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Sunday, 15 August 2010





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True sons of Mother Lanka

Anoma Lafir, wife of Col. Lafir at the unveiling of the monument in Mullaitivu.

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.

Warrant Officer(Rtd.) Ranjith Mamaduwa  Sergeant 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.”

Ever ready

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 Officer.

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).

Mission accomplished

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,” he said.

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