LRRPs- a Silent tribute to a band of “Unsung Heros”
“No way in hell you could survive ‘out there’ with six men. You couldn’t live thirty minutes ‘out there’ with only six men.”
Throughout history the need for small, highly trained, far ranging units to perform reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, and special type combat missions has been readily apparent.
Confronted by an enemy adept at using terrain to mask movement, thereby leaving conventional forces blind to their intentions, it was only natural that the military should create a capability to monitor and disrupt deep within enemy-held territory.
Old-timers call this the “suicide units”. Whether conducting prisoner snatches, engaging targets , search and destroy missions, or hunting for the enemy’s secret base camps, LRRPs depend on one another 110 percent. One false step, one small mistake by one man could mean sudden death for all.
From saturation patrols along the “de factor” rebel held border to near-suicide missions and compromised positions in the always dangerous LTTE heart land, these units unflinchingly “walk the razor’s edge” every day and has became one of the most respected and most feared illusive battalion in the history of the of the separatist war.
It is dangerous and exacting work, usually carried out by small, close-knit teams of five or six lightly equipped (but well-armed) volunteers, operating beyond artillery support in difficult country. Their tasks–to gather information, mount ambushes, and take the occasional prisoner-were vital if the Tamil rebles were to be denied the initiative.
This blog tries to give it’s readers a very brief retrospect into the lives and battles of the extraordinary men for whom the brotherhood of war was and is an ever-present reality. These tough young warriors — grossly outnumbered and deep in enemy territory– fight with the guts, tenacity, and courage that have made them undying legends in this separatist war.
The Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) is a covert operation (black op) unit of the Sri Lanka Army. This unit is also known as the Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) of the Sri Lanka Army and also as the Mahasohon Brigade (Mahasohona is a demon in Sinhalese folklore hence literally meaning Demon Brigade). LRRP units specialize in carrying out reconnaissance and sabotage operations in deep battlespace. In the ongoing Sri Lankan Civil War, LRRP units have been successful in assassinating several high level commanders of the LTTE in LTTE held territory. The unit has also been accused of launching attacks on and killing civilians. The LRRP suffered a setback when a safehouse was raided by the police and arrested several personnel along with weapons. Before the misunderstanding was later cleared out and the arrested personnel released, the names of the personnel involved in the unit were released to the public media, resulting in the assassination of several personnel. The LRRP was later reformed and has resumed its activities following the resumption of hostilities after a ceasefire between the government and the LTTE was cancelled.
The exact number of troops involved with the LRRP is not known, and neither the Sri Lanka Army nor the Sri Lankan government has officially acknowledged its existence. The unit is operated under the Directorate of Military Intelligence of the Army. It is believed to be comprised of personnel from the Commando and Special Forces regiments of the Sri Lanka Army, in addition to ex-LTTE cadres and members of anti-LTTE Tamil groups. These personnel have received specialized training both in Sri Lanka and abroad. Allegations have been made that LRRP units received training from US Special Forces. The LRRP was believed to have been led by Captain Shahul Hameed Nilam before the ceasefire, with Major Tuan Nizam Muthaliff acting as a deputy commander.
LRRP units have been successful in carrying out several attacks behind enemy lines. Operations are carried out using small groups, which go into and out of enemy territory clandestinely through jungle routes and seek their targets. These groups may stay in safehouses or camp in the jungles until they are ready to take their designated target. Many of the attacks launched by LRRP units targeted high profile LTTE commanders, and were carried out in the manner of roadside ambushes. Before the 2002 ceasefire agreement was signed, the government denied allegations from the LTTE that state backed deep penetration units were targeting their leaders.
Colonel Shankar, head of the LTTE air wing, was killed in such an attack on 6 September 2001. Although his death was speculated to be a result of an internal struggle within the LTTE, the LTTE accused army LRRP units of launching the attack that killed him. A senior sea tiger commander, Lt. Col. Gangai Amaran, was another high profile LTTE leader killed by the LRRP. Other LTTE commanders killed in LRRP attacks include Batticaloa District Intelligence Head Lt. Col. Nizam, LTTE Batticaloa-Ampara Communications Chief Major Mano and artillery specialist Major Sathiyaseelan.
Former head of the LTTE political wing, S. P. Tamilselvan’s vehicle was attacked by LRRP units in May 2001. Tamilselvan, however, was not in the vehicle at the time. LRRP units have also made failed assassination attempts on several other LTTE leaders including Col. Karuna, Col. Jeyam and Col. Balraj. The LTTE has accused the LRRP of attempting to carry out attacks even against the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Exposure and aftermath
In 2002, a ceasefire agreement was signed between the government and the LTTE and all LRRP activities were ceased. The military believed that the targeting of high profile LTTE leadership by the LRRP was a prominent factor in prompting the LTTE to agree for negotiations.
On 2 January 2002, a police team led by SP Kulasiri Udugampola raided an LRRP safehouse in Athurugiriya, a suburb close to the capital, Colombo. The unit was accused of planning to assassinate leaders of the recently elected United National Party government. Six personnel were arrested, including Captain Nilam, the leader of the unit. Four soldiers and a former LTTE cadre were also arrested. In addition, a number of weapons were also taken into custody, including explosives, anti-tank and thermobaric weapons. Details of this raid and the weapons were made public through media. Attempts by the military hierarchy to get the arrested personnel released failed, and Army commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalla issued a public statement revealing the true nature of this unit. The arrested personnel were released only after interrogation on 13 January, under orders from Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, who expressed outrage over the police raid.
Reactions to this incident were mixed. Initially there was a public outcry that the military was planning to assassinate UNP leaders. However, after details about the unit were revealed, the police was accused of compromising a State secret. The military leadership was also blamed for being unable to prevent a “serious breach of national security”. Soon afterwards, the LTTE began a campaign to eliminate the members of the LRRP, and those who were suspected of assisting them. A key informant of the unit, known as Mike, was abducted and killed by the LTTE on 20 January. More than 80 persons involved with the LRRP were assassinated after this. The government did not take any significant measures to stop this, and requests made by the state intelligence agencies were ignored on the basis that it will affect the ceasefire.
The Army Commander, under the direction of the Defence Minister, appointed a Court of Inquiry to investigate the activities of the LRRP. The conclusion of the court of inquiry was that their activities were legitimate and all military hardware found were obtained through legitimate means. As the public controversy on this incident and the killings continued, President Chandrika Kumaratunga appointed a Commission of Inquiry to probe the safehouse raid. The Commission’s conclusion was that in addition to compromising national security interests, the raid was a “total betrayal and absolute treachery to the nation”. The report also included a list of officers of the police and army responsible for the incident.
A special team was set up by the Chief of Police to investigate into the actions of Udugampola and several other police officers.
Resumption of hostilities
The ceasefire was cancelled and hostilities resumed in 2006. Since then, the LRRP has been reformed and is actively participating in the ongoing operations against the LTTE. The LRRP has launched several attacks against LTTE leaders. Head of the LTTE military intelligence, Col. Charles, was killed in one such attack. Cheliyan, the deputy leader of the sea tigers, was also killed in an LRRP attack.
Attacks on civilians
The LTTE has accused the LRRP many times of targeting civilians in areas under their control. In June 2008, The LTTE accused LRRP units of killing 26 civilians in three separate attacks. Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied any involvement in these incidents, stating that the LRRP only targets armed LTTE cadres. Other alleged attacks on civilians include targeting a bus carrying school children, and the killing of Tamil National Alliance member K. Sivanesan. Another notable accusation is the killing of Father M. X. Karunaratnam, the Chairman of the North East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR), a pro–LTTE organization which had accused the Sri Lankan military of human rights violations.
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