Colonel HP Ranasinghe: “The Eight Man Team,” 17 August 2018, https://lrrp.wordpress.com/tag/special-infantry/.
Sri Lanka builds its future soldier capability around Special Forces, used to great effect against the LTTE insurgency. Sri Lanka is continuing its soldier modernisation plans continuing with the initiatives that it attributes to its success in defeating the LTTE insurgency.
Colonel HP Ranasinghe, Commander Special Forces Brigade, Sri Lanka Army stated, “[The] Special Forces of Sri Lanka rely principally on human skills blended with little equipment and technology. “Skill and will” being the policy due to compelling economic constraints. However, looking into the security challenges of the future, the Special Forces are contemplating upgrading programmes, designed to blend human skill with the “right technology.”
The key unit in recent operations has been the Special Infantry Operations Team (SIOT). The SIOT was developed as a concept by the infantry to fight and defeat the LTTE in sub conventional, guerrilla and counter insurgency warfare. The concept exploited the inherent nature of the infantryman, born and bred in villages and possessing the same attributes as a guerrilla.
The SIOT saw the employment of specially trained infantry teams in four man, eight man and twelve man units as a means of surveillance, target acquisition and a human guidance system for delivery of effective combat power within LTTE controlled areas. The operational range and endurance of these small infantry groups covered a distance 5-6km over a period of four days. With replenishment, some of the teams extended operations to five days depending on circumstances.
The Sri Lankan military attribute the effectiveness of SIOTs to seven main factors; operational endurance of the Soldier including hygiene, nutrition and medical factors; merging with the terrain with improved camouflage; reducing their signature by appearing as locals in terms of their tracks; extending the range of communications; improved power sources, more effective remote control devices and a better night operations capability.
An improvement to rations was achieved simply by innovating using local food to extend operational range, duration and scope. Local solutions to nutrition were applied to ensure that lightweight energy and nutrients could be provided, utilising dried meat with honey as well as yams and tree roots. The expertise of locals in herbal medicine was also studied such as in the treatment of snake bites. This was noted as particularly useful for individuals during escape and evasion.
To enhance operational endurance, caches of food were established, initially for experimental purposes. Due to the lack of proper sealing methods, some items deteriorated and some were sniffed out by animals until the problems were identified and rectified.
Camouflage uniforms initially worn by Special Forces were olive green fatigues which were clearly visible in the jungle as a dark patch when wet and did not blend easily with most of the terrain. As a response, a new camouflage was used that better merged with most surroundings, focusing on a design that was complementary with the bark of trees.
Many tactical problems occurred due to the signature of military boot prints. Experiments were conducted on how to reduce the signature of the boot. Finally a plain rubber sole similar to the slippers used by the locals were selected with significant results.
Communication ranges was often insufficient, with an average range of 45 Km using HF. To overcome this deficiency intensive research was conducted Army with three communications sets employed in a relay method. An extended antenna, dubbed “Slim Jim” was used which extended ranges to 54 km.
Individual hands free communication systems are now being sought as are improved HF communication systems with burst transmission capability for data and a more reliable satellite phone. Low cost commercial mobile telephones were often used to complement and at times supplement radio communications. It was noted that the LTTE extensively utilised commercial off the shelf satellite communications.
The direction of indirect fires was a priority task given to the SIOTs with VHF communications being the primary communication system. Although direct communications connected the SIOT teams with battalion level mortar batteries, access to artillery support was only achieved by relaying target information through an artillery fire coordinator to the gun position.
SIOT teams are being provided with two VHF radio sets and one Sat phone to support this and other tasks and more secure links are also being sought. Remote control devices were experimented with for years, using commercially available devices produced locally. After modification by the Sri Lanka Army these were regularly used to enhance the effectiveness of ambushes.
Most night operations were confined to ambushes due to insufficient equipment and at times equipment had to be pooled between units. An upgrade plan is currently being contemplated with the aim of improving the ability to conduct movement at night and add a limited night fighting capability, integrated on personal weapons, an area which will also be enhanced with the addition of new day sights to enable precision engagement in an urban environment. Since night vision equipment was used on a scale of one per team, this required team members to follow virtually blind. On most occasions, movement through the jungle was conducted during the day due to this lack of individual night vision devices. The jungle terrain also reduced the efficiency of image intensifiers and use of infra-red devices was detectable, due to the close nature of the terrain and the activeness of the system.
Other improvements will include the introduction of a Light Weight Under Barrel Grenade Launcher fitted to personal weapons on the basis of two per eight man team. The teams currently use 40mm Grenade Launchers as an additional weapon, which enhanced the firepower of the team but was found to be cumbersome.
In terms of navigation, existing weapons are to be upgraded with digital compass fitted on each personal weapon and integrated on day/night sights. Integration of the compass and GPS on individual weapons systems will enable effective navigation whilst preserving the ability to respond effectively to sudden contacts without impeding the carriage and use of personal weapons.
Cheap civilian utility range finders with ranges up to 300 m were used effectively by the LTTE. The Sri Lankan military is considering considering their use on laser designators on the basis of one range finder per team.
Commercial mini-solar equipment to recharge the batteries of the communication sets as well as GPS and SAT phones was also introduced. In operations however this had limited endurance and a more rugged optimised solutions had to be provided.
For Power, interoperable batteries and a common recharging system for equipment are being sought. During recent operations, power was preserved to support operations over a period of three to four days with the use of strict radio discipline, communicating only when required. Sri Lanka is seeking lightweight, interoperable batteries for communications systems, night vision and range finders will also be used to support the support the goals of the reduction of soldier load and overall sustainability.
In operations, lightweight armour providing protection from fragments were preferred, as it supports mobility and flexibility.
Colonel HP Ranasinghe was speaking at IQPC’s Soldier Modernisation Asia 2011.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Infantry, Infantry Innovations, LTC (Retired) Ivan Welch, SIOT, Special Infantry, Special Infantry Operation Teams, U.S Army Infantry Magazine on August 16, 2018| Leave a Comment »
Sri Lankan special forces soldiers were experienced in both the conventional and unconventional aspects of infantry warfare. Photos courtesy of Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence and Urban Development
How do you defeat a rebel army? An army that grew from the smallest insurgent cells, using terror as its prime tactic, to a fully manned force with artillery, an air wing, naval units, and elite suicide cadres? How do you remake yourself during a conflict in a way that leads from stalemate to victory? Look to the Infantry.
The Sri Lankan army had just such an experience. They fought for many years against a separatist movement that had evolved into an insurgent state. Facing an impasse on the battlefield, leaders and men rethought their tactics and revived infantry fundamentals.
Background of Conflict: Cycle of Ceasefires
The Eelam War began in 1983 as the long-term tensions between the Singhalese and Tamil populations erupted with riots, killings, and government response. This initial outbreak set the tone for the long bloodletting to come. The first cease-fire between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) began in July of 1987 and was followed by the Indian army intervention on the island.
The Indian army fought with the LTTE and established a peacekeeping effort which lasted until the withdrawal of the Indian army three years later in March 1990. Fighting resumed between the LTTE rebels and the government of Sri Lanka in June 1990, marking the beginning of Eelam War II. The Sri Lankan army was locked into positional defense for the next five years of conflict. From these fixed positions, they used conventional formations and tactics, seeking to clear rebel-dominated areas. During this time, the LTTE conducted terror acts and unconventional warfare throughout the island.
International forces and domestic political realities led to another cease-fire in January 1995. It was short lived, however, because of violations of the cease-fire, terror attacks, and changes in political will. This led to Eelam War III in April 1995. For six years, the Sri Lankan armed forces fought to stave off disaster and protect the Sri Lankan people. During large-scale operations, the Sri Lankan army often advanced on narrow fronts to minimize movement and logistic difficulties. This allowed the LTTE to concentrate defenses along a single axis of advance and stop the much larger force.1Then, by infiltration and maneuver, the LTTE would strike at weak points along the extended line of advance to great effect.2
The LTTE consolidated territory and created a position of strength. International pressure once again led to a cease-fire which lasted five years. This long hiatus allowed the LTTE to transform from an insurgent force to a rebel army. They amassed artillery, created naval and air capabilities, and expanded a land force replete with dedicated and deadly suicide cadres.3 Renewed terror attacks, natural disasters, and political changes weakened the cease-fire agreement, and the fourth and final Eelam War began in July 2006. The LTTE was once again poised to “combine guerilla warfare, positional defense, and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to slow down and inflict heavy casualties by the extensive use of indirect fires.”4 The Sri Lankan army, however, had also been preparing during the cease-fire. Innovations in infantry training, organization, and employment — along with the efforts of all the armed forces — led to the government’s final victory in May 2009.
Initial Use of Infantry
The conventional tactics of advancing infantry formations along linear avenues of approach and seeking to penetrate fixed defenses proved to be a meat-grinder for the Sri Lankan army. The LTTE used freedom of movement to infiltrate the flanks of these formations and then strike against the column in depth. When the army columns were delayed by IEDs and obstacles, LTTE artillery and mortars were brought to bear with deadly accuracy.5
Over the years, this pattern replayed several times as government offenses were stalled by the LTTE and cease-fires were declared. During these lulls, the LTTE was able to rest and refit while strengthening defenses and choosing the next target. It was during this last pause in 2001-2006 that the senior leadership of the Sri Lankan army realized they had to do something different to change the results in the fighting that would inevitably return. In 2001, during the final stage of a failed divisional operation to clear LTTE positions in northern Sri Lanka, heavy battlefield casualties led to a new concept in infantry tactics. The division stalemated and several small units were missing in action. Unexpectedly, three squads of soldiers made it back to friendly lines after traversing miles of guerilla-controlled territory. This led Infantry leaders to conclude that small units of infantry — with the proper training, organization, and equipment — might be effective within the LTTE area.6 They needed to make changes to avoid the failures of the past, and this could have been the answer.
Analysis of the past combat experiences pointed to the success of the special forces and commandos in disrupting LTTE operations and striking fear into its leadership.7 These forces were successful in the close battle as well. Over years of brutal fighting, these elite forces had perfected small unit combat deep within LTTE-controlled areas.
These special forces had their beginnings in 1985 in the midst of Eelam War I. A small group of two officers and 38 men conducted operations deep in LTTE-dominated areas. They were known as combat tracker teams. They were created under the guidance of then Major G. Hettiarachchi and Lieutenant A.F. Laphir.8 In December 1988, the unit was officially designated as 1st Regiment Special Forces and expanded to four squadrons. Over the years, they became a vital force that was relied upon for deep reconnaissance and raiding. By necessity, they had become the force of both first and last resort during the long civil war. On the eve of Eelam War IV, they were experienced in both the conventional and unconventional aspects of infantry warfare.9 Their hard-won expertise laid a foundation for the building of the new special infantry operations teams (SIOTs). The special forces and commandos provided a template for equipment, training, and tactics for the infantry to build on.
Shift to More Aggressive Leadership
Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka was promoted in December 2005 to head of the Sri Lankan army. This signaled the political leadership’s commitment to more aggressive leadership and dedication to a final victory. Fonseka was known for his focus on results in combat that weakened the LTTE at all levels and built toward further success. He was quoted by V.K. Shashikumar in the July-September 2009 issue of Indian Defense Review, speaking about how he selected his commanders:
“I did not select these officers because they are young. But they were appointed as I thought they were the best to command the battle. I went to the lines and picked up the capable people. I had to drop those who had less capacity to lead the battle. Some of them are good for other work like administration activities. Therefore, the good commanders were chosen to command this battle. I thought seniority was immaterial if they could not command the soldiers properly. I restructured the army and changed almost all the aspects of the organization…”
Successful and aggressive brigadiers were given command of new formations trained to close with the enemy and create battlefield advantage by defeating the enemy “at their own game and in their own backyard.”10
Expansion of Innovation to Infantry
The most innovative aspect of the Sri Lankan army’s adjustments after the 2001 to 2006 cease-fire was the organization of 12-man teams within infantry battalions. These acted independently within the four-kilometer frontline zone that marked the limit of these lead elements. Abandoning the traditional practice of a fixed forward line with major units massing against narrow frontages, the infantry battalions were organized into small units to patrol along the forward line of own troops (FLOT) to make contact with the LTTE cadres and press the attack on a broad front. This took away the freedom of movement LTTE elements had enjoyed over the decades of civil war.
Special Infantry Operation Teams: Concept and Training
Many factors contributed to the development and implementation of the SIOT concept. Much credit goes to the Sri Lankan serving officers’ ability to be self critical. Long hours of soul searching and sharing the stories of combat failure from the earlier days of the conflict led to “prudent analysis.” In recognition of the sacrifice of fallen comrades, officers and men rededicated themselves to the difficult task of combat innovation. They developed a training program that mixed the Sri Lankan infantry’s conventional past with the hard-won lessons of years of unconventional warfare. The innovative concept of creating small SIOTs drew from the special forces experience as well as capitalizing on simple villagers’ inherent field skills.
The Sri Lankan army lost 6,000 soldiers during Eelam War III, with as much of 90-percent of those casualties being foot soldiers. These losses left the infantry in need of an overall “rejuvenation” due to the need to replace these casualties and the planned expansion of operational forces.11 During the cease-fire that ended Eelam War III, advanced platoon training began to reestablish morale, unit cohesion, and a baseline of infantry competency across the force.
All the nations of South Asia share the military legacy of the British imperial army. British doctrine and force design permeated the headquarters down through the rank and file. After decades of combat experience, the leaders of the Sri Lankan army had learned the hard lessons of fighting in the jungle. Infantrymen at all levels felt the need to move away from past doctrines and address “a modus operandi suitable to Sri Lankan environment.”12 The transformation to small teams began. The SIOTs concept was implemented from the ground up — not from an institutional base or from the top down.
The training was extensive and lengthy. After completion of the 44-day advanced platoon training course, select soldiers continued with the SIOT course for additional weeks. This took over three months and “included combined arms, joint warfare, and real-life exercises inclusive of close air support.”13 The SIOTs were spread out through the infantry battalions of the army. Each rifle company had six of these teams that passed on their skills as instructors. Infantry skills were improved in all formations. By 2006, some infantry companies were completely manned by SIOT soldiers.14This level of skill allowed the battalion commander to dominate a broad front that extended 4-5 kilometers in depth. “The concept exploited the inherent traits of the infantrymen born and bred in villages and possessing the same attributes as a guerilla such as familiarity with jungles, robustness to endure hardships, and the free, uncaring attitude of operating independently.”15
Special forces selected weapons best suited for close combat in the jungles of Sri Lanka. The SIOTs adopted and adapted these choices for their own use. A silenced 9mm MP-5 submachine gun maintains stealth and avoids immediate compromise upon contact. Enemy individuals or small outposts could be killed or suppressed without the noise of conventional infantry weapons. The limitations of the 9mm round meant that this was a specialized weapon. Each SIOT member was trained primarily on the AK-47 variants and the light machine guns of the same caliber (7.62x39mm), as well as the medium PK machine gun (7.62x54mm). RPG-7s were carried for assault and to break contact. Thermobaric and high explosive rounds were routinely carried for greatest effect, and Claymore-type mines were used for protection when stopped and for conducting ambushes.16
Commercially available GPS devices assisted with navigation and control of indirect fires. Night vision devices were sought by all the teams but were in short supply. These were especially useful in surveillance and target acquisition.17
Experience in Battle
With the focus on highly trained infantry teams, combat became more decentralized. Teams conducted combat operations without officers present. Planning was conducted jointly by officers and men while decisions were made in the field by sergeants. This required initiative by all ranks and led to innovation in tactics and techniques.
During the final Eelam War, there was a marked change in morale and mission focus. “Most of the men and nearly all of the officers in the 55th Division were veterans, many of them with long years of service in the Eelam War. A seasoned force, the Sri Lankan army had gained from their previous experiences. Not only was morale consistently high, the mentality was now very different. Previously hesitant, hidebound, and beleaguered, they were now confident, self-reliant, and resourceful; this was the new Sri Lankan army. It had been a remarkable transformation.”18
These four-, eight-, and 12-man SIOTs operated across the battalion frontages seeking contact with the enemy.19 Out to a depth of four kilometers, these independent teams disrupted LTTE reconnaissance, pushed in outposts, and called in fire support against enemy concentrations. This created uncertainty for the LTTE, not knowing from what axis to expect the Sri Lankan army. The jungle was no longer the sole domain of the enemy.
At night, the teams remained well forward as listening posts and conducted ambushes along avenues of approach. This helped secure the area of advance and protect the forces in the rear from surprise attack or flanking movements. General Fonseka was quoted as remarking, “Those days (before SIOTs), we always advanced in battalion strength. We would advance for about two kilometers and then wait for artillery support. Now, we got used to going much further forward by ourselves; sometimes we would go out more than eight kilometers in a day, sometimes 12. The enemy didn’t know where we would be or what we would do.”20
SIOTs Zone of Attack
The teams maintained their separate actions for days, carrying their own supplies, establishing caches, and living off the land as much as possible. Night combat also increased. Previously, the Sri Lankan army ceased actions at night. Only Sri Lankan special forces fought day and night. With the advent of the SIOTs, this changed; the LTTE no longer owned the night. Not only did the infantry formations move and fight at night, but they maintained the tempo of attacks over several days, with no fixed number of days or periods of time to limit them. Operational phases became more unconventional and unpredictable, putting the LTTE at further disadvantage.21
With so many small units deployed, the lack of communications equipment was a constant problem. Overall situational awareness suffered “and occasionally resulted in fratricide.”22 The teams struggled to master the arts of camouflage and moving undetected while maintaining communication with their parent units and fire support.
Brigadier R.A. Nugera summarized the battlefield experience of the SIOTs at a defense seminar held in 2011.23 He emphasized their success in operating “on wide fronts, infiltrating, and striking the terrorists from the front and the rear.” These small unit operations took time and “lacked momentum in a conventional sense.” It required patience to gather the battlefield intelligence needed to dominate. “The LTTE finally lost the contest for the jungles, their critical bases, their social rents, and ability to wage classical guerilla warfare,” Nugera said. The SIOTs suffered heavy casualties in this aggressive, constant contact endeavor, and this required a steady program of on-the-job training as new infantry soldiers joined the SIOTs already in the field. Nugera explained, “The actions of these teams compelled the LTTE to commit more cadres and reserves to contest the jungles, and this denied them of much needed reserves to counter other security force operations.”
As the Sri Lankan infantry took the fight to the LTTE on their own turf, they began to dominate the elements of time and space. They found that most of the LTTE cadres had “very basic training and relied most of the time on familiarity of terrain and freedom of action rather than actual developed skills.”24 The SIOTs proved to be the superior fighters.
Conclusions and Key Lessons Learned
The Sri Lankan army leadership agreed, “The key unit in recent operations has been the special infantry operations team.”25 The success of the SIOTs is most commonly attributed to their endurance, their ability to merge with the landscape, and their ability to develop the combat situation to their advantage and bring the superior firepower of the Sri Lankan forces to bear. “The SIOT was developed as a concept by the infantry to fight and defeat the LTTE in sub-conventional, guerrilla, and counterinsurgency warfare. The concept exploited the inherent nature of the infantryman, born and bred in villages and possessing the same attributes as a guerrilla.”26
Key lessons learned from this operational experience include the need to conduct “in-stride” training to replace combat losses and not degrade operational capability. Perhaps even more significant was the impact the SIOTs had on the overall Sri Lankan army. This “battle-tested doctrine” was formulated “in real time” and “served as an engine to inspire the infantry.”27
Created to face the LTTE in the jungles, the SIOTs established new standards for the infantry as a whole:
- Improved tactical intelligence
- Continuous surveillance of the battle area
- Timely and accurate target acquisition
- Reduced casualties through dispersion and stealth
- Reduced civilian casualties by precision in operations
The success of the SIOTs in dominating the near battleground freed the special forces from the close battle and allowed them to be used in their classic role of deep penetration against critical and high-value targets.
Jungle warfare requires small groups that know the jungle and feel at home there. U.S. forces in Vietnam, especially special forces and long-range reconnaissance patrol units, learned these same lessons. Extensive task-focused training is a necessity. Weapons sets must include large-caliber automatics that can defeat the jungle foliage and suppress a close enemy. The expert use of explosives for assault and ambush are needed as well. Most importantly, aggressive leadership is needed at the team and section levels. Without the aggressive corporals, there will be no success. Finally, a level of trust was established amongst the echelons of leadership. Traditional command and control gave way to trusting the team leader with the freedom to accomplish the mission.
As Nugera told the world in 2011, “ultimate success came on the ground by winning the patrol skirmishes. By contesting the LTTE in the dense jungles of the north and the east and by confronting and defeating the deadly suicide cadres… It became the infantry way of war. It resulted in the LTTE being overwhelmed in an expanding torrent of small group operations which they could not match qualitatively or quantitatively and so were defeated.” 28
1 DBS Jeyaraj, “An Operation Drags On,” Frontline, 13-26 December 1997, Frontline : In-depth analysis of issues and events in India and around the world
2 Major General (Retired) Lalin Fernando, “Army’s Admired Innovations,” The Island, 12 October 2010, http://pdfs.island.lk/2010/10/12/p9.pdf.
3 Major General Chagi Gallage, “Operations in the East,” BUSINESS TODAY – Humanitarian Operation
4 Brigadier Ralph Nugera, “Evolution of Training,” BUSINESS TODAY – Combat Service Support And Evolution Of Training
6 Brigadier Ralph Nugera, “Evolution of Training,” transcript from video of presentation given at the “Defeating Terrorism – Sri Lankan Experience” seminar held 31 May – 2 June 2011.
7 Fernando, “Army’s Admired Innovations.”
8 Sandun W., “The Heroic Saga of the Special Force: ‘I Who Would Not Dare to Give in to the Enemy,’” Lanka Help Magazine, 12 October 2011.
9 Use & Misuse of Special Forces in Sri Lanka — Does the SL Army Need to Rethink its Special Operations Doctrine? – David Blacker’s Blog | The Eight Man Team
10 Nugera, transcript.
11 Nugera, “Evolution of Training.”
13 “85 More Pass out After Buddy Trio Training,” …………………………………. http://www.nationalsecurity.lk/fullnews.php?id=26227
14 Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe, “Strategic Analysis of Sri Lankan Military’s Counter-Insurgency Operations,” Future Directions International, 12 February 2012, 2.
15 Nugera, “Evolution of Training.”
16“LTTE Commander killed in Claymore attack,” TamilNet, 10 June 2006, TamilNet: 10.06.06 LTTE Commander killed in Claymore attack
18 SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, “Sri Lanka –The Last Phase in the Eelam War IV,” Sunday Island Online, The Island-Features
19 Udara Soysa, Terrorizing Terrorists, Understanding the Successful Counter-insurgency Campaign in Sri Lanka (Zeilan Press, Massachusetts, 2009) 22.
22 Nugera, “Evolution of Training.”
23 Sandasen Marasinge, “Defeating Terrorism – Sri Lankan Experience Seminar,” Daily News, 2 June 2011, Sri Lanka News | Online edition of Daily News – Lakehouse Newspapers
24 Nugera, transcript.
25 Colonel HP Ranasinge, “Sri Lanka Looks to Special Forces Lead,” Soldier Modernisation, Vol. 7 June 2011, Soldier Modernisation | Sri Lanka Looks to Special Forces Lead
27 Nugera, transcript.
Special Force troops pose on the summit of Thoppigala peak on 11 July 2007 after the LTTE stronghold at that spot in the Eastern Province was overwhelmed after an intense struggle in the period April-July 2007 — see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Thoppigala
The tactical level of operations was dominated by small groups. This campaign was successfully waged across all levels of conflict from the tactical areas of responsibility and theatres of combat to the forums of international diplomacy. Prudent analysis of the past dictated the development of innovative concepts, blending conventional and unconventional warfare, concepts and tactics to suit the nature and environment of the conflict. Small groups of light infantrymen with meager equipment sharpened individual and team skills, and this was an innovative approach to counter insurgency and defeat the LTTE.
There were a number of factors that influenced the introduction of this concept. Heavy casualties resulted due to the employment of mass formations against an elusive guerilla army. The LTTE’s concept was to combine guerilla warfare, positional defence and IEDs to slow down and inflict heavy casualties by the extensive use of indirect fires. Taking advantage of the ceasefire, the LTTE built its arsenal of artillery and heavy and medium mortars.
Another factor was enhancing combat power through a mix of human skill and affordable technology. GPS and NVDs were some of the simple affordable equipment, which were used by the Special Infantry Operation Teams in executing their missions. This was specifically important in the areas of surveillance and target acquisition.
Developing the overall quality and competency of the infantry was influential in the training process, as the infantry had suffered miserably from the last conflict. The need for its overall rejuvenation was evident in the number of casualties and rapid expansion. In addition, the introduction of a suitable doctrine compatible to local environment was highlighted. Having followed the British doctrine in the past, the need for a modus operandi suitable to Sri Lankan environment was felt by infantrymen.
The origins of this concept date back to 2001, to an event in which a failed divisional operation to clear 45 LTTE held positions in Northern Sri Lanka resulted in heavy casualties and a few missing in action. Remarkably, three soldiers separated from their units were able to make it back to their lines. This encouraged thought to the effect that infantry, trained and purpose built could operate in guerilla controlled territory. Hence it was wise that the infantry transform into small groups to gain the initiative and finally defeat the LTTE.
The primary reasons for developing this concept include to improve tactical intelligence surveillance and target acquisition, to enhance lethality by improving the effects of the superior firepower of the security forces, to improve decision-making and the application of combat power at decisive points, to reduce casualties by operating in disperse small groups and lastly, to reduce civilian casualties by improving precision in operations.
Special Infantry Operations Teams were trained and organised for small group operations on the lines of guerilla warfare. This includes sub conventional operations, guerilla and counter insurgency warfare. They were the watchmen of the Battalion Commander and capturing an area through dominance was their modus operandi. The concept exploited the inherent traits of the infantrymen born and bred in villages and possessing the same attributes as a guerilla such as familiarity with jungles, robustness to endure hardships and the free, uncaring attitude of operating independently.
The training and development of this force was done through carefully planned training exercises. Infantrymen for the Special Infantry Operation Teams were selected from a 44-day advanced infantry platoon training, which was designed to maintain the combat efficiency of the infantry platoon throughout the peace period. On being selected from this course, students underwent a comprehensive training programme designed to develop the skills essential for special infantry operations missions. The training was conducted for a period of three and a half months. The improvement of the operational efficiency of the infantry as a whole could be attributed to the conduct of realistic and objective infantry battalion frame. This included combined arms, joint warfare and real life exercises inclusive of close air support.
The transformation and success of the infantry in defeating the LTTE through this concept could be expressed in three progressive stages: contest, impact and its success. The contest was for the jungles and the teams operated on wide fronts infiltrating and striking the terrorists from the front and the rear. They provided quality intelligence, which enhanced the lethality of the Security Force firepower and facilitated decision-making. The actions of these teams compelled the LTTE to commit more cadres and reserves to contest the jungles and this denied them of much needed reserves to counter other Security Force operations.
The next stage was impact: the teams dominated the jungles and gained moral ascendancy over the LTTE. This took time but the LTTE finally lost the contest for the jungles, their critical bases and ability to wage typical guerilla warfare. The teams suffered heavy casualties and thus had to be replaced by the basic infantry.
Finally, the success of the Special Infantry Operation Teams influenced the basic infantry to adopt the same concept, highlighting the transforming effect that took place. The small group approach to operations spread throughout the entire infantry and thereafter blended the infantry and the Special Infantry Operation concept.
The lessons learned from this operation are as follows:
It is all about ‘dominance’. Operations conducted by the infantry such as counter terrorists, counter guerilla or even counter insurgency are principally about dominance. A major proportion of the LTTE cadres with the exception of a few elite units had very basic training and relied most of the time on familiarity of terrain and freedom of action rather than actual developed skills. All that was required was shaping the infantry with the confidence to operate in small units.
A battle-tested doctrine served as an engine to inspire the infantry. Precision in civilian environments was imperative and the infantry small group operation was effective and achieved a fair amount of precision. Lack of adequate communication to meet the demands of many teams was a challenge that was persistent and at times could not be met. It also created the problem of situational awareness, and occasionally resulted in fratricide. Innovative methods of employing the claymore mine were developed by the infantry with advice from the field engineers and the special operations forces.
Lastly, the concurrence of training and fighting: due to the number of casualties during the campaign, the Special Infantry Operation Teams were replaced with lesser-trained infantrymen . This was the implementation of the on-the-job training policy. The village youth maybe the answer: the recruit from the village is a suitable match to a guerilla, terrorist or insurgent if trained systematically whilst retaining the natural attributes inherited from his environment.
In conclusion, the defeat of the LTTE was attributed to a number of strategic operational tactical successes. However, it was the equation on ground that was changed in favour of the Security Forces for the dedication, skill and will of the infantryman.
Brig Ralph Nugera,*** WWV RWP RSP in Minute entitled “Evolution of Training” — reproduced in http://www.businesstoday.lk/article.php?article=3487 where one can find two other Minutes from Brigadiers Dhammika Kariyawasam & Tissa Jayasuriya on “Logistical Support” and from Maj Gen Sanjeewa Munasinghe, on “Medical Support” … all dated 2011
- Swift, Silent & Deadly
- Fear The LRRP
The LRRP has been very successful in covert operations against the LTTE terrorists in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. Its members were so successful in assassinating key LTTE figures that many LTTE leaders refused to come out of their jungle bunkers before the 2002 ceasefire was implemented. After the resumption of hostilities, it is believed that the LRRP units conducted operations in the LTTE held northern province too. The LTTE has accused the Sri Lankan Deep Penetration Units of launching attacks on LTTE leaders in their areas, although the Sri Lankan Government denies any involvement in these attacks. The teams have had success against LTTE leaders such as military intelligence leader Colonel Charls and many leaders. Other success have included observing LTTE training camps and calling in air strikes. The LRRP’s successes and dedicated operators have garnered a fearful reputation among the LTTE. The SL Army commander Gen.Sarath Fonseka had recently acknowledged that LRRP units were used to beat the LTTE at their own game.It was later revealed that LTTE, who were masters at jungle warfare refused to engage in combat and withdrew from their positions instead of holding their ground because of these elite soldiers. SL LRRP unit falls under SF3 (Special Forces 3rd Regiment)they and SF1,SF2,SF4 & Commandos played a vital role in eliminating the LTTE including V.Piribaharan a.k.a Sun God a.k.a Supreme Commander of the LTTE. LTTE according to FBI is was the most dangerous terrorist group in the world.
- Things you didn’t do
Remember the day I borrowed your brand new car and I dented it?
I thought you’d kill me but you didn’t.
And remember the time I dragged you to the beach and you said it would rain and it did?
I thought you’d say, “I told you so”, but you didn’t.
Do you remember the time I flirted with all the guys to make you jealous and you were.
I thought you’d leave me, but you didn’t.
Do you remember the time I spilled strawberry pie all over your car rug.
I thought you’d hit me but you didn’t.
And remember the time I forgot to tell you the dance was formal and you showed up in jeans?
I thought you’d drop me. But you didn’t.
Yes, there were lots of things you didn’t do.
But you put up with me and you loved me and you protected me.
There were lots of thing I wanted to make up to you when you returned from War.
But you didn’t.
- Silent Heros – The LRRPs’
“Stealth, bravery and a commitment to duty, these were the attributes of the men of the Sri Lankas’ Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs). Going deep inside LTTE held enemy lines, danger was their watchwood & Military Skills was their only protection.”
- Victory Day : Lest We Forget
It was on the night of the 19th of May and dawn of 20th 2009 that Sri Lankan rid itself completely of the plague known as Tamil terrorism and became a country where there is freedom of movement for all.
Let us remember those that gave their lives to make this a reality and remember all the misguided LTTE youth who died in vain with compassion.
- Nineteen ’til I Die
“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.
- Ralph Nugera: “Combat training in the Sri Lanka Army,” 26 February 2016, https://thuppahis.com/2016/02/26/combat-training-in-the-sri-lanka-army/
- “Special Action Infantry Teams: Their Origins and Critical Role in Eelam War IV,” 21 May 2019, “https://thuppahis.com/2019/05/21/siot-or-special-action-infantry-teams-their-origins-and-critical-role-in-eelam-war-iv/