the Blacklight Arrow

David Blacker’s Blog

For This All that Blood was Shed

SL Army infantry in the Wanni (Defence.lk)

SL Army infantry in the Wanni (Defence.lk)

In the closing days of March and the first week of this month, April, the SL Army outflanked, cut off, and destroyed the Charles Anthony Regiment of the LTTE, in one of the most decisive battles of the war. For almost a year, the SL Army, sweeping across the Wanni from west to east, had attempted to pin down the LTTE and cause it significantly large casualties. However, the ever elusive Tigers have always prefered to slip away when outflanked, rarely allowing themselves to be trapped in large numbers, sacrificing rearguard units so that the larger forces could escape. While the casualties came in trickles, the jugular sought by the military high command was not forthcoming. Thus, the encirclement and destruction of the Charles Anthony at Aanandapuram, east of Puthukkudiyiruppu, could be celebrated as a memorable victory for the SL Army.

However, what makes this defeat a catastrophic one for the LTTE is the fact that along with the Charles Anthony went almost every remaining unit commander of the LTTE, and many of their deputies as well. In a stroke, the Tigers have been virtually emasculated. The fact that the GoSL has now declared a 48-hour ceasefire over the Buddhist and Hindu New Year, is indicative of the SL Army’s confidence in defeating the LTTE in a matter of weeks rather than months.

On March 30th, elements of the SL Army’s 53rd and 58th divisions and Task Force 8 advanced out of Puthukkudiyiruppu in a pincer movement intended to outflank the Charles Anthony Regiment which held the eastward-running Puthukkudiyiruppu-Iranappaalai-Puthumaathalan road. A brigade of the 58th Division swung east and then south, while another from the 53rd, along with TF8, commanded by Col GV Ravipriya, attacked east and then north; both pincers meeting at Pachaipullumottai junction in the rear of the Charles Anthony. The Tigers fought fiercely to prevent the encirclement, but were overwhelmed. Lt Col Gopith, CO of the Charles Anthony and his 2/ic Amuthab were killed on the 31st, and demoralised and leaderless, the Tiger troops were encircled. Outnumbered nearly ten to one, over a thousand Tigers faced almost 10,000 troops of the 4th, 6th, 8th, 12th, 14th and 20th Gajabas, the 11th and 20th Light Infantry, the 5th Vijayabahu Infantry, and the 9th Gemunu Watch. Also in action was the SL Army’s elite special operations forces — elements of the 2nd Commandos and the 1st Special Forces.

However, what the SL Army planners hadn’t known when launching the operation was that Aanandapuram had been picked by the LTTE to host a ops session of their own to plan another counterattack to follow on the failed one of the previous week. Inside the Aanandapuram cauldron was Col Theepan — deputy military commander of the LTTE, Col Bhanu a “special commander” of the LTTE, Lt Col Vidhusha — CO of the Malathy Regt, and her 2/ic — Maj Kamalini, Lt Col Durga — CO of the Sothiya Regt, and her 2/ic — Maj Mohana, Lt Col Keerthi — CO of the Jeyanathan Infantry, and his 2/ic — Maj Nagesh, Col Gaddafi — head of the LTTE special forces training school, Lt Col Silambarasan — CO of the Radha Regt, the LTTE’s special forces, and his 2/ic — Maj Anbu, Lt Col Asmi — CO of the Ponnamman mining unit, Lt Col Mannivannan — CO of the Kittu Artillery Regt, Lt Col Gopal — CO of the Kutti Sri mortar unit, S Thangan — the LTTE’s deputy political commisar, Thamilini — the LTTE women’s wing political commisar, and a multitude of other mid-level field commanders.

When the SL Army realized this windfall, all efforts were thrown into preventing the Tiger brass breaking out of the Aanandapuram pocket. It was hoped that LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabkharan was in Aanandapuram, but he had reportedly left a week before the SL Army operation. Special Forces and Commandos fanned out into the coconut trees east of the pocket, cutting routes of reinforcement to the Charles Anthony trapped in Aanandapuram.

SL Army sniper (Defence.lk)

SL Army sniper (Defence.lk)

A reinforced company of 120 Tigers under Col Lawrence was sent in a softskin convoy which attempted to reach the 2km-square pocket, but were ambushed and destroyed by special forces. The already injured Lawrence managed to escape with a few survivors. Another attempt at reinforcement saw a Sea Tiger unit leave Valainjarmadam that would see them land at Pattiaddy from where they would fight their way through to Aanandapuram. But this attempt too was foiled as the Sea Tigers were intercepted and beaten back by the SL Navy.

After this, Army sigint operators overheard Lt Col Vidusha the Malathy’s commander pleading with Pottu Amman, the Tigers’ intelligence chief, for reinforcements. The latter, almost incoherent with grief, replied that they couldn’t penetrate the SL Army siege.

On April 3rd, Col Bhanu and a portion of the besieged Tigers managed to break through the Army’s ring of steel and escape. Col Theepan, already injured twice, refused to go with them. In a moment reminiscent of the Sinha Rifles’ Lt SU Aldeniya at Kokavil, Army sigint intercepted Theepan’s radio callsign, Tango Papa, telling Pottu Amman that he would come out of the pocket only when his fighters did.

With Bhanu’s escape, the Charles Anthony and the Tiger brass in its midst were doomed. The Army moved in heavy support weapons, artillery and multiple-barrel rocket launchers. An estimated 30,000 shells were fired on April 4th alone, and in short breaks in the near continuous bombardment, Army psyops units used loudspeakers to call in Tamil to the LTTE to surrender; and throughout the three-day siege, 116 Tigers gave themselves up.

By the 5th, the battle was over. Col Theepan and at least 625 Tigers were dead. Around twenty injured Tigers were captured alive when Army infantry moved in, including Maj Anbu, 2/ic of the special operations Radha Regt, and Lt Col Asmi, CO of the Ponnamman mining unit. Many of the LTTE corpses were unidentifiable, blown to pieces by artillery or burnt beyond recognition by white phosphorous rounds.

Regardless of your standpoint, it is impossible to look at this battle without admiration. A courageous last stand by warriors battling overwhelming odds. It’s been a long war, and the Tigers are often perceived to be brainwashed animals with nothing to exonerate them. It is easy for those removed from the battlefield to forget that there is no shortage of courage on either side. As a former soldier, I can say without reservation, that Aanandapuram will go down in the annals of this conflict alongside such heroic last stands as the holding of the Jaffna Fort in 1990, Lt SU Aldeniya’s platoon at Kokavil, and the 6th Sinha Rifles at Elephant Pass.

However, any analysis of a force’s bravery in battle is often tempered by its conduct; particulary a force as controversial as the LTTE. One of the most potent fighting forces of the Second World War was Germany’s Waffen-SS; their heroic prowess, particularly in the defense of Germany is as legendary as is their infame for the attrocities they committed. And so it will be for the LTTE. We cannot admire Aanandapuram without being disgusted about the Dollar Farms or the Dehiwela train bombing. For instance, Gaddafi, killed at Aanandapuram, once Prabhakharan’s bodyguard and commander of the Imran Pandiayan Regt was the very man reported to have brought down a domestic Lionair airliner filled with Tamil civilians in October 1998 as it flew from Palaly to Colombo. Sadly, like the Waffen-SS, the LTTE’s fighting units are stained by the terrorism that they fought for. No historian will remember them for their courage, but for the terror that they unleashed on thousands of innocents.

They say it matters not how you live, but only how you die. But I’m not too sure about that. Even Saddam Hussein went to his death unbowed, as the Hammer of the Persians faced the gallows growling defiance at his taunting guards.

What makes this heroic last stand so tragic, however, is that it will achieve nothing. It signals the last breaths of the LTTE as a fighting force, and I cannot help but think what a waste of young lives. Journalist DBS Jeyaraj in his report on the battle says that they “chose to die on their feet instead of living on their knees”, but I’d like to think that the Tamils of the northeast would have one day had more use for their lives than their deaths. In the dying days of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler refused to allow Berlin to be evaccuated in the face of the approaching Soviets, stating that it was better for the Germanic people to perish rather than be diluted by lesser races. Looking at many of the comments by diaspora members on sites such as DBS Jeyaraj’s one gets the feeling that they feel the same way, that all is lost, and a cause is dead.

But they forget that the LTTE is not the true cause, nor is it really Tamil Eelam. The cause is equality. Unfortunately, the LTTE became the cause it once took up, and in doing so has prevented that very cause from being achieved. It’s time to look for other ways. There’s nothing as tragic as dying for nothing.

So in closing, I will echo DBS Jeyaraj when he quoted Yeats’ lines on the Easter Uprising in his rather touching eulogy to Theepan, and say that I personally cannot look at the fallen of Aanandapuram as anything but brave.

LTTE corpse at Aanandapuram (TamilWin.com)

LTTE corpse at Aanandapuram (TamilWin.com)

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave:
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Advertisements

April 13, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized, War | , , , , , , , , , , ,

20 Comments »

  1. The LTTE is the fascist, totalitarian self-imposed vanguard of militant Tamil nationalism. Tamil nationalism will not die with the LTTE’s demise.

    As long as SL is not meritocratic and accepting of the Tamil’s desire to succeed and prosper unhindered by jealous, lazy Sinhalese chauvinists Tamil nationalism amongst the Sri Lankan Tamils will be alive and strong.

    The removal of the LTTE paves the way for greater Indian involvement in SL, especially given the whoring out of SL’s geographical proximity to India as a ‘pearl’ to the Chinese.

    Comment by worf | April 13, 2009 | Reply

  2. Blacker…great stuff. The tragedy is that these are all Sri Lankans and that in an ideal world we should have been able to utilise their skills, courage and dynamism.

    Your thoughts expressed above interest me as I’ve always found that the soldiers who have been in combat have a fairly nuanced view of the LTTE and of the conflict, as opposed to the armchair patriots (of whom there are many on Kottu).

    Comment by The-Benevolent-Dictator | April 13, 2009 | Reply

  3. LTTE had always been portrayed as an invincible force. Its leader was portrayed as a military genius strategist who defeated even the strongest military power in the region, India. The true story, however, turns out to be different, If carefully observed the past history of the conflict.

    It’s obvious that it was nether the LTTE’s invincibility nor its leaders military leadership that saved the day for the LTTE. Basically, LTTE had been vastly fortunate to enjoy favorable internal and external factors from the very inception of the conflict.

    Among many favorable factors the first and foremost had been the absence of a committed, strong and effective military-politico leadership on the part of the SL state unlike at present. This has been hugely conducive environment for the LTTE as the past leadership of SL had been fighting the war half-heartedly depriving forces to conduct the war with clear cut objective. In turn it has hugely affected moral of the forces.Many external factors were also much favorable for LTTE. The lethargic attitude towards LTTE on the part of many western counties with large number of the LTTE activists, which still remains the case, has been the foremost. The huge support extended by India to the LTTE until the IPKF’s arrival had been undoubtedly the livewire for them.

    However, the most ridiculous and funny part of the whole story is the cowardly manner in which the so called invincible leader seeks protection among the Tamil people whom he claimed to have been fighting to protect, fearing SL’s military onslaught. It is rather unbelievable to fathom out the speed with which such a military genius person fled the fighting leaving behind all his comforts such as scores of air-conditioned mansions. It is again indeed bizarre to understand that whether he was such a coward to flee with such hurry even to leave behind his and his families personal belongings such as his daughter’s university certificates and his wife’s passports etc.

    LTTE’s decimation in the hands of the SL security forces has been indigestible thing to Tamil Diaspora. This is evident by the massive effort taken by them in the forms of mass demonstrations, hunger strikes, attacks on SL embassies in western capitals etc. Forcing LTTE sympathetic politicians of the western countries and officials in UN to force the SL government are also part of this effort. The whole intension of this attempt is to force SL forces to stop the military onslaught thereby paving the way Prabhakaran and remaining leaders to escape the now inevitable death.

    This reaction on the part of Diaspora is not surprising at all. The events that are unfolding before them are surely inconceivable them to fathom out.

    Comment by Pina Kaludava | April 13, 2009 | Reply

  4. It’s how this last stage of the conflict will be capitalized upon that worries many Tamils, myself included. One hopes the Sinhalese leadership in government sees this as the defeat of the LTTE, not of the Tamil people. If we now start building the egalitarian society that’s been promised then something good can come out of all of this death. If this battle and the result of the war as a whole is seen instead as the defeat of the Tamils by the Sinhalese, then all of this will have been for nought.

    I think many in the diaspora feel like the latter is inevitable. I hope Rajapakse proves them wrong.

    Comment by Anip Avadulak | April 14, 2009 | Reply

  5. This is not only well written but is of great substance. The author is a man who is very much a credible authority on the goings on in the wanni and the battles being fought as we speak…..you have my regard and admiration…and thanks for sharing what you know.

    Comment by Ukkusa | April 14, 2009 | Reply

  6. Anip, I think a lot of that will also depend on the SL Tamils and its emergent leadership, and also on the diaspora. A parallel can be drawn broadly to Germany at the end of WW2. It was certainly a defeat for the German people, but they (at least West Germany)were able to emerge from that by totally rejecting the Nazi ideology that had brought the world to war. Often that rejection was hypocritical, but it was necessary in order to meet the western allies at least midway. The result was the rebuilding of West Germany into one of the most prosperous countries in Europe. Similarly, the SL Tamils — and especially the vociferous diaspora — must distance itself from the LTTE and recognize the mistakes it has made. It is imperative that the Tamils push their best chip — the TNA — to enter dialogue with the Rajapakse regime, and not stand behind the silly rhetoric of the defeated LTTE. This maybe a marriage of convenience for now, but Tamil aspirations must begin somewhere.

    Comment by David Blacker | April 14, 2009 | Reply

  7. Pina Kaludava…brave words indeed. Yes, VP is a total bastard and we all know that. However, it is the heads-in-the-sand blinkered mentality that you seem to share with a lot of our countrymen that is preventing our country from progressing. Oh…and by the way, don’t you think its strange that a longest continuous period of success that the SLA has enjoyed also coincided with the defection of Karuna et al?

    Bombast may feel good but it futile…

    Comment by The-Benevolent-Dictator | April 14, 2009 | Reply

  8. “The result was the rebuilding of West Germany into one of the most prosperous countries in Europe. Similarly, the SL Tamils — and especially the vociferous diaspora — must distance itself from the LTTE and recognize the mistakes it has made. It is imperative that the Tamils push their best chip — the TNA — to enter dialogue with the Rajapakse regime, and not stand behind the silly rhetoric of the defeated LTTE. This maybe a marriage of convenience for now, but Tamil aspirations must begin somewhere.”

    This will not happen.

    For one any group of Tamils that indirectly distances itself from the LTTE will probably be still targeted by the LTTE and worse yet perceived as quislings by the Tamil people.

    MR and his clan, emerging victorious in the war will have no reason to appease the Tamil people. They completely reject federalism, which is the very least the TNA can accept in the eyes of the Tamil people, especially in the eyes of the moderate segments of the diaspora.

    MR will only have a short window of opportunity to make the peace with the Tamils. If MR were to suddenly decide to make peace with the Tamils, the UNP and JVP will start the ethnic-bidding process once again. Once another election cycle has passed, he will lose his ability to win elections as the war-winning candidate. The Sinhalese people will reject any leader that is perceived as appeasing the Tamil people.

    If anything the LTTE will continue to wage a terrorist war, albeit erratically. The TNA will continue to fumble around, fearing both the LTTE and the perceptions of the Tamil people. MR will need to follow through his military victory with either a successful economic policy in order to stay in power or find a new means of distracting the electorate while simultaneously outdoing his political opposition.

    All the while the Tamil issue will be cosmetically and superficially cleaned with token gestures and then swept under the rug. The tension between the Tamil people and the GoSL, which has now been repeatedly upped and punctured by war, will grow without a means to vent.

    This will result in the slow but certain exit of Tamils slowly from the South and less so from the NorthEast. Either way the Sri Lankan Tamils are demographically doomed, as Hoole constantly points out.

    The only major wildcard is the nature of Indian foreign policy vis a vis SL, especially given the reduction of the LTTE from a pseudo-conventional guerilla force to a primarily terrorist organization and SL’s growing relationship with China.

    Comment by worf | April 14, 2009 | Reply

  9. The-Benevolent-Dictator…Sri Lankan’s really do feel good and also that feeling is not futile at all as it’s a victory worth celebrating. A most destructive war that lasted for more than 33 years is on the verge of a victorious ending after a sustained campaign fought in just 03 years. Sri Lankans had long been waiting for this end.

    This was fought not without many odds, the foremost being the pressure from the so called international community, which has now developed into at its peak. This pressure is well supported by the LTTE’s well oiled false and massive propaganda campaign.

    People have well realized that this victory was achieved against a bunch of ruthless terrorist and not against the Tamils. This is quite evident by the fact that there has not been a single repetition of ‘83 Black Julys’ though there have been thousands of provocations by LTTE. That realization will undoubtedly help to reap all Sri Lankans the benefits of this well deserved victory.

    Comment by Pina Kaludava | April 14, 2009 | Reply

  10. O Benevolent one, I think you’re placing too much importance on Karuna’s defection in the overall scheme of things. Without doubt, it weakened the LTTE by removing one of its best military commanders; it split, demoralized, and irreversably shattered the myth of the LTTE’s invulnerability; and hugely helped in the security forces’ overrunning of the Eastern Province. However, where the LTTE was truly broken was in the Northern Province. There’s no taking away the spectacular successes of the SL Army in the last year, mostly due to efficient coordination between the three armed forces, out of the box thinking in the field, and sheer numbers on the ground. Also, the cooperation of India and many western governments dried up funding for the Tigers. These factors were far more important in the northern fighting than was the contribution of the Tamil auxiliary forces.

    Worf, I didn’t give any predictions. I was pointing out what was necessary within the Tamil psyche if true peace is to be achieved. There are many changes necessary in the Sinhalese psyche as well, but I will come to that later. What must be understood by the Tamil people, is that this is certainly a defeat. They have backed the wrong horse. The military uprising by the LTTE was within a greater ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, and this military uprising is now on its last legs. The military uprising hugely influenced and shaped the ethnic conflict, and in fact came to define it. So for the Tamils to think that the ethnic conflict can continue unchanged after the defeat of its biggest component is foolishness. No amount of politically correct bullshit is going to change defeat into something else. In Germany, the German people recognized defeat, compromised on their ideals, and did what was necessary to survive and re-emerge as a nation. The Tamils and their leadership must do the same. The TNA must compromise. You cannot say “OK, match over, we lost, now give us what we asked for in the first place and we’ll all be friends again.” Rubbish. It’s not a cricket match. The Tamils are not going to get a separate state or even federalism, ‘cos they’ve lost the war. When you choose war, you must win the war. If you want compromise and diplomacy, choose that path. Did all those thousands of Sinhalese die so that the GoSL can now say “Jolly good, we taught them a lesson, let’s now hand over the north”? The SL Tamils — and the Tamil diaspora, if they are genuinely interested — have to work with the GoSL. The MR regime has clearly shown that it is willing to engage the TNA, and it is willing to accord some sort of self-rule within the framework of the 13th Amendment — the Eastern Province has its own Tamil chief minister, and while it’s not perfect, it’s a start. The TNA must bite the bullet and come in out of the rain. And if the Tamil people have any sense, they must swallow their pride and back them up. The GoSL in turn will have to ensure security and stability in the NE.

    Without a doubt, the GoSL recognizes that the TNA has the most legitimacy within the NE Tamil population, and if there is to be genuine self-rule for the Tamils that will receive the approval of both the Tamils themselves as well as India and the world, it must be democratic. Eventually, it will have to get rid of the Karunas and Pilliyans and other warlords, and replace them with genuine elected politicians. For this to happen, however, the GoSL needs to show its right wing allies such as the JHU and the JVP factions that the TNA is worthy of this annointment; and for that the TNA and the Tamils must compromise.

    India itself has clearly shown that it will recognize only the TNA and perhaps other long-standing GoSL allies such as Anandasangaree and Devananda, and not the TMVP which it refused to meet at the last SAARC summit.

    India has recognized how badly its been burned by its past policies on SL. The world has changed since the 1980s, and India cannot afford to have an unstable troublespot on its doorstep that is ripe for exploitation by regional enemies such as China. India too will compromise for the sake of peace.

    Comment by David Blacker | April 14, 2009 | Reply

  11. very good article… excellent previous comment!
    right to the point david blacker!!

    Comment by pandithaya | April 14, 2009 | Reply

  12. Excellent post, David. I was reminded of the Falaise Gap slaughter in August 1944 of the retreating Wehrmacht, when reading about this encirclement and annihilation.

    As always appreciate your insights given your previous experience. The thing that gets me is the sheer waste of lives caused by the LTTE’s intransigence – rather like the Japanese in 44-45, defending a lost cause to the last man (and unwilling civilians).

    They must realise by now that the SLA & GOSL will not leave this job half-done and will see it through to the bitter end.

    On a slight digression, I tried to get your book through my father on a recent visit to CMB; but Vijith Yapa had run out of stock. I’m sure you’re missing out on sales through them, Amazon etc.

    As for Wehrmacht performance, you should get hold of a copy of “A genius for war: The German army and general staff, 1807-1945”, by Trevor Depuy, senior US Army officer. All the answers as to how and why are in there and hold many lessons for a Sri Lankan General Staff and how they could institutionalise military efficiency.

    http://tinyurl.com/d4cbzb

    Comment by Mango | April 14, 2009 | Reply

  13. lol Blacker I’m not saying you made a prediction, in fact I agree with what you said as a potent, rational course of action, given the war’s end.

    Yet I don’t think the TNA or any other group of Tamils will or even could successfully go down that path. That change to the Tamil psyche won’t happen IMHO.

    Comment by worf | April 14, 2009 | Reply

  14. Mango, my book’s now out of print, I’m afraid, though I believe Barefoot still has a few copies. You can try ordering it through http://www.offtheshelf.ch as they still have it in stock.

    Worf, hopefully the demise of the LTTE will allow some far-sighted leadership to emerge from the SL Tamils.

    Comment by David Blacker | April 15, 2009 | Reply

  15. No one’s hit the off switch on the LTTE. Prabakaran’s still out there, as are his followers. Any progressive or enlightened Tamil leadership still faces a very real and immediate threat from them. Perhaps even moreso as they try to shore up their now questionable role as the ‘sole reps of the Tamils’.

    Comment by Avip | April 15, 2009 | Reply

  16. DB,
    Goodpost mate ! Well done ! I never believed this conflict would come to this conclusion, having said that, this needs to end some sought of a way. So ya right, SLDF shocked the whole diaspora. Now comes the hard part…..getting Fatass VP & Pottu Amman ! As ya see they are nothing but, cowards & loosers at the end ! But, I just feel awefull for those poor women & children trapped in Puthukku.

    So Long mate !

    Comment by Rajaratasurfer | April 21, 2009 | Reply

  17. Really fantastic post Mr Blacker. Its one of those posts after which you read, you need to spend a few moments in silence. The greatest loss in this war is the people – either side they are Sri Lankan – be it north eastern civilians, army, ltte cadres – and as a country, we face an unbridgeable loss. If these people were allowed to live in a ‘united’ Sri Lanka, their talents could have been used to further strengthen our country. But now, all we have is debris. And we who survive must strive to rebuild a better country from the debris.

    Comment by Rine | May 4, 2009 | Reply

  18. David,

    Just want to echo what the others have said about your insightful writings on this and other subjects.

    To the folks trying to get hold of your book, I recently ordered a copy direct from the publisher’s website (http://www.ph-books.com/bs.asp?id=55), and it reached me here in Oz in around a week.

    Comment by Ashraf | May 8, 2009 | Reply

  19. […] Anandapuram […]

    Pingback by From Kilinochchi to Puthukkudiyiruppu « the Blacklight Arrow | December 15, 2009 | Reply

  20. […] combatants but includes unarmed civilian conscripts/volunteers.” In his categorical scheme “Tiger combatants” refer to “any person carrying a lethal weapon … whatever dress s/he was wearing (military […]

    Pingback by The Tamil death toll in early 2009: challenging Rohan Gunaratna | Thuppahi's Blog | December 2, 2011 | Reply


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: