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ON THE TRAIL OF VICTORY - Sunday Observer pays tribute to the Security Forces on Second Anniversary

The valiant men who led ground troops

Fighting a war against the world's most ruthless terror outfit is not an easy task. But, Sri Lanka, a dwarf compared to other nations leading the war on terror, achieved that task before any other nation.

The human resource Sri Lanka had at hand and the will to defeat terrorism to bring peace to the nation were the key factors that encouraged our nation to achieve that task. As a nation, Sri Lanka, always believed not in the state-of-the-art weaponry but on the men behind them when continuing its effort to defeat terrorism.

A hand picked set of military officers from the Sri Lanka Army irrespective of seniority in the field took over that task on behalf of the nation to defeat terrorism. The ground commanders who led the troops in the battlefield itself emerged as giants in the field when the humanitarian operation systematically reached its end on the banks of Nandikadal Lagoon in Vellamullivaikkal, in Mullaitivu on May 19 , 2009.


Lt. General Jagath Jayasuriya

Major General G.A. Chandrasiri

Major General
Jagath Dias

Major General
Chagi Gallage

Major General
Shavendra Silva

Major General Mendaka Samarasinghe

Major General Kamal Gunaratne

Major General Prasanna Silva

Brigadier
Nandana Udawatta

Brigadier
G.V. Ravipriya

Brigadier Satyapriya Liyanage

Brigadier
Rohana Bandara

Brigadier Nishantha Wanniarachchi
   

The field commanders who led the battles in the East and Wanni theatres became stars among the common masses even surpassing the popularity of local film stars. In fact those field commanders were the heroes of local film stars who are heroes in the action thrillers and commercial films. There was a trend among actors and actresses to get photographs with their heroes even at public functions.

Though, almost five years have already lapsed, from the date the humanitarian operation commenced in Mavil Aru, the memories I shared with those field commanders flash in my mind vividly.

Those field commanders with the blessings of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and then Security Forces Commanders became the binding factor to make media personnel closer to the battlefronts enabling them to inform the common masses about the updates on the battlefronts. So the role played by them in the battlefront and also with the media led to the successful conclusion of the humanitarian operation.

If we follow the sequence of the battles starting from the Mavil Aru operation, the media and the common masses had very little knowledge about the field commanders and also what was going on inside the battlefront.

But, I have vivid memories about then 22 Division Commander based in Trincomalee who shared his first experience in the humanitarian operation both Mavil Aru and the LTTE attack on five Army detachments in and around Muttur on August 2, 2006.

A military officer well reputed for his neatness and competency in handling battles, Major General Mendaka Samarasinghe later became the Security Forces Commander in Jaffna, when the troops from the Jaffna front marched towards Elephant Pass after 58 Division troops captured Paranthan junction and Elephant Pass enabling the troops to liberate the entire A-9 Road .

Along with Major General Samarasinghe, Lt. Colonel Sarath Wijesinghe who commanded the 223 Brigade in Ella-Kantale during the Mavil Aru operation and Sampur operations has to be remembered. A young Brigade commander at that time has now risen to the rank of Brigadier to command a Division in Mullaitivu.

People knew very little about Special Forces and the Commando troops who fought brave battles in Mavil Aru and Sampur as their operations were conducted under cover. But it was well-known fact that it was the Special Forces troops who played a leading role in capturing Sampur in September 2006. Colonel Prasanna de Silva (now Major General) as the Special Forces Briagade Commander led the special troops in Sampur and also during the Vakarai operation.

Colonel Prasanna Silva, an Army officer reputed for his meticulous planning of military operations and for his simple lifestyle with limited comfort was highlighted after the end of the Vakarai operation which ended in January 17, 2007.

Later he once again made his appearance in the battlefront in the Northern theatre as the 55 Division Commander to command the troops to march along the Eastern coast of the Jaffna peninsula capturing Vettilaikerni, Kevil, Chundikulam and Chalai to reach North of Mullaitivu and also as the 59 Division commander for a brief period at the final stage of the humanitarian operation.

It was Major General Daya Ratnayaka (now the Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army) who was the commander of 23 Division based in Welikanda who supported the troops engaged in Vakarai operation and shared the responsibility of handling the huge influx of civilians from Vakarai to Welikanda. Major General Parakrama Pannipitiya, then Security Forces Commander in the East also contributed to this effort.

Following the liberation of Vakarai by the troops led by Special Forces, the next target in the Eastern theatre was entrusted to the commando troops. They had to lead the infantry battalions to wrest control of the areas in the west of Batticaloa and Thoppigala jungle which had become a real breeding ground for terrorism in the East.

A military officer who can make things happen at any given time and reputed for his unconventional approach to the battlefront, Colonel Chagi Gallage (now Major General) who was the Commando Brigade Commander at that time led the commando and infantry troops to capture Thoppigala, thus liberating the entire Eastern province from the clutches of the LTTE.

He was then appointed the Commander of the Task Force I, to lead the battle in the Mannar theatre but could not proceed due to his health condition. But later he played a keyrole in the Army behind the scene as Director Infantry Training.

At the final phases of the war he once again played a key role in the Mullaitivu front by strengthening the defence lines all along the Nanthikadal Lagoon enabling the troops to trap the LTTE leadership in Vellamullivaikkal. If not for the strengthened defence line under his command the LTTE leaders would have easily escaped to the jungle patches in Mullaitivu at the final days of the humanitarian operation.

When the battles were continuing in the Eastern theatre the Sri Lanka Army opened up its first offensive Division, the 57 Division in Kalmadu in Vavuniya, to neutralise the Tiger threat in the Wanni front.

A man who can take any pressure silently and move forward, Major General Jagath Dias led the 57 Division to the fore capturing key Tiger strongholds. With the liberation of Madu Shrine in April 2008, they marched in the West of A-9 Road capturing Periyamadu, Palampiddi, Vavunikulam, Thunukkai, Mallavi, Akkarayankulam to capture Tiger stronghold Kilinochchi on January 2, 2009 and then proceed toward Ramanathanpuram, Dharmapuram and Visuamadu south.

Brigadier Shavendra Silva (now Major General), an outspoken officer who never got tired in his march towards victory, led the troops of the Task Force I, which was later formed as the 58 Division in the Army, to capture the entire North Western coast and then to march from West to East without any rest.

Their achievement includes the capture of Mannar 'Rice Bowl', Viddathalthivu, Vellankulam, Mulankavil, Nachchikuda and Pooneryn on the North Western coast.

After capturing the entire Western coast the 58 Division moved towards Paranthan along encircling the Pooneryn-Paranthan Road in a solo battle and captured Kilinochchi along with the 57 Division. They later marched towards Elephant Pass to link up the troops from Northern front.

In their eastward march from Paranthan, the 58 Division led by Brigadier Shavendra Silva captured Murusamoddai, Dharmapuram, Visuamadu, Suthandirampuram, Puthukudiyiruppu, Iranapalai to reach the last stretch of the No Fire Zone in the North of Mullaitivu and successfully completed the world's largest hostage rescue mission in Puthumattalan. They fought till the last day of the battle in Vellamullivaikkal where Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran killed while hiding in the mangroves of the Nanthikadal Lagoon in the early hours of May 19 ending the longest march any Army Division had completed during the humanitarian operation.

The 59 Division which was formed to neutralise Tiger activities in the North of Weli Oya was led by Brigadier Nandana Udawatta a soft speaking and determined Army officer.

His Division fought a solo battle in the Mullaitivu jungles to reach its ultimate objective of capturing the Tiger stronghold Mullaitivu in January 2009 facing many decisive battles.

Brigadier Rohana Bandara, a sensitive and keen Army officer, led the troops of the Task Force II which began its operations in the South West of Mankulam in the West of A-9 Road.

The Tiger strongholds between Omanthai entry exit point and Mankulam were the prime targets of the Task Force II, troops led by Brigadier Rohana Bandara reached upto Muthiyankaddu tank in the South West of Puthukudiyiruppu.

Task Force III the fifth offensive Division added to the Wanni operation was led by the keen Army officer Brigadier Satyapriya Liyanage. They marched southwards from Murukkandi to Mankulam on the A-9 Road upto Ampakamam and Puthukudiyiruppu West after capturing Olumadu on the Mankulam Mullaitivu Road.

Task Force IV, the sixth offensive Division joined for the Wanni operation in December 2008 from Otiyamalai led by Brigadier Nishantha Wanniarachchi, a simple and humble officer, to capture Oddusudan and south of Puthukudiyiruppu. He led his Division to capture many hideouts of Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in the South of Puthukudiyiruppu.

Brigadier G.V. Ravipriya, a battle hardened and task oriented officer, led Task Force VIII the last offensive Division formed in February 2009, to support the Wanni troops at its final phase of the humanitarian operation. It was the troops under his command who recovered the body of Velupillai Prabhakaran on the banks of Nanthikadal Lagoon.

From the Northern front, Major General Kamal Gunaratne led the troops of the 53 Division who marched along the A-9 Road from Muhamalai to Elephant Pass after capturing Soranpattu, Pallai and Iyakachchi.

His troops were later deployed in the south of Puthukudiyiruppu in support of the final phase of the humanitarian operation.

It was the present Army Commander Lt. General Jagath Jayasuriya who oversaw the Wanni battlefront as the Security Forces, Commander, Wanni while Major General G.A. Chandrasiri, now the Governor of the Northern Province led the troops in the Northern front until he was promoted as Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army.

The combination of these Army officers who led troops from various directions towards the final phase of the humanitarian operation joined hands together in Vellamullivaikkal on May 21, to silence the guns as they all were able to achieve the tasks entrusted to them by their superiors.

 

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