True sons of Mother Lanka
Anoma Lafir, wife of Col. Lafir at the unveiling of the monument
It was in July 1985. The first peace negotiations between the
Government and the LTTE took place in Thimphu, Bhutan while terrorism
was shadowing over this island nation. In 1985 May, the LTTE killed 120
devotees at the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura and injuring 85 others.
And in August, two Sinhala villages in Trincomalee and Vavuniya were
attacked by the LTTE killed several villagers and many houses were
burned down. In the same month the LTTE killed Bhikkus and civilians of
the Ruhunu Somavathiya Temple. The LTTE killed 24 wildlife employees on
May 14, 1985 in Wilpattu at the Maradanadamaduwa junction, about ten
kilometres from the park’s main entrance.
These were the darkest moments of our nation and an extreme situation
for the Sri Lankan Military. It is said that flowers grow out of darker
moments and so did in the Sri Lanka Army. It was on August 26, 1985 the
war specialists of the SLA - the Special Force bloomed. Every mission,
every challenge embarked on them since inception was crucial in their
growth as one force.
A step further
Started as the Combat Trekker Team (CTT) in 1985 with two officers
and 38 other ranks it was renamed in 1986 as the Rapid Deployment Force
(RDF) and as the Special Forces (SF) in 1988 its as known today.
Their motto is “Determined, Dared and Done”. Today the SF is
fortified with five regiments. Their valiant predecessors made this
force unique and it was those officers who took a step further in
crucial moments for their unit. As French dramatist Bernard Joseph
Saurin once said Valour is common but great souls are rare. Valour is
not the only quality of a SF soldier.
Officer(Rtd.) Ranjith Mamaduwa
Major (Rtd.)Kumara Perera
Special Forces were carried to higher elevations in the Army on the
shoulders of extraordinarily dedicated and courageous men who set
standards to today’s SF personnel. Personalities such as Major General
Gamini Hettiarachchi, Colonel Fazly Lafir, Colonel Raj Vijayasiri were a
rare breed of leaders who are the icons of the present day soldier.
Maj. Gen. Hettiarachchi, the founding father of the SF and Colonel
Lafir sacrificed his young life to the motherland on 1996 at Mullaitivu
battle grounds during the operation Thirvida Pahara. Colonel Fazly Lafir
is one of the rare characters who is lovingly remembered not only by his
family but also by all his colleagues, soldiers and even by new recruits
who have never worked with him.
“He played a crucial role in the growth of the SF from the very
beginning. He was a very creative, committed and dedicated officer,”
said Col. (Rtd) Raj Vijayasiri who was a batchmate, a close colleague
and a great friend of Col. Lafir. Col. Vijayasiri is the main SF figure
who brought in the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) concept.
To the entire SF Col. Lafir is the symbol of true leadership,
dedication and courage. “He had a knack for details. Before he joined
the SF he has served as an intelligence officer in Jaffna and was one of
the best, powered with his language skills and intelligence,” Col.
Vijayasiri said about this striking leader who gave priority to his
soldiers welfare at all times.
“As a true SF officer he went out looking for information and
opportunities to start an operation and many he did on his own
initiative,” he added explaining about the luck Col. Lafir always had.
“It was known in the Special Forces that where ever he went he and his
troops were able to destroy and cause damage to the enemy.”
Special Forces is a unit where true leaders emerge during fierce
battles. A solid troop with equal talent, courage and dedication would
never fail in their mission. Keeping in line, true heroes such as Col.
Lafir set rules for leadership. Today the SF accepts nothing less.
For them, a leader should be ever ready to come forward to face any
challenge and share the danger with his troops; a leader should be able
to think clearly and take the troops on the correct path giving
confidence to every single member of the team.
As Col. Vijayasiri explained one of the fierce battles SF troops
encountered was during the ‘Riviresa’ operation to capture Jaffna town
in 1995. “The SF troops on a search mission, suddenly came across a
large group of terrorists hiding in a Kovil. To our troops the initial
firing was unexpected.
The Kovil structure was a solid hiding place for terrorists with high
walls. At this confused moment led by Col. Lafir and SF soldiers won
this fierce battle confronting nearly for about two hours. At the end
the troops collected over 20 bodies of terrorists and 30 to 40 weapons.
It was a great success during those days,” he said. Every SF soldier was
ready to follow heroes such as Col. Lafir at any moment.
Inspired by their leaders Warrant Officer I (Rtd) Ranjith Mamaduwa
and Sergeant Major (Rtd) Kumara Perera told the Sunday Observer how
inspirational the beginning was. “On the day we started the training on
August 26, 1985 Major General Gamini Hettiarachchi (then Major) and
Colonel Lafir (then Second Lieutenant) were the only two officers of the
SF. The training course went until December that year - at Ganemulla and
Maduru Oya and we were trained by a Major and a Warrant Officer from the
USA. We were given training on small group operations and jungle
tactic,” Warrant Officer Mamaduwa said.
Set of examples
The two officers were the best set of examples to the new Trekker
team of 38 selected from almost all the regiments of the Army “Col.
Lafir was more dedicated and enthusiastic than us. At times I wondered
why a senior officer takes that extra step and make the group move in
the same pace. They wanted to create a distinctive group,” Warrant
Officer Mamaduwa and Sergeant Major Perera said.
“Our entire teams’ intention was to complete the training
successfully as early as possible and become a deadly threat to the
enemy,” they said.
Col. Fazly Lafir (extreme left) during a para troop training
course for SF personnel in India
“The first year was very tough for us especially when carrying out
the duties with limited experience,” Sergeant Major Perera said.
Following their first operation in Weli Oya and back in Vavuniya this
Trekker Team was ordered to conduct several search operations for LTTE
cadres threatening the civil life living among them.
“Once Colonel Lafir disguised himself as a mudalali and we were his
golayas (supporters) and went in search of LTTE cadres that were
operating in Vavuniya and the suburbs. At times we went in lorries with
cadjans or husks pretending as traders,” Perera said.
“Col. Lafir was the closest to us. He was keen in receiving results
at every mission. He always insisted on and motivated us to destroy the
LTTE. He wanted us to use what we learnt effectively in destroying the
LTTE, Mamaduwa said in his interesting details of these exceptional
leaders of the SF.
On July 30 in 1986 the SF reported that the first group was killed in
Action which included Sergeant Dharmasiri Perera, Corporal Mayuraraja,
Corporal Upasena and Lance Corporal Paranavithana. In a claymore blast
in Nochchimotai, Coporals Senanayake and Piyatissa were severely wounded
and became blind.
The most significant operation for Special Forces would be the
Mullaitivu rescue operation on July 18, 1996 - Thrivida Pahara. The
Mullaitivu Army Camp was surrounded by terrorists and was trapped.
The Sri Lanka Army had to send in troops to save the officers and
soldiers trapped inside and SF troops were the most suitable. On the
request from the Army Commander, Col. Lafir, who was the Commanding
Officer of 1 SF, took the challenge without hesitation. Col. Lafir with
275 soldiers rushed to the Mullaitivu Camp in the face of heavy enemy
fire and resistance. They knew very well that there will not be any back
troops in a dire situation but the LTTE had. They were to face the enemy
alone. Due to the ground obstacles the team had to land on the target by
air. As veterans of the SF describe it was a showcase of Col. Lafir’s
brilliance and courage. Col. Vijayasiri remembers the fateful operation
who also got severely wounded in it while serving as 2 SF Commanding
Succumbed to injuries
“I was in Thoppigala in a major operation to destroy a base of a key
LTTE leader. Lafir was supposed to come the next day morning to give me
support. Instead he was called for this mission,” Col. Vijeyasiri said.
Col. Lafir reached the southern front of the camp. He got severely
wounded and disregard to the gunshot injury he fought and led his force
causing heavy casualties to the enemy.
Lieutenant Ranasinghe who was bravely following their leader was
killed in action. Col. Lafir succumbed to his injuries in the battle
field. In the meantime, the 2 SF troops were withdrawn from their
operation in Thoppigala and were taken to Punani and then were
transferred immediately to Trincomalee air field and were airlifted to
the Mullaitivu beach where the 1SF troops were in great strain. Out of
the four companies in 1 SF only about twenty remained uninjured.
Still, Major Jayantha Rathnayake and Major Nalaka de Silva, who took
command of 1 SF following Col. Lafir’s death, lead troops forward
notwithstanding the loss of their leader and comrade. The 2 SF reached
the Mullaitivu battlefield. Under the overall command of Col. Vijayasiri
in the 2 SF,the Delta team was lead by Captain Mahinda Ranasinghe and
Echo team was lead by Captain Nissanka Iriyagama.
Col. Vijeyasiri said, “a bullet pierced through my lung narrowly
escaping the spine”. He had to be withdrawn from the battlefield. It was
extremely difficult for the helicopters to land yet some how it landed
with another commanding officer to give support to relief of the ground
troops. It was Major Prasanna Silva (now Major General).
By this time almost all the remaining 1 SF troops were wounded two
officers and 32 soldiers including Warrant Officer Kumarasiri had died.
Second in Command of the 2 SF was Major Harendara Ranasinghe (now Col
and SF Brigade Commander). The 2 SF, geared up with the new command
fought in two teams lead by Captains Manada Yahampath and Bandu
Wickramasinghe. The SF divers team was led by Captain Chaminda Dabare.
The Sri Lanka Navy were constantly attacking the LTTE boats
protecting the ground troops. Officers and soldiers of the 2 Commando
Regiment, 6 Sri Lanka Infantry Regiment and 7 Gemunu Watch Regiment
landed by sea in Navy’s LCM boats. The attack lacked artillery support.
Even under the dire circumstances Major Ajith Dissanayake volunteered to
march into the battle field with 120 mm heavy gun.
After six days the mission was accomplished with the loss of true
sons of the motherland. Today in the Mullaitivu beach a monument has
been set up in memory of these war heroes of the Special Forces with
Col. Lafir’s and Lt. Ranasinghe’s names on the top.
“A Special Forces soldier is a hero who is willing to take the most
daring decision at a most needed hour.
The outside world never sees their true valour it is only the result
that one would feel,” said Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, the present
Colonel Commandant of the SF regiment giving the credit to the
forefathers of the regiment.
“The LTTE cleared 100 metres on the either sides of their movement
paths to avoid the threat from the Special Forces LRRP operations.
Because they expected a devastation whereever the SF troops moved,”
Maj.Gen. Gunaratne added. “Today, following the footsteps of their
predecessors such as Maj.Gen. Hettiarachchi, Col.Lafir and Col.
Vijeyasiri the SF soldiers are highly motivated, dedicated and lethal,”