The Commanding Roles in the Last Phases of the Eelam War: A Few Thoughts

Retd Brigadier Hiran Halangode

Thanks, Michael for inviting me to comment on the remarks made by Mr. Gerald Peiris. I will only comment briefly on your observations to his two disagreements.  Some areas are classified because it involves the character of both Field Marshall SF and Gota and their role in winning the conflict over the LTTE, since their political ambitions may be affected in the future. The spheres of  political and military leadership were differentiated. The Navy, Air Force, Police, STF, and the Civil Defence Force were part of the military leadership, whilst MR, GR, Basil R and Lalith Wiratunga provided the political and civilian leadership.


Here are my observations on two of your comments (reproduced below in brown) on Long’s article**

Roberts 1.  So, Gotabaya was not the single decisive hand in shaping the outcome of Eelam War IV. But in support of some lines in the Stephen Long essay, I shall dwell on several of his special contributions within a separate essay. Moreover, the recent Easter Sunday attacks and subsequent tensions in Sri Lanka encourage me to endorse Stephen Long’s caustic account of the glaring shortcomings in the intelligence operations of the Yahapaalana government. That, of course, is a conclusion that is widely shared.

ANSWER:  Our insurgency against the Tamil separatist required a government response that needed the coordinated efforts of the political, military, diplomatic, economic, geo-strategic and administrative elements of Sri Lanka. Counter Insurgency requires a clear aim, accurate intelligence, rule of law and proper Rules of Engagement for the Armed Forces, an efficient Police force, support of the public, government propaganda and publicity to defeat the insurgents who used subversion, guerrilla warfare, terrorism and conventional warfare methods of operations to deny the government writ and its democratic rule of the country.

State intelligence is the responsibility of the Police through the NIB [now SIS – State Intelligence Services] which has many supporting branches including CID, TID, CDB etc. Military Intelligence is primarily Intelligence for the Armed Forces and are headed separately by the Army, Navy and Air Force. Since all these units operated separately in the early stages of Eelam War 4 with limited success, Gotabaya Rajapaksa decided to bring them under his purview and appoint the DMI as head of Int services instead of the Police because he had more confidence in employing them under emergency law that prevailed at that time to get quick results. However, the Army and Navy Int units have been found to have been involved in these extra judicial activities which has tarnished the professional image of our Security Forces. These cases are under review at present.

After the Yahapalanaya government came into power they reverted back to the normal system because the emergency regulations were lifted and only the Law and Order arm, the Police, can act on the Intelligence received which was under a SDIG Jayawardena. The only para-military force available was the STF [Special Task Force] who could have searched, arrested, detained and interrogated the suspects without emergency powers. However there has been a lack of coordination between the President, Defence Secretary, SIS DIG and the STF to act on the Intelligence [information?] provided by the Indian authorities. One must also remember that after almost 10 years of relative peace arresting and charging suspects where there was a lack of proof is a very debatable and a serious issue. Even today most of the information and the subversive activities of the Muslim radical groups come from the social media sources because the government is worried to antagonise the Muslim political and business leadership. This affects their voter base. In my opinion our Laws and Judicial process are archaic to say the least and even globally the developed world is struggling to tackle radicalalised violence due to the advances in technology. There is hardly a place to hide but the advances in technology have been cleverly manipulated by these extremist elements. Laws must change where terror suspects involved or are found abetting suspicious terror activities need to prove that they are NOT guilty once apprehended, whereas now the Securty Forces have to prove that they are guilty of terror related activities. We need to understand SUBVERSION and ensure our laws punish those masterminds behind such activities. In Sri Lankan Universities how does ragging take place without any solution in sight? Sad but that is the real world and in terrorism it is still worse.

Now take a read on Major Bulathwatte the Army Major recently reinstated by the present Army Commander despite so much of evidence against him. This is the organisational character of impunity that Gota’s legacy left behind in our Armed Forces which our Sinhala Buddhist supremist are clamouring for forgetting, the universal practice that it will strike back when the common enemy is defeated. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  …. also now inserted in Thuppahi as

Roberts 2.  However, the Sri Lanka Army began to transform its infantry divisions from around 2001 with the development of the SIOT concept which encouraged operational planning from the frontline-upwards and sharpened soldier skills.[2]General Sarath Fonseka is one to whom this course of development can be attributed, but I speculate that there were others involved.  

ANSWER:  The Infantry is the Sri Lanka Army has borne the brunt of the conflict.  General Sarath Fonseka being a decorated infantryman understood the need for a capable infantry force to defeat the LTTE. So in 2001 as the Security Force Commander North he started Special Infantry training for Infantry units under his command which was later developed by junior officers like Ralph Nugera, Chargi Gallage and a few other Infantry officers on Gen Fonseka’s instructions after taking over command in late 2005. This casualty state will amplify my statement.

The casualty state was horrendous: from 1981 to the end of the conflict in May 2009 the Army lost 23,403 Killed in Action [KIA] and Missing in Action [MIA] which is 85% of the total 27,613 KIA/MIA in the conflict. The Navy lost 1163 or 4.2% of the total KIA/MIA, the Air Force lost 426 which is 1.5% of the total KIA/MIA, and the Police lost 2621 personnel which is 9.5% of the total KIA/MIA. The Police lost 678 alone in Batticaloa in 1990 after surrendering to the ruthless LTTE terrorists which is almost 26% of their total KIA/MIA.

The Infantry comprising the Sri Lanka Light Infantry, Sinha Regiment, Gemunu Watch, Gajaba Regiment and the Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment had lost a total number of 18,461 KIA or MIA which is 79% of the total Army fatalities. When the total KIA/MIA of the Commandos, Special Forces and Sri Lanka National Guard is included it rises by 10 % to 89% of total Army KIA/MIA. This is the reality of the conflict and of those gallant troops who have suffered the most in this brutal conflict.

Sadly the Infantry was neglected right throughout the conflict although from 2007 onwards on Gen Fonseka’s request the MR government provided the manpower and basic resources like kit and equipment to fight the LTTE to a finish. The Army had almost 80,000 fighting troops who were mainly Infantry whereas we had approximately 25,000 Infantrymen in early 2005. The LTTE had 30,000 cadres. The SIOT [Special Infantry Operations Teams] concept developed in 2001 during the Cease fire with the LTTE. Please see the following link to get an insight into SIOT training and its employment. [this is from your blog] ….

Combat Training in the Sri Lanka Army | Thuppahi’s Blog ….

Even during the early stages of the conflict, way back in 1979 we had SOP [Special Operations Platoons] in the Infantry trained by the Commando Regiment to operate in the North and East. The critical issue was training, equipment and the concept based on sound doctrine which was not established then due to a lack of support and TRUST by the political establishment. [All feared the military] Prabakaran saw 5 Presidents who changed their stance regularly against a ruthless militant who only based his total focus on Eelam. This was because they lacked the knowledge and will to defeat a determined and ruthless terrorist organization that used over 200 suicide missions as a critical path towards their objective of a separate state.

Even today the Infantry is neglected and forgotten because they are the silent warriors who will be the backbone of the Sri Lanka Army in any future conflict and are unfortunately taken for granted. Any military organization is based on Role, Tasks, Organization, Capabilities and Limitations. They need to be equipped based on their role and tasks, trained to standards and employed based on mission / tasks. This in essence is how professional Armies function. Sadly we neglect these aspects and have still to develop a doctrine to operate within the country as professionals. To add to this we are presently heavily politicized which has impacted our image locally and abroad.

Cheers, Hiran

Lt Col Halangode with General Denzil Kobbekaduwa at Kallady in 1990



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