Indian Peacekeeping in Sri Lanka

Col(retd) KK Sharma and research associates

Separated from the State of Tamil Nadu in Peninsular India by a string of islets 35 kilometers long and known as Adam’s Bridge, in the placid blue waters of the Indian Ocean lies the island of Sri Lanka. It has been variously described as the Emerald Isle and as Pearl of the East1. Sri Lanka is strategically significant because of its geographic proximity to the Indian mainland and to the sea lines of communication. Sri Lanka’s heritage too is irretrievably bound to India as racial, linguistic, economic and cultural ties indicate. The Ethnic Problem from the Past Sri Lanka is a multi-racial and multi-religious nation. Ever since the British, colonial masters of the sub-continent, transported thousands of Tamils to work in tea plantations, exacerbated differences between the Sinhalese and the Tamils surfaced. Tamils, a brave and self righteous people, had historical roots in the North and Eastern Sri Lanka, which go back to mythological period of Treta. The dawn of independence witnessed intensified ethnic discord which was embedded in deep rooted mutual suspicion, mistrust and hatred with linguistic and cultural antagonism. Sri Lanka neither seriously read the Indian constitution nor attempted to follow the multi-ethnic all inclusive democratic polity of her neighbour. With the passage of time two main groups drifted apart to the dismay of India and result has been unabated bloodletting on the emerald island. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) became independent in on 4 February 1948. Being a majority population, the ruling party was dominated by the Sinhalese, who in their nationalistic zeal started passing legislations which were apparently discriminating against the Tamils. The party re-defined citizenship in a manner that made the one million Indian Tamil plantation workers stateless and they were disenfranchised. This embittered the Tamils2. The resentment of the Tamil minority was exacerbated by the introduction of several majority-oriented legislative measures such as declaring

Sinhalese as the official language; requiring Tamils and other minority groups to secure higher merits than their Sinhalese counterparts for admission in universities (affirmative action in reverse) by adopting the procedure of “Standardization” and by application of the District Quota System. There was conferment of special constitutional protection for Buddhism; failure to grant such autonomy to Tamil majority district council after promises to grant such autonomy had been made; and creation of Sinhalese colonies in predominantly Tamil areas by resettling Sinhala families with a view, as perceived by Tamils , to alter the demographic pattern was also done3. The Sinhala – Tamil antagonism increased during the 1960s. Agreements were signed by moderate Tamil leaders with successive Sri Lankan governments to obtain fair play for the Tamils; but these were not implemented. The Tamils felt betrayed and alienated; frustration increased because of this political discrimination and lack of opportunities for education and economic well being. This economic desolation, loss of faith in peaceful means and ineffectual democratic methods of protests gave rise to violence, authoritativeness and fascist methods. This ethnic agitation born out of the iniquitous and discriminating treatment meted out to the Ceylon Tamils for years together took the ultimate and inevitable turn in the direction of a demand for a separate Tamil homeland in the Tamil – speaking North and East of Sri Lanka. This ethnic agitation, took the shape of a movement for Tamil Eelam or an independent Tamil state. Birth of the LTTE and Rise of Militancy From 1972 onwards, the Tamils started resorting to violence and it thus helped in the rise of assertive and aggressive Tamil militancy spear-headed by the LTTE, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, was formed by V Prabhakaran in Jaffna in 1972 with 10 students. It was banned by the Sri Lankan government in 1978. Despite the ban, the LTTE continued to grow in strength and on 31 July 1983 it carried out its first major terrorist act by ambushing a police patrol at Tirunnelveli and killing 13 policemen, all Sinhala. Retribution was swift and took the form of widespread riots through the length and breadth of the country; over 3000 Tamils died, thousands of Tamil homes

destroyed and some 1.5 lakh Tamils fled to refugee camps. This resulted in India’s inevitable involvement in the ethnic strife as the migration of over one lakh Tamil refugees into the ethnically homogeneous Indian state of Tamil Nadu was politically explosive and understandably the people from the State demanded immediate Indian involvement to stop the genocide of brother Tamils. After this incident, several Indian diplomatic initiatives made an endeavor to mediate between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils; but a proper breakthrough was not reached4. Meanwhile, concurrent with the political and diplomatic moves, the LTTE continued to grow in stature and strength. It was organized into five commands, viz, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Batticoloa and Mannar. The majority of the personal were in Jaffna, but they moved around constantly, depending upon where the main threat was perceived or where they planned to develop major operations. Each command had a political wing and a military wing; the former responsible for establishing a parallel administration and the latter to conduct military operations5. The LTTE continued to grow in stature and strength and by 1986 became the predominant militant organization in Sri Lanka and Jaffna came under LTTE domination. With the civil administration totally paralyzed and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) confined along the coast, the LTTE virtually ran a state within a state6. The Indian Involvement The Sri Lankan government imposed an economic blockade, on the Jaffna peninsula in January 1987 in retaliation against the LTTE‘s announcement that they were going to seize control of the civil administration of Jaffna. The government indefinitely suspended the distribution of all petroleum products in the peninsula. This continued suspension of fuel supply for several days caused serious shortage of food and medicine. Normal life came to a stand still. The Indian High Commissioner sent a proposal to the Sri Lankan government to send a flotilla of small boats across the Palk Straits with relief supplies. This was rejected by the Sri Lankan cabinet claiming that such “unilateral action” would violate Sri Lankan sovereignty. The Government of India

still went ahead and sent the flotilla but it was not allowed to proceed towards Jaffna. As a follow–up step, the Indian government decided to air–drop the supplies. Accordingly, five An-32s escorted by four Mirage – 2000s, took off from Bangalore at about 1600 hours on 4 June 1987, and were back in Indian air space after carrying out a ‘bread drop’ mission. The Mirages operated from Yelahanka. Two additional An-32s were utilized as airborne relay stations. During the drop, two Mirages stayed with the transport aircraft while the other two climbed to 40,000 feet to provide airborne warning and interception if required. The decision to send fighter escort was to meet any contingency of air or ground threat from Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF). The supply mission, code named “Poomalai” was led by Group Captain BK Sunder under the watchful eyes of Air Vice Marshal D Keelor, Assistant Chief of Air Staff (operations) from Bangalore7. The Indo- Srilankan Accord Armed Forces remain the last argument of kings, when all other diplomatic measures fail - India was no exception. After the air drop over Jaffna, the Sri Lankan government sought further discussions with Indian government and the outcome was the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord that was signed on 29 July 1987 in Colombo by the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and the Sri Lankan President, Mr. Jayewardene. This accord was hailed as a major diplomatic and political triumph world over. It sought to end an ethnic struggle that had not only claimed countless lives but also caused untold damage to private and government property and almost ruined the economy of the Island nation. Another motive of India to help Sri Lanka was that it wanted to avoid Sri Lanka taking any help from any other big power like the USA which would have hampered its political reputation in the subcontinent and brought big power rivalry closer home. Moreover, it wanted to prove its sense of concern for its South Asian neighbor. It was also necessary for India in the geo-strategic arena to assert herself as a strong regional power by displaying its military might in Sri Lanka.
On the day the Accord was signed, in Colombo by the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and the Sri Lankan President, J Jayewardene, the departure ceremony of Rajiv Gandhi was marred by an extra ordinary incident. When the Indian prime minister was reviewing the Guard of Honour, he was attacked by a naval member of the Guard. This incident clearly reflected the outrage felt by the Sri Lankans majority on the accord and state of discipline of the force.

The accord sought to achieve the following: • • • • Guarantee the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka Preserve Indian security interests Permit the ravaged economy and infrastructure of Sri Lanka to stabilize with consequential benefits to its people. Ensure that interests of all communities in Sri Lanka were considered8

IPKF – Initial Preparations With these goals in mind the Indian armed forces known as Indian Peace keeping Force (IPKF) were inducted on 30 July 1987. It entered Sri Lanka as per the commitments of the agreement of 29 July 1987, which stipulated that “In the event that the Government of Sri Lanka requests the Government of India to afford military assistance to implement these proposals, the Government of India will cooperate by giving the Government of Sri Lanka such military assistance, as and when necessary. The President of Sri Lanka made a formal request on the day of accord for appropriate Indian military assistance to ensure the cessation of hostilities and the surrender of arms in Jaffna as well as in Eastern Province and India acted on the very next day. At the top operational leadership, was Lieutenant General Depinder Singh, later army commander of southern Command, was the commander of the first batch of IPKF landing in Jaffna on 30 July 1987. He was succeeded by Lieutenant General Harkirat Singh in September 1987. Lieutenant General Amarjeet Singh Kalkat took over as the over all commander of IPKF after him, with the force headquarters at Chennai. This historical operation was called Operation PAWAN. Five joint forces teams for operational planning, intelligence, communications, logistics and personnel constituted the staff element for the operations. The following formations from the triservices took part in Operation Pawan:

Army: • Headquarter Overall Force Commander • • • • • Headquarter 1 Corps 36 Infantry Division 54 Infantry Division 2 Armoured Brigade 340 (Independent) Infantry Brigade Air Force: • • • Frigates - 5 Loading Ship Tank (LST)- 6 Submarine -2 Patrol Boats -12 Auxiliary Ships -2 Air craft -9 • • • • Jaguars -24 Canberras – 6 IL 76 – 4 AN 12 – 6 AN 32 – 30 HS 748 – 7 Mi 8/ 17 Helicopters – 229 • • Auxiliary Ships -2 Air craft -9

Group Navy: • • • • • •

The operational tasks allotted to the IPKF were as follows: • • • • Separate the two warring groups, i.e. SLAF and LTTE and ensure observance of the ceasefire. Take over weapons and ammunitions being handed over by LTTE and other Tamil militant groups. Ensure dismantling of all SLAF camps established after May 1987. Help the local population return to their homes so that they could live in peace. As is evident from the tasks, there was an overenthusiastic and perhaps misplaced understanding in the Defence Headquarters in Delhi, that the ‘political agreement’ between India and Sri Lanka, as well with the LTTE facilitated a classical mediatory and peace keeping role for our armed forces. The preparation of Army units

was accordingly non-combat classical UN Charter ‘Chapter VI’ influenced. India then did not have the benefits of Somalia-1994, Sierra Leone-2000 or Congo-2005 and hence the units went with instructions of a set piece peace-keeping mind set. At tactical levels, the Air Headquarters issued orders of activation of Jaffna air base, thus setting up initial base support facilities. Within days the first overseas detachment of IAF of independent India was operational. Group Captain SSH Naqvi took over as the first IAF Base Commander of Jaffna on 25 August 1987. As the Army units were inducted through out the Northern and Eastern provinces, air maintenance and logistics support was initially provided by helicopters. Initial task of the Navy was to induct Army formations into Sri Lanka and sanitize the offshore sea areas. Additional Navy had the following operational tasks: • • • • Conduct joint Indian - Sri Lankan naval patrols of Sri Lankan waters to prevent movement of arms and militants across the water, in and out of Sri Lanka. Conduct Joint Army - Navy operations to combat any military activity. Logistic support for the build - up and maintenance of the IPKF in Sri Lanka. General operations to support the Accord ( like transfer of refugees ) Indian Coast Guard is a para-military force with an exclusive responsibility of guarding Indian maritime frontiers and regular patrolling of the waters during peace time. During active hostility period, it comes under the operational control of Navy. For IPKF, Coast Guard’s task therefore was to support the Navy. Three shallow draught Inshore Patrol Vessels were placed under the Navy’s control for inshore patrolling in the Palk Bay. The Coast Guards’ F27 aircraft, operating from Madras, ensured air surveillance extending 100 miles to seaward of the east coast of Sri Lanka. The Indian Naval Liaison Teams were positioned at four locations in Sri Lanka – Trincomalee, Pallaly, Kankesanturai and Karainagar10. The induction of troops and their supporting logistics by sea from Madras proceeded smoothly during August 1987. First Army formation to be inducted, 54

Infantry Division under Lieutenant General (Retd) Depinder Singh had made elaborate arrangements for the taking over of arms, ammunitions and explosives from militant groups, and instructions to this effect were widely publicized among the local population. The units were initially asked to carry ceremonial dress to add colour to the ceremonies and instructed to prepare for a warm reception and hospitality of brethren of Northern Sri Lanka. Peacekeeping Operations by the IPKF It was not the classical Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) operation, yet it bore the hallmark of the same. Units established weapon collection points in all the areas and mixed with the local population well. The return of weapons started with a small trickle and gradually picked up11. All along the North and East Sri Lanka, it became evident that disarmament was moving at an unexpectedly slow pace. This slowness was also due to the tension between the LTTE and other rival groups. Each group wanted the other to surrender their weapons first. The issue of disarming of the militants thus posed the greatest immediate threat to the implementation of the Accord as the militants made only symbolic surrender12. Adhering to the allotted operational tasks, India Army confined the SLAF to its barracks and supervised their withdrawal from the positions occupied after May 1987. The local population, reassured by the continuing ceasefire and presence of IPKF personnel, started returning to their homes. True to their training, Indian Army units initiated many welfare measures and troops went out of their way to help ameliorate the suffering of the local population. Complaint cells were opened all over the IPKF’s area of responsibility to register missing persons, losses and even any crime committed by the IPKF personnel. Medical assistance was provided to the people on a very large scale. The IPKF re-opened civil hospitals and provided cover to the needy. The engineers helped in repairing the defective hospital equipment13. The civic actions won many friends and most segment of the civil population viewed Indian armed forces as saviors and messengers of peace. It was peace, won after a hard struggle for daily survivability in a conflict zone and they were keen to hold on to this

support. However, the LTTE leadership was not too sure and was uncomfortable with this warmth for the IPKF. In fact they viewed this as erosion in their support base, which was clamoring for peace and prosperity in the country side. Disarmament by Force By the end of August, problems started surfacing at tactical levels. Skeptical whether the Accord’s commitment for devolution of power would be honoured by Sri Lanka, the LTTE became palpably reluctant to surrender arms. After protracted negotiations by various functionaries, the LTTE was not convinced and hardening of its attitude was evident to most of the units. Induction of units was still going on and in the midst of peace-keeping euphoria; die was cast on 7 October 1987, when the IPKF was ordered to “Disarm the LTTE”. A Cordon Militaire was established across a 310 miles belt, extending northwards from Talaimannar through the Palk Strait and along the east coast of Sri Lanka until its southern limit at Little Basses Island. Ships and aircraft on patrol were directed to use force if required. This was a classical example in the parlance of UN peacekeeping – undertaking an operation under Chapter VI (pacific settlement of disputes by consent) and converting it to Chapter VII (enforcing peace on reluctant parties, or a party which has withdrawn consent, through all means) when the troops on ground have very little time for re-orientation or back up support! To prevent trafficking of weapons and fighters, a line of control was established eastward of the international boundary in the Palk Strait. To curb militant activity on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, fishing activity at night was banned. The Cordon Militaire effectively sanitized the offshore areas through intensive air and surface patrolling. On a daily average, the Navy and Coast Guard deployed four major warships and eight smaller patrol craft, while the Sri Lankan Navy provided five to six patrol craft14.

In the same month, the situation worsened when 17 LTTE personnel, prisoners of SLAF, committed suicide by swallowing cyanide and 12 out of them died. The LTTE’s reaction to this was swift and savage. They soon began to massacre the Sinhalese and destroyed their homes. Alarmed by the turn of events, The Chief of Army Staff of India, General Sunderji came to Sri Lanka for a first hand assessment and was briefed about the situation ,and the considered response from the higher headquarters was to pronounce LTTE as ‘guilty’ and immediate offensive action against the LTTE. Enforcement of Peace by the IPKF Sensing the emerging combat-like scenario, most of the formations and units were hurriedly airlifted with heavy equipment by IL-76, chartered civil aircraft and naval ships. 36 Infantry Division, under Major General RP Singh was inducted into Trincomalee and given an overall responsibility for the eastern Sector. Jaffna sector was placed under 54 Infantry Division with 340 Infantry Brigade moving near the town during the first week of October 1987. The first mission of IPKF was to secure strategically and symbolically most important town of Jaffna. The town symbolized LTTE power and authority and was one area that had withstood all efforts made by the SLAF to capture it. Further more, the LTTE had their headquarters, training facilities, ammunition making factories and caches of arms and ammunitions in Jaffna. Thus it was necessary, to wrest control of this symbol to bring the LLTE back into the mainstream. While main operations were to be developed in the Jaffna sector, the Trincomalee sector was give an operational low profile confining to aggressive patrolling and undertaking offensive operations only when it was necessary.

The forces available in IPKF for the tasks in hand were: • i. ii. Jaffna Sector (54 Infantry Division) 18 Infantry Brigade 41 Infantry Brigade

iii. 72 Infantry Brigade iv. 91 Infantry Brigade v. 115 Infantry Brigade vi. Squadron , 65 Armoured Regiment ( later built up to Regiment less one squadron) vii. 831 Light Regiment , less one battery (heavy mortars) viii. 25 Mechanised Infantry Battalion less two companies (BMP Infantry Control Vehicles) ix. 10 Parachute Commando Battalion

• i. ii. iii. iv. v. vi.

Trincomalee Sector (36 Infantry Division) 47 Infantry Brigade Vavuniya - Mannar 76 Infantry Brigade Batticoloa - Amparai 340 (I) Infantry Brigade Trincomalee 65 Armoured Regiment, less one squadron Artillery Regiment Two Companies, Mechanised Infantry15 IPKF’s first and perhaps the last ‘set piece’ enforcement operation against the

LTTE stronghold of Jaffna was launched on 10 October 1987. This operation was also known as Battle of Jaffna or Siege of Jaffna, depending on whose perspective was recorded. 54 Infantry Division launched their operations with a traditional stratagem of initiating two thrusts by 18 Infantry Brigade from the East and 72 and 91 Infantry brigades from the North. It started on 11 October 1987 and continued for two days. On the night of 11/12 October 1987, a special heliborne operation (SHBO) was launched, in conjunction with the multi-pronged advances by ground forces. In much criticized intelligence failure, the SHBO could not achieve its planned objectives due to fierce resistance of the LTTE cadres in and around Jaffna university area and resulted in avoidable battle causalities. The forces on the two thrust lines continued to move towards Jaffna, encountering heavy resistance all along. The IPKF had very little experience of this kind of urban guerrilla warfare, trained till now for traditional warfare and used to rural and jungle terrain insurgency tactics. Inadequate preparations for

the combat role in this area, non-availability of updated maps, indifferent intelligence feed and lack of local terrain knowledge proved major challenges to the Army units, which came with a different perception, preparation and mind-set. On 19 October 1987, 115 Infantry Brigade was also inducted into the operations on the axis being held by 18 Infantry Brigade. Both brigades resumed their advance on Jaffna, led by very capable commanders - Brigadier JS Dhillon and Brigadier Samay Ram. While the Army units were engaged in active combat in Jaffna and aggressive presence in Trincomalee sector, Air Force inducted a new fleet of Mi-8 helicopters to shore up the air support. These helicopters were assigned a variety of tasks, which included SHBOs, ferry missions across lagoons and to various islands, redeployment of troops, logistic support and most important of all - casualty evacuations. Escalated response in what was now an enforcement operation included a flight of Mi-25s, inducted on 25 October 1987 and soon were on their first mission with Jaffna Jetty as the target. The battle tank of air justified its reputation and LTTE was forced to stay away from important roads and waterways within its reach. In addition to the operational commitment, the air assets were utilised for additional induction air maintenance, air lift of specialist equipment/personnel and large scale regrouping/ redeployment of various units/ formations16. The Indian Marine Special Force (IMSF), a newly formed ‘commando’ arm of the Navy, when presented with an opportunity to test its skills, made its debut in August 1987. 40 strong group of ‘Marine Commandos’ (marcos) participated in 55 combat operations in the first year itself. During their raids, they destroyed LTTE boats, ammunition warehouses and militant camps. They also proved to be a potent force in ‘flushing out’ operations in the islands, lagoons and inlets and were invariantly in the van of amphibious raids17. The young greenhorns of the IMSF displayed their world class prowess as seasoned marcos and proved a real force multiplier in sea and far flung islands.

By the end of October, the IPKF achieved its operational goal of capturing Jaffna, in spite of LTTE’s determined resistance. The IPKF had broken much hallowed invincibility of the Tamil Tigers, who turned out to be like any insurgent cum terrorist groups recruiting innocent children, blowing up thoroughly brain-washed humans for suicide missions and with no compunction on own Tamil civilian casualties. What SLAF was not able to achieve after many years of engagement on its own backyard, was achieved by the IPKF through well orchestrated joint services operations in fewer than two months. However, the IPKF could not capture any of top LTTE leaders, who melted away in jungles and the Jaffna war took heavy sacrifice in terms of casualties. Following the capture of Jaffna, the IPKF proceeded to consolidate its hold over the entire peninsula. Indian Army followed the strategy of pushing the Tamil militants out of the congested urban areas to avoid collateral damage into the thinly-populated countryside where LTTE could not face traditionally trained Indian Army with impunity and ease of remaining incognito in cities. Simultaneous progress was also made in disarming the militants. Arms shipments from various offshore locations were also blocked and intercepted. By the end of 1987, all LTTE fighters were on the run and were confined to a small area in the Eastern Province around Batticoloa district. In the Trincomalee sector, 36 Infantry Division moved from aggressive patrolling to cordon and search and widespread raids on suspected hideouts with a view to dominate the area and prevent LTTE from sending any reinforcements to Jaffna Sector. Following the capture of Jaffna, the LTTE cadres escaped into the forests where many camps were set up and regrouping carried out. After a brief interlude, a new phase of insurgency actions started all over un-held areas. Meanwhile, the IPKF was redeployed to ensure balance in composition and disposition in all sub-sectors. The IPKF had won conventional war, but due to lack of political initiatives from Sri Lanka with LTTE and miscalculations at own politico-diplomatic and strategic levels, it was now reluctantly being drawn into insurgency operations. Insurgency war is a total war, it involves people in an intimate and positive manner, employs all

sinews of war – political, social, economic, psychological, diplomatic and military. It exemplifies determination and readiness for great sacrifices in the pursuance of its goals. But it is localized to the affected area and people and is limited to less sophisticated, less costly and less destructive weaponry. It is an unrelenting, low in intensity, long – drawn war, with time and opportunity serving the interests of the insurgent and wherein the insurgent designs to overcome his weakness in one sphere with the strength in others18. Extension of Operations to Counter-Insurgency In view of the inevitability of a protracted counter-insurgency operation, additional troops were inducted in northeastern Sri Lanka during February and March 1988. 54 Infantry Division, the first peace-keepers of August 1987 had a brigade in Batticoloa- Trincomalee, another in Vavuniya–Mannar-Mullaitivu-Killinochchi, and the third in Jaffna. The Divisional Headquarters, supporting and administrative elements were at Pallaly. In October – November 1987, 36 Infantry Division and two more independent brigades were sent to Trincomalee and Batticoloa sectors, while a strongly reinforced 54 Infantry Division consolidated in Jaffna19. The greatly increased strength of the ground forces of IPKF and the enlarged scope of ground operations necessitated corresponding changes in the Air Force elements as well. Trincomalee and Vavunia were upgraded to a full fledged Base Support Unit by August 1988 to meet the changing operational requirements. The command structure for control of Air operations was also revitalized under Air Marshall GG Singh. Even the maintenance, logistic support, administrative back up, living and working conditions of the personnel deployed on the island, were improved20. To counter the new LTTE tactics of small team insurgency operations from deep forest hideouts, a number of SHBOs were planned and executed by the IPKF. The 119 Helicopter Unit (HU) was moved to Sulur. 109 and 119 HUs combined together to ensure that a minimum of 8 to 10 helicopters were always available on the Island at all times. The Mi-8 fleet was cumulatively involved in airlifting of about more than one

lakh troops and 5500 tonnes in over 35,000 operational missions. The bulk of troops airlifted by the Mi-8s were commandos inducted during the SHBOs which entailed heli-landing at unknown and unprepared landing zones. The Mi-25s were employed in – suppressive fire of intended landing zones, area bombing of jungle hideouts, armed escorts to helicopters engaged in SHBOs and casualty evacuations of own troops. The concept of Mi-25 escort and cap for SHBOs was executed with a great success. The instant reaction capability of the Mi-8s to induct troops, whenever the changing situation demanded, brought in a totally new dimension to the conduct of Counter Insurgency Operations by the IPKF21. On 17 June 1988, ”Operation Checkmate” was launched by the IPKF. It was by far the largest combined operations mounted by the IPKF during active counterinsurgency phase in Sri Lanka. Due to the distinct changes in the pattern of operations, the whole operation was divided into three stages, known as Checkmate – I (17 June to 05 July 1988), Checkmate – II (5 to 17 July 1988) and Checkmate – III (18 July to 15 September 1988). The operational plan of the IPKF included constant combat pressure on LTTE, establishment of control over most frequented areas of the militants, regular ambushes, prevention of coastal hopping and increased psychological operations. During Phase II and III, combined operations were mounted in Alampil and Nithikaikulum to ferret out the militants. The tactics employed were standard anti-guerilla tactics22. Operation Checkmate – I and II involved a series of SHBOs as immediate reaction to hard intelligence received from various sources. In one such small team operation against the LTTE presence in the jungles East of Nithikaikulum a special mission was launched on 23 June 1988. A single Mi-8, escorted by a Mi-25 took Army commandos into a jungle clearing near the ruins of an Old Portuguese fort to confirm the presence. Reacting to a dummy winching operation, militants emerged into the clearing and opened fire. The escorting Mi-25 brought immediate fire to bear on the spot and suppressed further reaction from the militants. The leader of the mission Captain Harpal Singh was fatally wounded but a combination of commando reaction

and MI-25 fire handled the situation admirably, killed a score of militants and managed to fly away safely. This event confirmed the presence of militants in the area and thus more troops were heli-inducted later into the area. Two Mi-25 missions were also launched before the troops started to move in. The operation pushed the militants further south east into the Nithikaikulum jungle. By the month of July the operations had further intensified23. 10 Para Commandos and 1/1 GORKHA RIFLES were moved by air to Nithikaikulum and soon displayed their expertise by tightening the noose around the LTTE cadres. The week of 22 – 29 July, during Checkmate III saw severe clashes, as IPKF started to further tighten its cordon. To prevent escape of militants and maintain maximum pressure on them, 54 Infantry Division mounted an operation “Cockerel “in Vishwamadu jungles East of Kilinocho. For the first time Mi-8s were used as armed helicopters. It was also the first time that the air to ground strikes by the Mi-25s and Mi-8s were closely coordinated with artillery and mortar fire in Sri Lanka. Detailed and exhaustive briefings were held at headquarters 54 Infantry Division to ensure optimum utilization of all combat resources. An airborne fire control and observation post was established in an AOP Cheetah to control and direct the fire. The total air efforts for “Operation Cockerel “ were 163 sorties, airlifting 670 troops and 61 tons of load24. In a desperate attempt to get out of the cordon and escape from scorching air attacks, the militants carried out a last ditch attack on the Tactical Headquarters at Nithikaikulum at 1400 hours on 25 August 1988. However, the garrison security cordon repulsed this attempt and chased the militants back to the forest. On the same night LTTE again made desperate attempts to breakout by attacking two more positions of Indian battalions but were unsuccessful and more troops were inducted. It was also during this period when the largest induction of troops (more than 750) was carried out by the Mi-8s in a single day. While the LTTE was cornered in its jungle hideouts, political initiatives brought about many other Tamil separatist groups into the negotiated settlement fold. Protracted engagement with the Sri Lankan government

and various political parties and groups in Tamil majority areas saw realignment of these groups and willingness to go the election route. Preparation and Holding of Elections IPKF was now entrusted with the dual task of ensuring free and fair elections to the Provincial Council and simultaneously contain LTTE to its limited hideouts. It was a political gamble where by Tamil Tigers were being rendered politically irrelevant if they did not participate in elections – which historically turned out to be a gross miscalculation and underestimation of the popular perception regarding LTTE. The IPKF whole-heartedly assisted in the preparation of elections, sensing it the only lasting solution under devolution of powers to the people. As a prelude to the holding elections and as an overture to the LTTE, their political leader, Krishna Kumar along with 137 LTTE detenues were released from various jails in Southern India and were flown to Jaffna and Trincomalee by Air Force planes. The detenues were released simultaneously from their respective jails at midnight of 08/09 October 1988. Krishna Kumar was released by the IPKF Commandant in Jaffna town25. The elections were slated for 19 November 1988, which created flurry of political activities. IPKF resources was stretched for airlifting officials to and from Colombo, their distribution to various polling stations along with ballot boxes, movement and recovery of officials and distributing ballot boxes to selected points. Thus the contribution of the three services in ensuring that the IPKF fulfilled its mandate of “creating a suitable security environment, for holding of Provincial elections” had been truly immense26. Simultaneously, in Sri Lanka, the Presidential elections of November 1988 posed a new contingency – the safety of President Jayewardene. As a precautionary measure, Operation Jupiter was planned to evacuate the President and his immediate family to safety. The Navy positioned at Tuticorin a Seaking – capable frigate, INS Godavari (and later INS Taragiri), with an IMSF team embarked27.

The elections were held amidst tight security and apprehensions. People voted in a large number, encouraged by the political process and gaining power through their own representatives. In the post election scenario, re-deployment of IPKF troops was again carried out in order to counter LTTE operations in the Vavuniya sector and decreasing its role in local security due to increased effectiveness of the newly raised civilian volunteers force as part of the Sri Lankan Police, in the North Eastern Province. LTTE did not relent and continued its insurgency warfare from its jungle hideouts. Alampil jungles were the main focus of IPKF as majority of the cadres used these thick forests as their training areas and hideouts. “Operation SHAMSHER” was conducted in this area by the 36 Infantry Division between 18 and 30 March 1989. The operation resulted in the destruction of all major camps of the LTTE in the jungle areas west of the Nayaru Lagoon28. IPKF had gained full combat experience of triservices joint operations and increased use of helicopters was witnessed in many operations. In April 1989, North West of Trincomalee witnessed a LTTE hideout being busted by a Mi-25 with 128 rockets. The General Officer Commanding of 36 Infantry Division Major General Jameel Mahmood was himself on board the flying tank. By this time the LTTE had started to reconcile to the reality of elections as the North Eastern Provincial Council was installed in Trincomalee. The IPKF successes were proving to be costly for the LTTE and at the same time significant changes were taking place in Colombo. New Sri Lankan government was not easily reconciled to the devolution of powers to the Provincial Council negotiated by India, as it wanted to negotiate with the LTTE directly. LTTE on the other hand, cornered by the IPKF and abandoned by its own people opting for elections, wanted an escape from the tightening noose which was leading it to a sure destruction and a face saving political space; which soon came in the form of an offer from the Sri Lankan government. In June 1989, the LTTE and Sri Lankan Government entered into direct talks and now ironically both wanted IPKF to pull out of Sri Lanka.

IPKF De-induction from Sri Lanka Two years had elapsed since the arrival of the IPKF and in spite of continued fighting with the Tamil Tigers in remote jungles; much was achieved by our armed forces. Fluid political scenario, both in India and Sri Lanka as well changing public opinion in India, precipitated diplomatic and political initiatives. New Sri Lankan President Mr R Premdasa demanded IPKF withdrawal by 29 July 1989, which was accepted in principle by India, since the very presence of IPKF was based on an agreement with Sri Lanka. Premadasa’s demand added to the sense of insecurity among the Tamils of the North Eastern province and there were a series of protest marches against the demand. LTTE by this time was desperate to get out of the helpless situation brought about on them by the all out dominance by the IPKF. In a move where political expediency overtook the reality of statecraft, Sri Lankan Government joined LTTE in declaring a cessation of hostilities against each other; without even consulting the Indian Government. LTTE contended that normalcy could be restored only if the IPKF were pulled out; obviously Sri Lankan polity was either too ignorant of the consequences or willing to believe the LTTE rather than Indian diplomatic mission in Colombo. With the consent of both parties having been withdrawn, India was left with no other option, but to plan for a complete pull out of the IPKF. However, diplomatic propriety required Sri Lanka to first cancel the earlier agreement or re-negotiate again to ensure that Indian security concerns were addressed and Tamil population was given their legitimate rights. Partial pull out started in July itself. After protracted negotiations, fresh Indo-Sri Lankan Agreement was signed by the then Indian High Commissioner, Mr LL Mehrotra, and Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary, Bernard Tilakratne on 18 September 1989. The Agreement provided for the suspension of “offensive military operations” by the IPKF, a much cherished demand of the LTTE, and the completion of pull out of IPKF by 31 December 1989. The successive IPKF pull out from Amparai, Batticoloa and Mannar witnessed LTTE occupying the vacuum created by this departure, perhaps much to the chagrin of

SLAF. In spite of an accelerated pull out, last contingent could only leave by 24 March 1990 from the eastern port of Trincomalee. The Sri Lankan Army presented a guard of honour to the Commander IPKF, Lieutenant General A S Kalkat and last IPKF contingent of 2500 soldiers along with the last ship, INS Magar, carrying the last contingent29. The Indian peacekeeping endeavour in Sri Lanka on request from both the Tamils including the LTTE and Sri Lankan government came to an end, though the impasse still continued in Northern Sri Lanka. Indian Experiences in Bilateral Peacekeeping The IPKF mission to Sri Lanka proved to be a valuable experience for the Indian armed forces. The mission gave the three services a chance to conduct joint planning and combined operations. In India, there was much criticism for the high number of casualties and unnecessary intervention to fight another nation’s war. An uncertain and ever changing political aim, poorly planned induction of troops and the plurality of the operational direction resulted in different orders and varying assessment. In the discourse on LTTE and IPKF, national interests were made subservient to political expediencies in both India and Sri Lanka. India was right in demanding that the rights of Tamil minorities were respected in view of near starvation and strangulation of this vulnerable community in North and east Sri Lanka. As a flourishing democracy with historical and ethnic linkages to all its neighbours, it has a right to safeguard its national interests, even by the use of force as was earlier done in so called East Pakistan. It was the decision of a democratically elected government in India and Indian armed forces, true to their traditions, carried out the orders with remarkable speed, propriety and success. In Sri Lanka, the IPKF was not only fighting insurgents but also helping restore totally destroyed civil infrastructure. It offered a helping hand in repairs of roads, construction of bridges, restoration of communications, electricity and water supply. IPKF willingly extended much needed medical assistance in the Jaffna peninsula, districts of Trincomalee and Batticoloa. The IPKF also arranged for the supply of food at the initial stages and provided support to help the revival of normal administration.

Banks, Courts, Posts and Telegraphs department, hospitals, educational institutions could function in the riot-torn North Eastern Province with the help of the this force. The help given by the IPKF in settling refugees in the newly formed Province was also commended by the population. IPKF had many lessons to pick up regarding peacekeeping operations in a neighbouring country. Popular support has always been important for sustenance of a force, but in the face of a violent and inhuman guerilla group living by the fear of gun; psychological operations assume significance. Importance of intelligence and detailed preparation before launching an operation was driven home in the initial stages in the battle of Jaffna. Similarly relevance of signal intelligence system was further highlighted. Logistics plan must be developed along with an operational plan, but combination of incremental and sudden reinforcement left logisticians gasping for breath, with poor coordination and gaps in the support on ground. IPKF was the first test in joint planning and development of inter-service understanding. Operational plans were still service centric, but as the time progressed, there was much coordination and exchange of inputs at execution stage. The operations in Sri Lanka provided much more insight to joint procedures regarding SHBOs and use of helicopter assets in combating insurgencies in semi-urban and jungle terrain. In initial stages, lack of higher direction was plugged shortly, thus highlighting to develop and operational plan with as wide range and capability as can be forecasted. Navy shouldered bulk of logistic support, troop induction and deinduction and creating an effective operational blockade in waters. The marcos gained stupendous experience and were real force multipliers with strategic significance. Lack of adequate port facilities in Sri Lanka proved a great challenge. Naval gunfire support could not be exploited, primarily due to the nature of insurgency operations with no room for collateral damage. Overall Operation Pawan was a major turning point for India after the Bangladesh experience in projecting its power outside. The Indian armed forces rose

to the challenges posed by political directions, urgency and logistics in an amicable fashion. The mission brought home the necessity of keeping a country ready for full spectrum war at all times and was a great learning experience for the traditional fighting bound Indian Army. Peacekeeping is a noble role and can only be sustained if there is peace to keep. Sri Lanka experience shows that nations and communities hell bent on destroying themselves can not be helped by the international community till they realize that peace, democracy and sharing powers with own community provides them a win-win situation.

End Notes:

Singh, Lt. Gen Depinder, PVSM, VSM, Overall Force Commander, ‘Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-1989’ (Dehra Dun, Nataraj Publishers: 2001) p.5

Hiranandani, Vice Admiral GM (Retd.), ‘Transition to Eminence- The Indian Navy 1976-1990, (New Delhi: Lancer Publisher & Distributors, 2005), p.185

Chattopadhyaya, HP, ‘Ethnic Unrest in Modern Sri Lanka- An Account of Tamil-Sinhalese Race Relations (New Delhi: MD Publishers Pvt Ltd, 1994) p.21
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Singh, Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-1989, p.16 Ibid, p.21 Sardeshpande, Lt Gen SC, Assignment Jaffna, (New Delhi: Lancer Publishers, 1992), p.30 Official report of the Indian Air Force on IPKF in Sri Lanka, “Operation Pawan”, p.2 Singh, Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-1989, p.26 Ibid, pp.35-36 Hiranandani, Transition to Eminence- The Indian Navy 1976-1990, p.192 Singh, Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-1989, p.45

Chattopadhyaya, ‘Ethnic Unrest in Modern Sri Lanka- An Account of Tamil-Sinhalese Race Relations, p.100
13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Singh, Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-1989, p.46 Hiranandani, Transition to Eminence- The Indian Navy 1976-1990, p.194 Singh, Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-1989, p.85 Official report of the Indian Air Force on IPKF in Sri Lanka, “Operation Pawan”, pp.15-16 Hiranandani, Transition to Eminence- The Indian Navy 1976-1990, p.194 Sardeshpande, Assignment Jaffna, p.62 Ibid, p.66 Official report of the Indian Air Force on IPKF in Sri Lanka, “Operation Pawan”, p.14 Ibid, pp.15-16 ibid, pp.21-24 ibid, p.25 ibid, p.26 ibid, p.33 ibid, pp.34-35 Hiranandani, Transition to Eminence- The Indian Navy 1976-1990, p.194 Official report of the Indian Air Force on IPKF in Sri Lanka, “Operation Pawan”, pp.42-43

Chattopadhyaya, ‘Ethnic Unrest in Modern Sri Lanka- An Account of Tamil-Sinhalese Race Relations, p.147