India played a critical, albeit covert, role in the success of Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamil Tigers, with the Indian Navy providing vital intelligence in locating and destroying at least a dozen LTTE rogue vessels laden with arms, says the first such detailed account of the operation.
India’s covert support to Sri Lanka in the war against the LTTE assumed many forms, ranging from back-channel talks and a tacit endorsement of Colombo’s destroy-LTTE mission to supply of military hardware and sharing of real-time intelligence, says Nitin A. Gokhale in his book “Sri Lanka – From War to Peace” (Har-Anand Publications).
New Delhi helped Colombo in myriad ways despite its public hands-off posture and denial of offensive weapons to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE) due to domestic political compulsions, contends Gokhale.
The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in New Delhi was dependent upon the DMK party from Tamil Nadu, perceived to be sympathetic to the LTTE, for its survival in parliament.
“Publicly, India maintained that it would not give Sri Lanka any offensive weapons. Yet, in early 2006 India quietly gifted five Mi-17 helicopters to the Sri Lankan Air Force,” Gokhale writes. “The only Indian condition was: these helicopters would fly under Sri Lankan Air Force colours. New Delhi clearly did not want to annoy UPA’s Tamil Nadu allies like the DMK unnecessarily,” he says.
The author singles out the Indian Navy for special praise. The Indian Coast Guard gifted a Sukanya Class offshore patrol vessel (OPV) to the Sri Lankan Navy in 2002, which played a major role in several daring missions launched by the Sri Lankan Air Force to rescue the Army’s Deep Penetration Units when they were surrounded by LTTE’s counter-infiltration units.
The OPVs also helped when injured soldiers had to be airlifted from deep inside LTTE-held territory.
The author quotes Sri Lanka’s Navy Chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda to underline the Indian Navy’s contribution in locating and destroying at least 10 ‘floating warehouses’ owned and used by the LTTE for storing arms, ammunition and even armoured personnel carriers.
According to Indian and Sri Lankan Navy sources quoted by the author in his book, well-coordinated operations by the two navies between 2006 and 2009 actually broke the backbone of the LTTE’s Sea Tigers.
Intelligence-sharing also proved crucial. The Indian Navy’s Dorniers, fitted with powerful radars, based at Ramnad in Tamil Nadu flew regular reconnaissance missions over the seas around Sri Lanka.
“Whenever a suspicious ship was detected, the Indian Navy passed on the information to the Sri Lankans. The real time intelligence helped Sri Lankan Navy to track and then destroy the LTTE arms consignments,” says Gokhale, who covered the last phase of Sri Lanka’s battle against Tamil Tigers for NDTV.
The book also recounts vividly the last days of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran, who pioneered the cult of suicide bombers and tormented the Sri Lankan state and people for three decades.
Ordering the assassination of former prime minister of India Rajiv Gandhi proved to be a major strategic error on the part of the charismatic guerrilla leader, the author writes.
Gokhale also provides an insight into the Sri Lankan government’s winning strategy for the decimation of the LTTE that ended Asia’s longest-running insurgency.