the most dangerous forests in the world and till the Sinhalese forces defeat the LTTE there, they cannot be called the real victors. Unlike the two other battlefronts, there were very few populated areas and much of the fighting took place in thick jungle terrain. This environment demanded a completely different way of thinking and it was here that the new concepts and strategies adopted by the army proved so effective.

Starting from Weli Oya, the 59 Division battled its way through Oddusudan to finally reach Mullaitivu on the eastern coast. Once again, the LTTE had never expected this line of attack. They had thought these forests were impenetrable and the army’s success caught them completely by surprise. To contain the advance, they had to bring troops from other areas, denuding their defences on other fronts. It was an exhausting and bloody progress. By the time they reached Mullaitivu, this task force was so worn out that most of the fighting was left to the other army groups. Although very little is heard of this operation, it was of fundamental importance.

The northern campaign was a huge and ambitious operation. It entailed several large formations, proceeding simultaneously on multiple axes across different terrains into unfamiliar territory. The nature of this achievement has yet to be fully realised. In conception, scale and scope, it was completely different from every previous operation; indeed, nothing of this nature had ever been attempted. A triumph of strategy, planning and execution, it was also a huge feat of coordination and control. The progress of each operation was constantly monitored and its execution closely supervised. In almost every meeting with the senior field commanders, I observed that the phone would ring every few minutes, even late at night. Specific questions would be asked and detailed, sometimes lengthy explanations would follow.

The Last Battle

A great deal of General Mehta’s account of the northern campaign is devoted to The Last Battle. This forms the largest and the longest part in the whole paper. Dealing with the events of end of April 2009, it recounts the last days of Prabharakan and the Tamil Tigers. Although it is undoubtedly the most interesting episode from a political point of view, from a military perspective, it is perhaps the least interesting and the least useful. By this stage, the die had been cast and the conflict had assumed the character of a straightforward struggle for survival between an increasingly desperate LTTE and an increasingly dominant army.

General Mehta is very definite in his opinion of this last phase:

The cost of victory ignored…charges of genocide and war crimes and a humanitarian catastrophe. There were reports of 20,000 dead in the No Fire Zone between 22 April and 19 May.

In his conclusion, General Mehta observes that the Sri Lankan experience is a model which India could almost never follow. "It follows a policy of minimum force applied in good faith, with the use of heavy weapons and airpower almost always avoided." It would unfair to judge the general’s narrative on the basis of information to which he does not have access. However, it is here that the lack of first hand material begins to count. In its absence, General Mehta’s account of this last phase becomes dependent on the secondary authorities which he has to work with. It becomes a tale of numbers and movements, and as such, it tells us little and the lack of detail is often telling.