Compiled by Gp Capt Kumar Kirinde, SLAF [retd] …. from ………… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Peace_Keeping_Force and Google Images
The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was the Indian military contingent performing a peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990. It was formed under the mandate of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan Accord that aimed to end the Sri Lankan Civil War between Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan military.
The main task of the IPKF was to disarm the different militant groups, not just the LTTE. It was to be quickly followed by the formation of an Interim Administrative Council. These were the tasks as per the terms of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, signed at the behest of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Given the escalation of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and with the pouring of refugees into India, Rajiv Gandhi took the decisive step to push this accord through. The IPKF was inducted into Sri Lanka on the request of Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene under the terms of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord.
The force was initially not expected to be involved in any significant combat by the Indian High Command. However, within a few months, the IPKF became embroiled in battle with the LTTE to enforce peace. The war erupted following the death of 17 LTTE prisoners, including two areas commanders in the custody of the Sri Lankan Army, which the LTTE blamed the IPKF for allowing to happen. Soon, these differences led to the LTTE recommencing their attacks, at which point the IPKF decided to disarm the LTTE militants, by force if required. In the two years it was in northern Sri Lanka, the IPKF launched a number of combat operations aimed at destroying the LTTE-led insurgency. It soon escalated into repeated skirmishes between the IPKF and LTTE.
The IPKF began withdrawing from Sri Lanka in 1989, on the orders of the newly elected Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and following the election of the V. P. Singh government in India. The last IPKF contingents left Sri Lanka in March 1990.
India’s battle in Sri Lanka is often called ‘India’s Vietnam’ by international media, by way of comparison to American military involvement in the Vietnam War.
Background to the Indian involvement: Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and military intervention
In the 1970s, two major Tamil parties, the Tamil Congress and a split, the Federal Party united to form the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), a separatist Tamil nationalist group that agitated for a separate state of Tamil Eelam in north and eastern Sri Lanka that would grant the Tamils greater autonomy within the federal structure.
However, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, enacted in August 1983, classified all separatist movements as unconstitutional, Outside the TULF, Tamil factions advocating more militant courses of action soon emerged, and the ethnic divisions eventually led to violent civil war.
Initially, under Indira Gandhi and later under Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Government sympathised with the Tamil insurrection in Sri Lanka because of the strong support for the Tamil cause within the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Emboldened by this support, supporters in Tamil Nadu provided a sanctuary for the separatists and helped the LTTE smuggle arms and ammunition into Sri Lanka, making them the strongest force on the island.
The first round of civil violence flared in 1983 when the killing of 13 soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army sparked anti-Tamil pogroms; the Black July riots. The riots only aided in the deterioration of the ethnic relations. Militant factions, including the LTTE, at this time recruited in large numbers and continued building on popular Tamil dissent and stepped up the guerrilla war.
The Sri Lankan government, deducing a decline in support for the Tamil rebels from India, began rearming itself extensively for its anti-insurgent role with support from Pakistan, Israel, Singapore, and South Africa. In 1986, the campaign against the insurgency was stepped up. In 1987, retaliating against an increasingly bloody insurgent movement, the Vadamarachchi Operation (Operation Liberation) was launched against LTTE strongholds in Jaffna Peninsula. The Sri Lankan Army laid siege on the town of Jaffna. This resulted in large-scale civilian casualties and created a condition of humanitarian crisis. India, which had a substantial Tamil population in South India faced the prospect of a Tamil backlash at home, called on the Sri Lankan government to halt the offensive in an attempt to negotiate a political settlement. However, the Indian efforts were unheeded. Added to this, in the growing involvement of Pakistani advisers, it was necessary for Indian interest to mount a show of force. Failing to negotiate an end to the crisis with Sri Lanka, India announced on 2 June 1987 that it wound send a convoy of unarmed ships to northern Sri Lanka to provide humanitarian assistance but this was intercepted by the Sri Lankan Navy and forced to turned back.
Following the failure of the naval mission the decision was made by the Indian government to mount an airdrop of relief supplies in aid of the beleaguered civilians over the besieged city of Jaffna. On 4 June 1987, in a bid to provide relief, the Indian Air Force mounted Operation Poomalai. The ultimate aim of the operation was both to demonstrate the seriousness of the domestic Tamil concern for the civilian Tamil population and reaffirming the Indian option of active intervention to the Sri Lankan government.
Following Operation Poomalai, faced with the possibility of an active Indian intervention and lacking any possible ally, the President of Sri Lanka offered to hold talks with the Rajiv Gandhi government on future moves. The siege of Jaffna was soon lifted, followed by a round of negotiations that led to the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord on 29 July 1987 that brought a temporary truce. Crucially however, the negotiations did not include the LTTE as a party to the talks.
Amongst the provisions undersigned by the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was the commitment of Indian military assistance should this be requested for by the Sri Lankan Government, as well as the provision of an Indian Peace Keeping Force that would “guarantee and enforce the cessation of hostilities”. It was on these grounds, and on the request of Sri Lankan President that Indian troops under the concept of IPKF were inducted to Northern Sri Lanka.
Originally a reinforced division with small naval and air elements, the IPKF at its peak deployed four divisions and nearly 80,000 men with one mountain (4th) and three Infantry Divisions (36th, 54th, 57th) as well as supporting arms and services. At the peak of its operational deployment, IPKF operations also included a large Indian Paramilitary Force and Indian Special Forces elements. Indeed, Sri Lanka was first theatre of active operation for the Indian Navy Commandos. The main deployment of the IPKF was in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.
The first Indian Army troops to be deployed to Sri Lanka were a ten thousand strong force from the 54th Infantry Division commanded by Major General Harkirat Singh, which flew into Palali Airbase from 30 July onwards. This was followed later by the 36th Infantry Division.
By 1987, the IPKF consisted of:
54 Infantry Division
10th Battalion, Parachute Regiment (Special Forces)
65 Armoured Regiment, equipped with T-72 tanks.
6th Battalion, Brigade of the Guards
91 Infantry Brigade
5th Battalion, Madras Regiment
8th Battalion, Mahar Regiment
1st Battalion, Maratha Light Infantry
76 Infantry Brigade
12th Battalion, Garhwal Rifles
2nd Battalion, Maratha Light Infantry
25th Battalion, Rajput Regiment
47 Infantry Brigade
11th Battalion, Madras Regiment
5th Battalion, Maratha Light Infantry
14th Battalion, Sikh Light Infantry
36 Infantry Division
115 Infantry Brigade
5th Battalion, 1 Gorkha Rifles
72 Infantry Brigade
4th Battalion, 5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force).
13th Battalion, Sikh Light Infantry
41 Infantry Brigade
5th Battalion, Rajputana Rifles
57 Infantry Division
4 Mountain Division
340 Independent Infantry Brigade (Amphibious)
1 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (later part of 57 Inf Div.)
18 Infantry Brigade
4th Battalion, Mahar Regiment
12th Battalion, Grenadiers
5th Battalion, Parachute Regiment
1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment (Special forces)
9th Battalion, Parachute Regiment (Special forces)
13th Battalion, Brigade of the Guards
4th Battalion, Assam Regiment
15th Battalion Mechanised Infantry Regiment
25th Battalion Mechanised Infantry Regiment
17 Parachute Field Regiment
831 Light Regiment
8 Engineer Regiment
110 Engineer Regiment
Indian Air Force
Soon after its intervention in Sri Lanka and especially after the confrontation with the LTTE, the IPKF received a substantial commitment from the Indian Air Force, mainly transport and helicopter squadrons under the command of Gp. Capt. M.P Premi, including:
No. 33 Squadron- Antonov An-32s
No 109 and No. 119 Helicopter Units – Mil Mi-8 helicopters.
No. 125 HU – Mil Mi-24s.
No. 664 AOP Squadron Chetak and Cheetah
The Indian Navy regularly rotated naval vessels through Sri Lanka waters, mostly smaller vessels such as patrol boats.
Indian Naval Air Arm
No. 321 Squadron of the Indian Navy- HAL Chetaks
No. 310 Squadron of the Indian Navy- Breguet Alizé
MARCOS (also the Marine Commando Force or MCF)
Indian Paramilitary Forces
Central Reserve Police Force
Indian Coast Guard
Major combat operations
Operation Pawan (Wind) was the code name assigned to the operation by the IPKF to take control of Jaffna from the LTTE, better known as the Tamil Tigers, in late 1987 to enforce the disarmament of the LTTE as a part of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. In brutal fighting lasting about three weeks, the IPKF took control of the Jaffna Peninsula from the LTTE. Supported by Indian Army tanks, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery, the IPKF routed the LTTE at the cost of 214 soldiers and officers.
Operation Viraat (Giant) and Operation Trishul, were anti-insurgency operations launched by the IPKF against LTTE in April 1988 in northern Sri Lanka, in the provinces of Mannar to Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass to Vavuniya. The operation was planned as a result of the evolving doctrine among the Indian high command of conducting search and destroy missions against LTTE strongholds instead of holding key strong points. It utilized approximately 15,000 troops including armoured corps, Paratroops, as well as the infantry troops and army aviation. These operations achieved some success in disrupting LTTE operations, with seizures of weaponry and inflicting limited casualties among the LTTE cadres. During the Operation Viraat, the IPKF uncovered well prepared LTTE defenses, including concrete bunkers with electric generators, as well as caches of arms and reserves.
Operation Checkmate was an anti-insurgency operation carried out by the IPKF against the LTTE in the Vadamarachi area of northern Sri Lanka in June 1988. Initiated immediately prior to the elections in the North Eastern Provinces, the aim of the operation was to destroy the Tigers’ capacity to hinder the electoral process, which they had called to boycott.
The IPKF mission, while having gained tactical successes, did not succeed in its intended goals. The primary impact of the IPKF, has been that it shaped India’s counterinsurgency techniques and military doctrine. The political fallout, the IPKF casualties, as well as the deterioration of international relations has shaped India’s foreign policy towards the Sri Lankan conflict. In December 1999, the Indian Defence Minister disclosed the IPKF had suffered 1,165 personnel killed in action with 3,009 others wounded. Upon its withdrawal from Sri Lanka, the IPKF was renamed the 21st Corps and was headquartered near Bhopal and became a quick reaction force for the Indian Army.
The Sri Lankan government had mooted the idea of a war memorial to those soldiers of the IPKF who lost their lives during the peacekeeping mission, in the early Nineties. The memorial was finally constructed in Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte on the outskirts of Colombo in 2008. The names of the 1,200 soldiers who died are inscribed on black marble. The first official memorial service was held on 15 August 2010 when the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka laid a wreath to honour the dead. Later in 2014, India constructed a war memorial at Bhopal to honour the IPKF.
A renovated memorial for IPKF soldiers in Palaly, Jaffna, has been declared open in June 2015. The names of 33 who died in the operations in the Northern Province during 1987–1990 have been inscribed on a wall at the memorial site.
IPKF Meorial at Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte
IPKF Memorial at Palaly, Jaffna
Why Rajiv Gandhi Sent IPKF To Sri Lanka And How LTTE Played Both Sides
Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord with Sri Lankan President Junius Richard Jayawardene in 1987. Under the pact, the Indian military was deployed as the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka. Soon after the deployment, the circumstances changed and IPKF was engaged in combat by the Tamil armed group LTTE.
Madhur Sharma, 28 Nov 2022
In 1987, the Indian security and intelligence apparaus is believed to have assured Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that Tamil armed groups in Sri Lanka would surrender to the Indian military within 72 hours.
In 1991, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) sent to Sri Lanka was back in barracks in India with over 8,000 casualties, Sri Lankan Tamil leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran was stronger than ever, and India was mourning the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, who was killed in a suicide bombing carried out by Prabhakaran’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The IPKF’s deployment to Sri Lanka remains the only occasion when the Indian military was deployed overseas on a long-term basis. Otherwise, Indian personnel have only deployed overseas as part of the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions or have operated for short durations, such as in wars with Pakistan and in the limited 1988 operation in Maldives to foil a coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The IPKF was sent to Sri Lanka under the India-Sri Lanka Accord signed by Rajiv and Sri Lankan President Junius Richard Jayawardene in 1987. Contrary to popular perception, the IPKF’s deployment was not the purpose of the Accord but an outcome of it, and that too, at the request of Jayawardene.
Broadly, the Accord was aimed at cessation of hostilities in Tamil-populated Northern Sri Lanka by ensuring surrender of armed groups and holding elections in the region. India was to extend all help in the process, including military assistance if requested.
“In the event that the Government of Sri Lanka requests the Government of India to afford military assistance to implement these proposals [in the Accord] the Government of India will cooperate by giving to the Government of Sri Lanka such military assistance as and when requested,” said paragraph 2.16(c) of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord.
The Rajiv-Jayawardene pact was signed on July 29, 1987, and Indian contingents began landing in Sri Lanka within days. Upon landing in Sri Lanka, the LTTE representatives came to meet Indian Army personnel and a rapport soon began to develop between the two sides. The two sides were not yet at war. That would change within months.
Origin of the LTTE movement in Sri Lanka
While the LTTE emerged as the main Tamil armed group in Sri Lanka, it was neither the only one to take up arms nor was it the first to start a movement for Tamilians in the island nation.
The LTTE was founded on May 5, 1976, but Tamils had begun to mobilise socially and politically in early 1970s. There were also other groups, all of which were eclipsed by Prabhakaran’s LTTE. Some of these were Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF).
The Tamil movement, which later came to be helmed by LTTE, thus began as a civil unrest and transitioned into an insurgency. The LTTE turned it into a terrorist movement, becoming an example for terrorists across the world.
“The Tamil movement, starting with civil unrest, gradually escalated to open confrontation with the civil administration. The Sri Lanka response to this was to seek a military solution by launching military operation designated War of Liberation against the militant Tamil groups. The Tamil parties upped their demand to independence (Tamil Eelam) and a separate Tamil state,” notes Lieutenant General (Retired) Amarjeet Singh Kalkat in an article, who served as the overall IPKF commander in Sri Lanka.
The main reason for the Tamil unrest was the majoritarian policies of the Sri Lankan state. The Sinahalese people are in the majority in Sri Lanka and Tamils are in the minority. The Sri Lankan government made Sinhala the official language and later passed laws that curtailed educational opportunities for minority Tamils.
“The genesis of the LTTE can be attributed to discriminatory state policies and oppression of the minority Sri Lankan Tamils at the hands of the majority Sinhalese, which often included island-wide ethnic riots. The conflict escalated when, in 1971, the policy of standardisation was introduced by the government to curtail the enrolment of Tamil students in certain universities across the nation,” writes Anirudhya Mitra in his book Ninety Days: The True Story of the Hunt for Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassins.
The Tamil cause, helmed by the LTTE, received support from the Tamil diaspora the world over, including in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where many Sri Lankan Tamilians were arriving to escape the strife-torn homeland. The inflow of refugees, rising sympathy in India for Sri Lankan Tamils, and the threat of instability of Sri Lanka spilling over into India and the wider South Asia region meant that New Delhi could not sit idle, says Sanjay K Bhardwaj, Professor, Centre for South Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Why did Rajiv Gandhi send military to Sri Lanka?
Contrary to popular perception, the Indian military was sent to Sri Lanka at the request of Sri Lankan President Jayawardene. While military deployment overseas might appear to be an aberration of longstanding Indian policy of non-interference, Bhardwaj of JNU’s Centre for South Asian Studies tells Outlook it was not the case.
Bhardwaj says there were many factors behind Rajiv’s decision to get involved in Sri Lanka. These factors, says Bhardwaj, were borne out of concerns for India and South Asia at large.
“The Nehruvian policy of peaceful co-existence, cooperation, and Asian brotherhood evolved into a pragmatist policy by 1971, which can be called Indira Doctrine. This pragmatism regarding China had already set in after the 1962 India-China War but it properly came into being in 1971 when India fought Pakistan over the liberation of Bangladesh,” says Bhardwaj.
India helped the Bangladeshis fighting the Pakistani regime in Bangladesh, then called East Pakistan, when Pakistani oppression was driving a large number of refugees into India and was creating a humanitarian disaster in the region. The Indian external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) trained the Bangladeshi rebels against the Pakistani regime and, eventually, India fought an overt, full-fledged war that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
When a similar ethnic crises emerged in Sri Lanka, which found resonance in Tamil Nadu, it was expected that Rajiv would act as there was already a precedent for such an involvement.
“In 1971, a policy of reciprocity came into being. Under the policy, India would not intervene in other countries and would expect that others too would not intervene in India. It was also expected that no neighbour would bring extra-regional powers in regional or internal disputes which might compromise the regional security scenario,” says Bhardwaj, adding that New Delhi had been asking Sri Lanka to address Tamil community’s concerns and solve its internal crises long before 1987.
As foreign powers began to get involved in Sri Lanka and as the crises began threatening to spill over into India, New Delhi could no longer sit in isolation. Initially, for several years, RAW helped LTTE and other rebels in Sri Lanka. When conditions escalated to the extent that covert activities could no longer fulfil Indian interests, New Delhi went overt.
“The Pakistani spy agency ISI was active in Sri Lanka. It doesn’t matter whether ISI was on the side of the Sri Lankan government or the LTTE, but it was definitely against Indian interests. It was disrupting attempts at peace in Sri Lanka and was working to destabilise India,” says Bhardwaj to Outlook.
Besides Pakistan, the Cold War actors and factors were also involved in Sri Lanka and New Delhi at the time was not entirely trustful of the two.
Therefore, says Bhardwaj, to prevent foreign powers, particularly Pakistan, from setting up a base in Sri Lanka and to prevent the spilling over of Sri Lankan crises into India and the wider South Asian region, New Delhi had to act. Therefore, Rajiv sent the IPKF to Sri Lanka.
Therefore, says Bhardwaj, to prevent foreign powers, particularly Pakistan, from setting up a base in Sri Lanka and to prevent the spilling over of Sri Lankan crises into India and the wider South Asian region, New Delhi had to act.
The botched IPKF mission
While laden with noble intentions, the IPKF mission was full of troubles. The foremost was that there was no clarity to Indian military commanders on the ground about their mandate. They were thrown into a conflict without any thought-out planning.
“Apart from a vague brief that we were in Sri Lanka to enforce ‘peace’ between the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE, we actually had not been briefed as to what the role of the IPKF was supposed to be…Information, especially pertaining to our role in Sri Lanka, remained sketchy and nebulous,” writes former Indian Army chief General (Retired) VK Singh in his autobiography Courage and Conviction. Singh served in Sri Lanka as a company commander.
Singh further notes that, for four months, the ground commanders of the Indian Army did not have updated maps of the region they were operating in. The maps available to them, writes Singh, were from the 1930s when Sri Lanka was under colonial rule.
In hindsight, it can be concluded that Rajiv deployed the Indian military to Sri Lanka without considering all aspects. The main flaw in the well-intended plan was that it relied on everything going according to the plan. There was no exit plan and no bipartisan guarantee over the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord by Sri Lankan leadership.
“In securing the Accord, the Ministry of External Affairs overlooked the first principle of Intervention. In civil unrests, most conflicts have a political dynamic and ultimately require a political resolution. It is only the government of a country that can give political dispensation to its citizens, not an outside power,” notes Lt. Gen. Kalkat, the overall IPKF commander, in an article for India Foundation.
Bhardwaj of JNU’s Centre for South Asian Studies says, “It is definitely the case that not all aspects were considered while signing and executing the Accord, but the intention was not bad.”
Indian forces in Sri Lanka suffered massively and several operations went astray. JN Dixit, who was the Ambassador of India to Sri Lanka when Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was signed, said they were told that Tamil armed groups were “boys” of Indian intelligence agencies and could never rebel against them. The LTTE began an offensive against IPKF within months of deployment.
“Intelligence agencies did not analyse it from that point of view at all. They said these are boys who were trained by us from 1977 or whatever…They did not look at it from that angle at all. They said these are our boys, we know them very well, they owe so much to us, so once they say yes, they will not fight us, they won’t. That was their judgment,” said Dixit in an interview with Rediff News in 2000.
The IPKF mission cast a long shadow on Indian strategic thinking, with the debacle cementing the Indian belief to not get militarily involved overseas.
“Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan operation ended in disaster and, with the IPKF pulling out without achieving its objectives, it became the most powerful argument against future Indian military involvement overseas. The ghost of Operation Pawan hung over the proposals for similar Indian missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and, recently, against ISIS,” writes former Indian Army officer and journalist Sushant Singh in his book Mission Overseas: Daring Operations by the Indian Military.
LTTE playing both sides, cost paid by India
The IPKF and the broader Indian stabilising mission was not just opposed by the LTTE but also by the political classes of India and Sri Lanka.
Following the signing of the peace pact between Rajiv Gandhi and Junius Richard Jayawardene, both the countries had a change of guard. Rajiv was succeeded by VP Singh and Jayawardene was succeeded by Ranasinghe Premadasa. Both were opposed to the Indian presence in Sri Lanka. Premadasa cut a deal with LTTE as both sides planned to benefit with the Indian departure from the island, according to IPKF commander Lt. Gen. Kalkat.
“President Premadasa thought that after the IPKF left, his Army could then take on a considerably weakened LTTE as a result of IPKF operations, while Prabhakarn was sanguine that he could defeat the Sri Lankan military if the IPKF was not around,” writes Kalkat in an article.
He also writes that Premadasa also supplied arms and ammunition to LTTE to aid their war against the IPKF.
Ironically, the LTTE assassinated Premadasa in a suicide bombing in 1993 — similar to the one that killed Rajiv in 1991.
When IPKF returned to India, Rajiv was not the prime minister. The election campaigning was on and he was also on the campaign trail. It was widely believed at the time that Rajiv would emerge victorious in the elections. One line of thinking says LTTE assassinated Rajiv because it feared he might send the military to Sri Lanka again upon re-election.
While the IPKF suffered losses in Sri Lanka and the mission could not be termed a success, the LTTE too suffered some significant losses and this line of thinking says LTTE did not want to risk repeating such losses with a second round of Indian military deployment.
“For the extremist organisation [LTTE] struggling for Tamil Eelam, this meant a possible re-induction of the IPKF in Sri Lanka and a certain crackdown on the elaborate LTTE network established in Tamil Nadu…The LTTE had made up its mind to prevent Rajiv Gandhi from regaining power even if it required the ultimate deterrent — his assassination,” reported Mitra in 1991, the author of Ninety Days.
Bhardwaj of JNU’s Centre for South Asian Studies does not agree with the line of thinking that says LTTE killed Rajiv as it feared he might send IPKF to Sri Lanka again.
“There was not a possibility of IPKF’s return to Sri Lanka. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was more of a retribution by LTTE and Prabhakaran for his involvement in Sri Lanka,” says Bhardwaj.