There’s one thing you men will be able to say when you get back home. Thirty years from now, when you’re sitting by your fireside, with your grandson on your knee and he asks “What did you do in the great World War Two?” you won’t have to shift him to the other knee, cough and say, “Well, I shovelled sh*t in Louisiana” – General Patton
A death of a criminal, who led a murderous group that caused immense sufferings on innocent, is indeed a great relief for those who have to live under constant threat of that group. When, this criminal is one who is responsible for the deaths of over 75,000 people and one who threw a nation to the verge of destruction, the news not only brings relief to the nation, but also the individuals who brought that relief become national heroes. Their effort becomes a legend that would be told from generation to generation.
The death of V. Prabhakaran, the megalomaniac killer who haunted Sri Lankan citizens for 30 years is certainly a story that would never be forgotten. Defence.lk team presents the true story of the valiant effort that ultimately brought an end to the most implacable curse caste on Sri Lankan citizens.
“The End Battle” is for the generations to come, so they would know the difference between the true heroes who secured them a life without terror and the scoundrels who sought to destroy the nation they born by promoting terror for their own advantage.
The End Battle was fought for nearly four days starting from 16th to 19th May 2009 by Sri Lanka army 53, 58, and 59 Division troops on a neck of land situated on the north-eastern coast of the Island. The battle resulted in the total elimination of the Liberation Tamils of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the most barbaric terrorist outfit known to the mankind.
The Road to Mullivaikkal
Sri Lankan armed forces undertook their noble mission of ridding the country of terrorism in July 2006 when the LTTE closed down Mavil Aru sluice gates, denying water for over 30,000 civilians. With in one year, they accomplished their mission in Eastern Province and were knocking on the doors of Wanni mono-ethnic hellhole under Prabhakaran’s tyranny.
It took another 2 years for them to reach the final destination. It was a battle like no other. The challenges faced by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces were immense. The way they were dealt with was unique. They had to fight with a terrorist outfit that took 200,000 odd civilians at hostage and held them as a human shield. They fought with extreme care to avoid civilian casualties. It was for the benefit of those civilians more than anything else that they were risking their lives.
Also, there was a powerful section of the international community that did not want Sri Lanka to defeat terrorism. The agenda went beyond boundaries of the Island, one that wanting to keep the region unstable and non-competitive. Every armed forces personnel from private to general knew that there was no room for trial and error. The above section of the IC was already dancing to tune of the terrorist propaganda with great deliberation.
Like a swan separates milk from water, the soldiers had to rescue civilians from the terrorists. They boxed in a terror group that held almost 15000 square kilometres in the Island to 1000 square metres at the end.
They accomplished the largest hostage rescue mission the world has ever witnessed with great success before they struck the final blow on the terrorists. Thus, road to Mullivaikkal was not a cakewalk by any means. It was marched with great sacrifices, fortitude and professionalism on the part of Sri Lankan soldiers.
The final battle took place in an area not more than 4 square kilometres. The battleground was a narrow stretch of land opening to the Indian Ocean from the East and to the Nanthikadal lagoon from the West. Thus, there was an open beachhead on the East, a dusty scrubby land in the middle and a waterlogged stretch full of mangroves on the West.
On a large scaled map the ground can be seen lying diagonally to the North- South axis as it is located on the northeastern coast of the Island . It has one main road access, the A-35 [Paranthan- Mullaittivu] that runs on the northwest- southeast axis, slanting itself towards the lagoon bank.
Yet, anyone who stepped into the terrain where this historic battle was fought would soon know that the description is not as simple as above. There were plenty of manmade and natural barriers that no other battleground of the identical size would ever have.
There were two causeways to be crossed, an open beach to be marched on, over dozen of earth bunds to be cleared, hundreds of enemy bunkers to be neutralized, and above all there was an human shield made out of over 75,000 civilians that had to be rescued before the final push.
Also, the terrain offered excellent hiding places for the terrorists more than they need and possible escape routes if they had ever managed to breach the army forward boundaries on the ground or the naval blockades at the sea .
There were three Army Divisions and one Task Force mainly involved in the ground battle. The 53 Division commanded by Major General Kamal Gunrathne, the Task Force 8 commanded by Colonel G.V. Ravipriya, which was again placed under the operational command of the 53 Division and the 58 Division commanded by Brigadier Shavendra Silva were the main offensive elements that fought the End Battle.
The 58 Division marched southwards along the A-35 axis dominating the ground stretching from the road to the coastal belt whereas the 53 Division marched on the same axis, dominating the ground stretching from the A-35 to the lagoon bank.
The 59 Division commanded by Major General Prasanna Silva, though remained defensive at the End Battle, made a vital contribution to the final victory. It was the 59 Division that was holding the defence line south of Vadduvakal causeway for months until the other offensive elements swept down from the North.
Three days before the End Battle, 59 Division troops crossed the Vadduvakal causeway and established their defence immediately south of the no fire zone. It was by this manoeuvre that the Army could rescue majority of the last group of civilians held at hostage by the terrorists.
The final battle unfolded as Sri Lankan armed forces successfully completed the largest hostage rescue mission ever conducted by a conventional military force. Troops started rescuing the last group of hostages since the 16th May morning and declared the mission accomplished by the next day morning.
Meanwhile, troops of 58 Division linked up with 59 Division troops on the coast by the evening on the 16th. The link up marked the liberation of the entire coastal belt in the Island from the terrorists clutches.
Thus, the coastal belt was sealed off for the terrorists making it impossible for them to venture in to the seas.
Then, troops of the three Divisions started boxing in the terrorists from the North, East and South leaving only the lagoon bank on the West open for the terrorists as bait. If the LTTE terrorists wanted to try anything than surrendering themselves, they had no option than swallowing the bait, which they ultimately did to their demise.
The Failed Surface Attack
The terrorists made their first attempt to escape on the 17th morning. They launched a surface attack across the lagoon using boats around 3 AM and landed on the western bank of the lagoon. The attack was at the army defence line at Keppularu where 53 and 59 Divisions linked with each other. However, the attempt was soon foiled by well-prepared troops causing a heavy toll to the terrorists.
According to the ground commanders, the aim of the terrorists in the initial attack was to establish a foothold on the eastern bank of the lagoon and then to open up an escape route to the Muthiyankaddu jungle. One senior officer called the attack a desperate attempt made using an obsolete strategy.
“We knew that the terrorists would try this option first. They tried to breach the line at the link as they always did, but only to meet the most prepared adversary. They wrongly analysed the planning capability of the army and swallowed the bait”, he said.
“If they managed to establish the foothold there, they would certainly evacuate the leadership and the others across the lagoon and disappear into the huge Muthiyankaddu jungle. The victory over terrorist would have long delayed if they achieved this,” he further said.
The 5 Vijayaba Infantry Regiment (5 VIR) of the 53 Division and 19 Sri Lanka Light Infantry (19 SLLI) of the 59 Division were the battalions that crushed the first escape attempt of the terrorists. The 5 VIR soldiers collected over 40 bodies of slain LTTE cadres whereas another 90 odd bodies were collected by 19 SLLI. The total terror bodies found after the attack was 148.
According, to the intelligence sources, senior LTTE military leader Jeyam had led the attack. However, he had not come to the front as most of the senior LTTE leaders do and was killed on the next day.
Straight to the lion’s mouth
On the 17th May morning, troops rescued the last group of hostages held by the terrorists, bringing an end to the hostage rescue mission. By the evening of the same day, troops were able to box in the remaining terrorists to an area not more than 600 x 500 m keeping the lagoon bank on the west still open.
With the nightfall, Special Forces and infantry units of 58 Division pierced into the “box” from the southern edge, pushing the terrorists to fall into the trap waiting for them. Only three options left for the LTTE leadership, either to surrender, or to fight to the death as a true fighter or to try escaping like a coward until the last moment, betraying all his closest followers, including his not-so-loved son, Charles Anthony.
Knowing the character of the LTTE leader for a long time, the battle-hardened commanders realized that he would try to save his life at any cost. A snare was laid to lead him straight to their hands.
Major General Kamal Gunarathne, General Officer Commanding [GOC] of the 53 Division was quick to identify the crucial role that his troops have to play in the end battle. He called the entire battlefield commanders to place their troops at red alert and briefed them how to deal with the last escape attempt of the LTTE. All possible escape routes were blocked, ambush teams were placed, and all counter penetration measures were taken.
Commander of the Army, General Sarath Fonseka , was well briefed on the situation and the battle preparations were made under his direct guidance. By the 17th May evening the battleground was set for the final encounter and the soldiers were waiting for the LTTE leader to make his move.
The End Battle
As anticipated, the LTTE leadership opted to escape using the route that army was so eagerly wanted him to take. His plan was to escape with a small group of his personal bodyguards while all other cadres die in fighting with army, as a deception to cover his movement. He did not want to take even his elder son, Charles Anthony with him, but freed himself from the burden by ordering some of the most senior LTTE military leaders to take him from a different route. Over 12 million rupees found near the location where Charles Anthony was killed might give an explanation how those LTTE leaders were persuaded to the task.
It was troops of 17 Gemunu Watch [GW] to have the first contact with the terrorists. According to Lieutenant Colonel Keerthi Kottachchi , Commanding Officer of the 17 GW, a group of terrorists disguised as civilians had asked his troops manning the defence at the lagoon bank to let them in around 2.30 AM on the 18th May.
“It was my troops that manned the civilian rescue point at Karayamullivaikkal. The terrorists had come along the lagoon bank and were hiding in a small islet that lies in front of our defence .Only a small group of them have come to our line and pleaded the officer there to let them in saying there were lot of casualties among them”, Colonel Kottachchi said.
However, Colonel Kottachchi was well briefed of the situation by his Task Force Commander, Colonel G.V. Ravipriya and Brigade Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Lalantha Gamage of the possibility that the terrorists might launch an attack disguising themselves as civilians. The 17 GW was a unit under the command of 682 Brigade of the Task Force 8, which was also under the operational command of the 53 Division.
“Since, all civilians were already rescued, I have given strict instruction to not to take anyone in, until dawn. Around 3 AM, the officer at the rescue point reported that the group who called them civilians was becoming violent and trying to force into the line. So, I ordered him to fire two shots into the air and take control of the situation”, he said.
With the firing of two shots, nearly 200 terrorists opened up fire and charged into the defence. The end battle began.
“We were well prepared for the attack”, said Lieutenant Colonel Lalantha Gamage 681 Brigade Commander. “The terrorists neutralized two of our bunkers opening about a 100m gap in the defence. Most of the initial intruders stepped into the beaten zone of our machine guns and died on the lagoon bank itself. The commandos and infantrymen killed about 100 LTTE cadres including some of the most senior leaders even before they stepped out of the water”, he added.
The plan of the terrorists as analysed by the military officials were to take hold of the A-35 road for some time and execute their escape plan whatever it was with the attack at the 17 GW frontline, it was evident that about 100 other LTTE cadres had infiltrated into the area shown in the map, through various location of the lagoon bank. However, army had pre plans to deal with such an infiltration. The terrorists were again put into a box sealed with three strong defence lines of Army 53 and 58 Divisions.
The 53 Division held the northern and southern defence lines across the A-35 whereas the 58 Division held the eastern line along the A-35. Soon after the first engagement, Commandos and Special Forces under the operational command of 53 Division were sent to reinforce the northern defence line. With no strongholds or hideouts they earlier had, the terrorist ran in every direction with in the box until they finally met their fate. With the failed infiltration, LTTE lost 90% of its remaining cadre with in 24 hours.
The first terrorist group to meet their fate at the hands of army counter penetration troops was the group comprising of Charles Anthony. The group was gunned own by 5 GW troops before they walk 250m distance from the point of infiltration.
A large majority of the other infiltrators who managed to step on the ground were dealt by the 58 Division troops manning the defence line on the coastal side of the A-35 road. Over 100 other LTTE cadres who remained hiding in the mangroves were killed by the commandos, Special Forces and infantry troops conducting mopping up operations.
Meanwhile, another group comprising over 100 LTTE cadres tried to breach 58 Division defence, north of Vadduvakkal with the first light of the day. This group of also met the same fate at the hands of Special Forces soldiers and infantrymen already engaged in mop up operations in the last remaining LTTE hideout.
The ambulance that mislead media
The End Battle gave birth to number of speculations among the media circles than any battle in the Sri Lanka’s war on terror. The government has allowed number of media personnel in state and non-state media to cover the progress of the battle from the battleground itself.
However, the inherent thirst of media personnel for new information clashed with inherent chaotic situation created in the battleground that resulted in number of unsubstantial news items. The defence.lk team was not an exception.
The controversy that affected most on defence reportage was about an ambulance that supposed to have hijacked by the terrorists to transport their leader. This ended up with a huge uproar in media that the LTTE leader was killed.
“It was an ambulance belonged to the Advanced Dressing Station of the Air mobile brigade, a senor military official of the 53 Division said.
“It was destroyed by the terrorists may be in a failed attempt to hi jack the vehicle. We initially received from the soldiers that there was a burnt body lying closer to the destroyed vehicle that have a similar structure to the LTTE leader. Later, the information was proven wrong”, he added.
The Mission Accomplishment
On the 18th May evening, troops not only crushed the desperate attempt of the LTTE to escape but also took hold of the last remaining land under the LTTE control. Commander of the Army, General Sarath Fonseka declared the accomplishment of the mission by liberating the motherland from terrorism. The next day morning (19th), His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces was to officially declare the liberation of the country at the parliament.
Meanwhile, military commenced clearing operations to neutralize possible enemy pockets and to collect the bodies and captured LTTE assets. On the 18th May itself over 350 bodies of slain LTTE cadres were collected. Intelligence officials managed to identify some 30 odd top level LTTE cadres before the nightfall. However, the whereabouts of LTTE chief V. Prbhakaran, his intelligence chief Pottu Amman and Sea Tiger chief Soosai were still a mystery.
However, the country was celebrating not only the liberation of the country but also the death of LTTE leader, as media including state media continued to confirm the same. However, Army refrained issuing an official statement on the death of the LTTE leader but expressed its strong belief that the LTTE leader may be among the dead.
In reality, the process of identifying the bodies and collecting them was still in progress. Yet, not for a second army ignored the possibility of that the LTTE leader may be alive. Despite relaxing the operations, the battlefield commanders tightened the clearing operations, with the soldiers starting to search every inch of the shrub on the ground and the mangroves in the lagoon.
The End of the villain
The 19th May 2009 was indeed an unforgettable day for all Sri Lankans. The President officially declared the liberation of the motherland from clutches of terrorism. Addressing the parliament, he said that from the day onwards the laws made in the democratically elected parliament would govern in whole country. The country was jubilant and the celebrations were on.
Meanwhile, the day was still busy for the soldiers. The battlefield commanders were yet to get the ultimate catch of the trap they laid. Major General Kamal Gunarathne, Colonel G.V. Ravipriya and Lieutenant Colonel Lalantha Gamage were preparing to launch the final phase of the master plan, the clearing of the last remaining patch of mangroves that lies south of the causeway at Karayamullavaikkal .
Lieutenant Colonel Gamage was confident; it was just the previous night that he swore to his fellow officers that it was his troops that would catch “Prabha” at the end. Those who planned the battle knew that the 681 Brigade Commander was not talking nonsense. If Prabhakaran swallowed the bait as planned and remained live, he had nowhere to go than hiding in the mangroves behind the 4 Vijayaba Infantry [4 VIR] frontline.
The commandos already cleared a large part of the mangroves on the previous day evening. Knowing the possibility that LTTE leader had betrayed majority of his followers in a deceptive attack to save his life, the second clearing operation was launched in the remaining part of the mangroves by both commandos and 4 VIR troops around 8.30 AM on the 19th morning.
Lieutenant Colonel Lalantha Gamage, and Lieutenant Colonel Rohitha Aluwihare, Commanding Officer of the 4 VIR were on the frontline expecting for a good news. Two eight man teams and one 4 man team of 4 VIR Bravo company were in the mangroves.
The first team into the mangroves, lead by Sergeant SP Wijesinghe, encountered heavy small arms fire as they stepped few metres in the growth. The soldiers had to wade through thorny bushes with water up to their chest.
Sergeant Wijesinghe was quick to feel the presence of a high profile LTTE leader in the area from the resistance he had got. The team charged mangroves despite all difficulties and managed to collect five bodies carrying pistols and small arms that were usually carried by VIP escorts.
The Brigade Commander and the Commanding Officer were soon informed. One of the bodies was identified as of Vinodan, one of the most senior bodyguards of the inner protection team of the LTTE leader. “With in seconds we knew the importance of the finding”, Lieutenant Colonel Lalantha Gamage said.
“The matter was informed to the GOC and under his guidance, the first team was ordered to hold the line and sent another eight man team and a four man from the flank to support them” (see map). The second team was lead by Sergeant TM Muthubanda.
After an hour of heavy fire fight in the mangroves the guns were suddenly fell silent. A message came from the team leaders that there was body bearing similar appearance to Prabhakaran found among 18 other dead LTTE cadres. Both Lieutenant Colonel Gamage and Lieutenant Colonel Aluwihare rushed into the mangroves and found that the villain who haunted the nation for 30 years was no more.
The Achilles’ heel
The end of the megalomaniac killer and the megalomaniac outfit he created finally did the justice to the 19 million Sri Lankan citizens who suffered immensely due to the madness he unleashed. Ironically, it was the same madness and the hatred championed by Prabhakaran and his followers that became their Achilles’ heel.
Had the insular minds of Prabhakaran and his ardent followers abroad could perceive the reality, at least 500 LTTE cadres could have saved their lives even at the last moment. It is quite clear that Prbhakaran kept his last hope at the strength that he believed to be there with the pro terror Tamils abroad. Perhaps, he might have thought that Donald Gnanakoon and the lot had the power to send whole US army to Mullivaikkal to save him. Unfortunately, propaganda lies of LTTE could only took few mediocre diplomats for a ride and made them making fool of themselves by clamouring for a terrorist outfit.
On the other hand, it appears that the so-called “diaspora” Tamils supportive of terrorism had believed that Prabhakaran processed some kind of super natural powers and therefore his outfit would be invincible. Perhaps, they might have believed Prabhakaran was buying time to use some secret weapon that can whack whole Sri Lanka Army with a single blow. What they did not know was that that Prabhakaran was a coward who spent most of the hard earned “diaspora” monies sent to him for his own luxury.
However, the most immediate victims of this two-way deception carried out for last 30 years were the Tamils lived in Wanni under Prabhakaran’s tyranny. The brutal war that was fought at the expense of the Tamil youth had no genuine interest one the part of the person who led it or the people who funded it. The whole process was conducted out of unbridled hatred and lacked the scope to reach anywhere near to its so claimed goal, redressing legitimate grievances of the Tamil people.
In contrary, Sri Lankan Armed Forces fought a different war backed by strong will of the national leadership. Every member of armed forces and police shared the vision of their Commander in Chief that is to create a country free of terror for the next generation. Instead of hatred they brought the kindness on their Tamil brethren. They risked their lives to save innocent civilians from the evil grip of LTTE terror. They braved the raining artillery and mortar shells only with the riffles in their hands to free the civilians held hostage by the terrorists.
Finally, it was their kindness that was understood by the Wanni civilians and made them to seek protection with the soldiers. There was no bloodbath, no genocide, massacre as predicted by pro terror media but an end to terror and freedom to the Tamil nation.