Last night it rained. And I stood under my parents’ porch and smoked. The deluge of water on the tin sheeting drowned out everything — traffic, the neighbours, the sound of the TV. Just me and the rain and the dark, like it had been on that first night in December 1990. I stepped out from the porch, and the rain put out my cigarette in an instant. I spat away the shreds of tobacco and let the rain soak me. Remembering them, as I have done a hundred thousand times in the last eighteen years.
I can remember the ridged steel flooring of the Y-8’s cargo bay like it was yesterday, digging into my arse as I sit packed in with my platoon, flying to Palay.
I remember the smell of wet sandbags on that first night on the FDL at Elephant Pass. Looking out into the black ink beyond the perimeter. Here be Tigers.
And the ten-man patrols through knee-deep water, trying to be quiet. “Kata vahapang, huththo,”
The hot, dusty days and wet, rainy nights. Mosquitoes. And being tired. So tired. Every day. All the time.
Sharing cigarettes and melted Edna chocolate on Christmas Day. Tang instant orange mixed with warm, brackish Jaffna Peninsula water.
And contact. Finally. What we’d lived for, longed for, suffered for. What we’d watched in movies and read about in books. Contact. Sex for virgins. With red tracers. And the elephant sitting on my back, squeezing the breath out of my lungs as I tried to hold my rifle steady. The hammer roar of 7.62-mm fire, gunflashes blurring the distant, running figures.
None of us were over twenty, most eighteen or nineteen. Ariyaratne, the section commander, and Dias, the machine-gunner; our parents, old men of twenty-four. Combat veterans of the Sinha Rifles. The hard core.
And the killing. I remember every single one. The blood, the eyes. The smell. I remember Rohantha getting hit by the .50. I remember the sixteen-year-old bayoneted girl with the long plaited hair come loose. I remember kneeling at a tube well and washing the crusted blood out from under my finger nails.
Down time. Sitting in abandoned tin buildings in the Saltern Siding. We’d strip down to OG shorts and slippers and our Death By Bullets T-shirts. We never talked about victory, about killing Prabha, or defeating the Tigers. Our personal goals were to survive, to do well, to not let each other or our regiment down. Sura talking about the XT-250 he wanted to buy. Husni and Sanjeeva talking about girls. Dias and I cleaning guns and talking about optics.
I thought I knew them all very well, but now I realize I didn’t really. And now, sadly, I can’t recall their faces in detail. And sometimes I have to think hard to remember all nine names.
Well, it looks like it’s over now. And I wish those guys were here to see it. I wish we could all go out for a drink and talk about EPS and catch up on our lives. But it’s too late for all that. It all took too long. I wish they were all in their thirties, like me. Maybe they’d have wives, and children, or not. I wish they could walk down the road and be offered kiri bath by the trishaw drivers. I wish they were alive.
For Section 2, Recce Group Charlie, 6th Sinha Rifles.
KIA, July 1991, Elephant Pass.
The fall of Kilinochchi on January 2nd 2009 (see battle map), was viewed as unexpectedly quick in many sectors. Several military analysts, particularly B Raman and Col Hariharan, were expecting a titanic duel between the SL Army and the LTTE before the latter eventually relinquished their hold on their administrative capital. Even with Task Force 1 poised to take Paranthan by New Year’s Day, and the 57th Division driving into the southern flank of Kilinochchi, the writing on the wall hadn’t been read. With the A9 Highway towns of Paranthan and Iranamadu in SL Army hands, the Tigers risked a double envelopment from both flanks, with brigade-sized units sweeping round to cut off Kilinochchi. The LTTE would have foreseen this danger, and as the flanks crumbled, they withdrew swiftly towards Vaddakachchi in the east. After the heavy fighting on the flanks, the taking of Kilinochchi itself was relatively fast.
Both the 57th Division and TF1 continued the momentum, driving east and northeast of Kilinochchi, pushing the Tigers back so as to prevent an immediate counterattack. Elements of TF1 turned north and fought their way up to the southern edge of Elephant Pass. To the north of Elephant Pass, on the Kilali-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil line, the 53rd and 55th Divisions continued to apply pressure and force the LTTE to commit troops that could be valuable on the mainland.
Meanwhile, on the southern flank, TF2 and TF4 continued to make incremental gains across the A34 Highway linking Mankulam and Mullaitivu, with TF4 taking Oddusuddan on the 5th of January. The 59th Division on the east coast is currently the closest to Mullaitivu, in the Thanniyuttu sector just south of the Kilinochchi lagoon. This is a relatively urban area and the lack of manouver room means that the division cannot use mobility to envelope the defenders as was done in the advances up the northwest coast and across the Kilinochchi District. Any drive into southern Mullaitivu by elements of the 59th will mean slow and bloody fighting against the best of the Tiger units. On January 1st, a day before the fall of Kilinochchi, the 59th got a taste of this as the LTTE’s Ratha Regiment counterattacked and overran the 59th’s forward defence lines before being repulsed. Continue reading