Exercise Desert Storm
No peaceful sights in the horizon other than some bushes which had
dried up due to the heat. The marble coloured land stretched for miles
and miles making the visitors fall madly in love with its natural
beauty. And for some minutes, one is mistaken as the landscape and the
environment are no different to that of the Middle East. But this land
is not very far away from Colombo.
Pictures from Nagar Kovil and Muhamalai
Pix by Thilak Perera
We were at the LTTE Forward Defence Lines (FDLs). "Move to a lower
ground", Col. Nishanka Ranawana, the Commandant of the 551 ordered,
warning us about possible LTTE RPG attacks while walking on high ground.
I crept into a bunker. It was as 'hot' as the sun. "The life here is
not..?" Col. Ranawana was trying to find the most powerful word to
describe the life of the soldiers here.
He said during the rainy season it was "very hard" But none can match
the morale of my men" he said giving a detailed description about the
number of LTTE terrorists who were killed in the last few months." The
LTTE has high casualties. They try to infiltrate into FDLs but we were
able to kill them all", he said.
Unlike at other camps, the soldiers here engage in their activities
silently. I was asked to see from a pair of binoculars. I saw a line of
palm thatched fences and also a line of small bunkers. 'They are
terrorists' a soldier who kept a sharp eye on LTTE infiltrations said. I
tried my best to see one of them but the soldier said that they, mostly
teenagers, were too short to be visible.
Twenty-year old Madusanka of Kandy, sweating from head to toe, with
his gun aimed towards the FDL, and his colleague from Anuradhapura have
been in the army for the past one year and both were happy and confident
that they would fight well. Thanks to the training given to them. They
said in their dreams they go home and always think of their mothers. The
terrorists, who fight for a desperate cause, have separated many from
their loved ones.
We left the sandy fighting ground, where decades ago 'Welikathara',
the famous film directed by Dr. D. B. Nihalsinghe was filmed.
We reached the military base at this same 'Welikathara' location but
some miles away from the camp. A small group of army soldiers was
crawling and clearing land mines.
Another group of youth wearing ordinary clothes - track bottoms and
t-shirts and wearing slippers but armed with guns were deployed to man
some bunkers and the trench. While the army group, which cleared the
path was retaliating another small group was crawling secretly.
The opposite group - the LTTE terrorists - started singing a popular
Tamil song but dispersed as their leader came and scolded them. While
they were manning their sentry-points at the FDL, two teams - one
launched a 'Bangalore Tobibo' attack which cleared the FDL to remove
land mines and the other team fired and entered the FDL. One soldier was
injured but there was no time to give him first aid.
Another round of heavy firing was taking place amidst grenade
attacks. Finally the military had destroyed the LTTE's FDL and killed
the terrorists. While retaliating they gave some primary first aid to
their wounded colleague. Dragging him while crawling they advanced to a
This is not another episode of a war film but a live firing scene
which took place to give better exposure of military operations before
the young soldiers were deployed on attacks. This was the 'Exercise
"This is a true scene of how the soldiers face an attack. This is
basically live training where it is given for 30 soldiers for a period
of 14-days. All the soldiers will undergo this training before being
deployed", said Training Operations Officer Maj. Ananda Samarasinghe.
According to him, the whole episode of training which concluded in
one hour will take more than six hours when attacking (real)terrorists.
When we reached the famous Nagar Kovil temple it was almost noon. No
time for them to relax, the group which attacked the LTTE terrorists had
just returned. The young Major explained about their attacks in the
morning hours. He said that it was a success and was able to destroy
several bunkers in the LTTE FDLs.
Corporal Jayasena who headed the eight man team said they launched
the successful attack after 14-days of reconnaissance missions. The
soldiers, who infiltrated into the LTTE's FDLs, destroyed several
bunkers in their seven day long operation in which they also removed
lots of anti-personnel mines and traps.
The famous Nagar Kovil temple is their main military base now. The
tall statue of God and the beautiful wall paintings were full of bullet
Some huge century-old trees were flat on the ground due to mortar
attacks. "Some powerful group had invaded this village and had tried to
take the villagers forcibly. Then suddenly a large number of snakes had
surrounded the invaders and freed the villagers.
The myth says that in appreciation of the good deed of the snakes the
villagers built this temple and started to worship snakes", said one
Major who accompanied us explaining how the temple's name - 'Nagar'
originated. After a nerve wracking journey through one of the toughest
fighting grounds we end our day's mission in that yet beautiful land on
the coastal belt.
Early next morning we embarked on our next mission -Muhamalai, where
fire fighting was going on a few kilometres away from us. Soldiers there
too had voiced the same opinion about the present military operations.
They all have a common goal to achieve. They all have a common wish
and they are confident that they can defeat terrorism soon. Unlike in
the past these young men are not 'forced' to die and there is no need to
drag them into the battlefront.
What is the secret behind these successes - I asked a Corporal who
had engaged in previous battles and witnessed the gravity of some of the
wrong commands on the battlefronts of the past. He who wanted to be
anonymous said those days a large number of soldiers deserted the army
which recorded a high number of casualties. "But now the strategy of
carrying out operations are clearly different. Young soldiers know that
they will not die in losing battles", he said.
We noticed during our visit to these two battlefronts that the morale
of these soldiers who said that they were happy to be a part of these
successful battles, was high. It is evident from their views that
properly led military would reach enemy targets strategically and the
young men will not abandon their missions of defeating terrorism when
they receive correct orders from the top military officials.
The high morale of these soldiers is not an outcome of overnight
efforts but the results of well planning strategy to harness their
potential, continuous training in environments similar to the present
war situation, correct commands that comes from the top and the
dedication of each and every soldier including those who command the
The dedication of the commanders of each division, brigade and unit
in the battlefronts are commendable. The era where the commanders go
occasionally to the front-lines is over.
Starting from the top - the Commander of the Army Lt. Gen. Sarath
Fonseka to all his commanders who are commanding the operations are seen
at the front lines. This has also motivated the soldiers to face the war
According to Col. Ranawana the success achieved so far with less
casualties and deaths to the Army is mainly due to the remarkable change
in the intentions of the whole military exercises in the North.
"Like in the past we do not want to capture more land and also we do
not want to hold those captured areas. What we do now is to operate in
small groups to bring more destruction to the LTTE and to kill more
terrorists to reduce their manpower", he said. Suddenly Col. Ranawana
announced of an artillery attack on the LTTE bunkers.
We saw an explosion and one half of the FDL disappeared under fire
and black fumes. Definitely those who were manning the bunkers would
have breathed their last. I wanted to run for my life and could feel my
heart beat. I looked around. There was no fear on the faces of the young
fighters. They were smiling.
With high confidence that they could end terrorism, most of the young
soldiers do not fear the battlefront today. Never having thought of
running away from the military they want more youth to join the military
to end this blood shed.
Most of the brave young soldiers who had just returned from the
frontlines of Nagar Kovil and Muhamalai after long operations shared
their views even though they were tired.
Corporal Ratnayake and his team who had returned from an operation in
Muhamalai said that the morale of our soldiers was high but the morale
of the LTTE carders who were mostly minors deployed at the FDLs was very
Corp. Thilaka of the 6th Gajaba Regiment said they were confident
about the battlefront and they would go ahead to the front-lines under
the command of the Army Commander. "We will do our best to finish this
war. We hope that terrorism would be defeated before the end of this
year. We want support. We will fight for the unity and sovereignty of
this country until we die", he said.
Corp. Shanth Kumara also appreciated the efforts of the Army
Commander and said success was due to the idea of deploying small groups
to destroy the LTTE terrorists. He said the soldiers would finish this
war before next year and the morale of the soldiers is high and that
this would help the military to launch more operations against the LTTE
in the future.