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Sunday, 24 May 2009

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Brave troops were game to their task:

Cold hand of death encircles Prabhakaran's cahoots

Brigadier Prasanna de Silva  Maj.Gen. Kamal Gunarathne Lance Corporal Liyanage

Anxiety gets deeper and deeper when the day's darkness blends with the murky waters of the Nanthikadal lagoon. If not for the illuminated florescent bulb line set in the lagoon parallel to the bunker line the entire lagoon front gets dipped in a fearsome darkness blended with weird sounds of the nocturnal creatures. Anything can emerge from nowhere including the enemy.

Troops of the Sri Lanka Army, securing the western bank of the Nanthikadal lagoon, were given stiff orders to be extra vigilant on that particular day - May 17, 2009.

Their eyes glared into the lagoon cutting across the darkness. The enemy was planning to breach the Army defence line that night crossing the approximately four and a half kilometre distance from the other side lagoon in the Vellamullivaikkal area. LTTE communication intercepts and some informants gave this piece of confirmed information to the Military Intelligence and immediately passed on to the Division Commanders. It reached the two concerned battalions at the right time.

Part of the haul of weapons seized by the troops.

This particular area was the link up between the 53 Division and the 59 Division in the Western bank of the lagoon where respectively the 5 - Vijeyaba Infantry Regiment battalion (VIR) and the 19 - Sri Lanka Light Infantry Regiment battalion (SLLI) were deployed. The information which reached Major General Kamal Gunarathne (General Officer Commanding 53 Division) and Brigadier Prasanna de Silva (General Officer Commanding 59 Division) was swiftly communicated to the 682 and 592 Brigade Commanders and to the battalion Commanding Officers. The 5 VIR was under the 682 Brigade commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Subashana Welikala and the 19 CLI was under the 592 Brigade under Lieutenant Colonel Senaka Wijesuriya who was appointed as the acting Commander of this Brigade.

Losing the last minute hope to be saved by the Tamil Nadu LTTE sympathizers with the setback at the Indian elections, the Tiger leader was desperate to take any possible step for his escape at any cost.

First attempt

Proving the information received around 1.30 a.m. security forces detected a suspicious boat movement launched from the `No Fire Zone' area.

The Sri Lanka Air Force Unmanned Surveillance Craft - the UAV - gave clear images of the enemy's night time attack. The boats, as observed, stopped approximately one to one and a half kilometres distance from the bunker line.

"We received the information in the evening the day before from Brigadier Prasanna de Silva of a possible attempt by the LTTE leadership to escape."

The body of an LTTE cadre disguised in army uniform.

"The information was particularly of the escape of Charles Anthony, but we were ready for any sort of an attack," (Acting) 592 Brigade Commander Lieutenant Colonel Senaka Wijesuriya said.

As Lt. Col. Wijesuriya explained there were two incidents during the previous two days.

"First day they just fired artillery to the rear side of our line twice and it had no effect on us. Next day we observed a boat movement launched from the `No Fire Zone' but it was a dry run," he said.

"Yet we knew there was a high possibility of LTTE trying to create an escape path since they were getting pushed inland by 58 and 59 Divisions from the sea side," he added.

"The actual attack started around 2.20 a.m. Their attempt failed simply because they took the same path they tried the day before," Lt. Col. Ravindra Perera, Commanding Officer 19 SLLI battalion, said.

"When they knew they were facing a severe setback the leadership even ordered the cadres to flee from the same routes they entered," Lt. Col. Perera added.

According to the ground troops, around 100 LTTE cadres had tried to breach the Army defence lines of the 19 SLLI and 5 VIR. At the end of the confrontation that lasted till dawn around seventy bodies were seen floating in the lagoon.

The entire enemy group was demolished by our brave soldiers.

"With the LTTE communication intercepts it was revealed that the LTTE military leader `Jeyam' was the mastermind behind the escape attempt," Lt. Col. Wijesuriya added.

Failing continuously

Troops recovering weapons and bodies from the lagoon. Pix: Thilak Perera

With the attack on the defence line of the 5 VIR battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Kalpa Sanjeewa under the direct orders of Major General Kamal Gunarathne, the LTTE received a severe blow failing in their attempt to evacuate their leadership.

"This battalion was deployed just three days before the attack from where they were spearheading the operation.

It was basically to refresh them and give them time to reorganize," 682 Brigade Commander Lt. Col. Subashana Welikala said.

"Since we were pre-informed by our leadership battalions were standing by to thwart the LTTE attack," Lt. Col. Welikala added.

"It was the Charlie company of the 5 VIR that really faced the direct attacks of the enemy. LTTE was firing mortar, Multi Purpose Machine Guns and Rocket Propeller Guns," 5 VIR Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Kalpa Sanjeewa said explaining the bloody LTTE attack.

"The LTTE tried to cut the barbed wires laid for about 100 meters from the bunker line. But that was just an attempt they couldn't cross the barrier," he added. According to the ground commanders, the LTTE had landed their cadres at about 800 metres distance in the lagoon.

"The intercepted Tiger communications revealed that several of their leaders, including Muththappan, Pradeepan and Balakumar were killed during this confrontation," Lt. Col. Welikala added.

"When soldiers were recovering the bodies they found 110,000 rupees inside a trouser pocket of a terrorist. All that is now handed over to the relevant officers, thanks to the soldier who honestly handed over the money to their Commanding Officers," Lt. Col. Welikala said.

Confidence and strength

"We knew if the enemy attempted to win, the entire operation would face a debacle. We very well knew our responsibility," Lance Corporal Liyanage, leader of the team 01 of the Charlie Company said. "The confidence our leaders have on us was our greatest strength," he said.

It's true. Each and every officer and soldier took the responsibility to their shoulders and it was not just obeying orders from the top.

Lt. Col. Subashana Welikala and Lt.Col. Kalpa Sanjeewa. Lt. Col. Senaka Wijesuriya and Lt. Col. Ravindra Perera examining a modified LTTE weapon.

"We didn't even let them come near to the barbed wire line. We engaged in such a way making them get sandwiched in between our attacks," Major Budhdhika Athukorale, Officer-in-Charge of the Charlie Company added. "Even at the most tricky instances we succeeded since we all shared the responsibility in equal level," he recalled.

As the ground commanders stated, the LTTE radio communication intercepts had revealed that even top LTTE leaders like Pottu Amman and Soosai were also directly involved in the desperate attempt of the LTTE leadership to flee for their lives.

From the Division Commanders to Brigade Commander and Commanding Officers, all were side by side at the furthermost point where our brave soldiers were attacking the enemy face to face.

That was the strength the soldiers had to carry on that extra mile to defeat the enemy.

Simply because of the failure of this escape attempt of the LTTE leadership they had to turn towards the North-East side of the lagoon to find an escape route where the entire leadership of the LTTE including Prabhakaran was demolished by the troops of the 53, 58 Divisions and the Task Force 8 on Monday May 18, 2009.

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