The LTTE Debacle at Aanandapuram, April 2009

Michael Roberts

 When I interviewed General Shavendra Silva on 19th August 2017,[1] he identified three temporal turning points during the last year of the war (mid-2008 to May 2009). These were

  1. The SL Army’s capture of Pooneryn on 15th November 2008 which finalized the control of the western coastline (Hull 2015)
  2. The SLA’s capture of Paranthan on 31st December 2008.
  3. The SLA’s encirclement and decimation of a body of elite LTTE forces at Aanandapuram in the period 31st March- to 5th April 2009 as the Tigers were assembling for counter-attack.
  4.  Some footsoldiers at the heart of the battle and General Silva

To comprehend the magnitude of these moments and the victory of the combined government military forces, lay persons must attend to the remarkable military prowess of the LTTE. Always outnumbered, the LTTE had not only withheld the SL Army during Eelam War III, but also mauled sections at different moments.[2] 

On the retreat from April 2008, the LTTE still had the advantage of support from the citizens of Thamililam who retreated at their behest/command and eventually – January to May 2009 – constituted a defensive formation of so many sandbags in the north-eastern “Vanni Pocket,” while also serving as an instrument and strategic ploy in the LTTE’s international campaign.[3] Again, the LTTE still retained considerable artillery and mortar firepower, munitions and dynamite.[4] This included an ingenious pedal-operated artillery piece improvised by the Tiger engineers and identified as a “paddle-gun: where four 30 mm barrels were re-arranged as a multi-barrel rocket launcher that could be used both as an artillery piece and anti-aircraft gun.[5]

80- Situ Map-2008-12-23 23.12.44

Tamil people as a defensive barrier of ‘sandbags’ and a spectre encouraging international intervention –29 March 2009 – Pic from Tamilnet

Images to underline the spectre-cum-strategy of “an impending calamity “–Pokkanal locality on 1st May 2009 — from Tamilnet

The LTTE paddle-gun

As Sergei de Silva-Ranasinghe revealed,[6] the LTTE launched a successful counter-attack in early February 2009 and forced the SL Army to retreat and then battle to retrieve their situation over time by using their second and third lines of defence – that is, by deploying their reserve battalions. When the SL Army continued to advance in February-March, they had to negotiate a patch of urban warfare in the outskirts and centre of the little town of Putthukudiruppu in mid-March 2009 – an aspect which we can garner not only from de Silva-Ranasinghe’s writings from afar, but also from Tammita-Delgoda’s incisive prose and photographs when he accompanied the SL troops to this scenario after it was captured.[7]

 Situation on 29 March 2009, via Graphic Map–courtesy of Daily Mirror

A central facet emerges from these accounts. The Tigers believed that attack was the best form of defence. In late March 2009 they were not done yet. Despite their capture of PTK, the governmental forces had not advanced further and were at a standstill in the face of the LTTE’s defence lines on most fronts (as General Silva informed me). Parenthetically, let me add that the vast body of civilians were now crammed together in the arena that I have called the “Last Redoubt” – a space also treated erroneously as a “No Fire Zone” and/or a “Safe Zone” in the despatches and accounts of the situation from many a quarter, including GSL sources.[8]

It was at this critical juncture that the LTTE took steps towards mounting another counter-attack spearheaded by their best elements – presumably preparations that occurred at night.

However, the 58th Division had its own UAV not just the data sent by the UAVs marshalled by the SLAF in Katunayake. General Silva and his commanders were considering the option of an encirclement operation** when his UAV highlighted some tell-tale signs of the Tiger preparations at Aanandipuram.[9] He immediately called the full might of the SL Army’s and SLAF’s bombardment capacities into play on this target area circa 31st March; while unleashing several troops in a movement of partial encirclement.

   Map from Island courtesy of Shamindra Ferdinando’s article

Over the first five days of April the LTTE forces were severely mauled by these combined actions. Though some troops led by Commander Bhanu fought their way out, the effort made by a contingent headed by Commander Lawrence to relieve the situation failed and resulted in more losses of fighters and equipment (Jeyaraj, “Aanandipuram,” 2009b). These latter details have been gathered from an account penned on 8th April 2009 by DBS Jeyaraj from his ‘attic’ in Toronto – itself a remarkable capacity which will be highlighted in a companion article.

Shavendra Silva indicated that 560 Tiger cadres were killed in this operation, while Jeyaraj specifies a figure 623 dead inclusive of key commanders, viz, Theepan, Gadaffi, Gopith, Amitaab and Commanders Durga and Vidusha from the female regiments.  Jeyaraj tells us that the LTTE also lost three 130mm guns, one 85 mm pounder, three 81 mm mortars and that ingenious paddle-gun (Jeyaraj 2009b).

In sum, the blows taken by the LTTE at Aanandipuram were severe and this outcome was highlighted immediately in newsprint or website by Shamindra Ferdinando (2009) and Jeyaraj (2009a, 2009) – while doubtless receiving weight in local TV stations. This event not only increased the level of Sri Lankan Tamil agitation abroad, but seems to have infused efforts from the USA and its handmaidens in the UN and elsewhere to pressurize the government of Sri Lanka to cease its military advances.

From the Wikileaks disclosures of despatches we know that Ambassador Robert Blake presented firm ultimatums to both Defence Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Bogollagama at different moments in mid-April: do not advance further.[10] Gotabaya did not demur. Neither did he kow-tow. The GSL forces proceeded to finalize their hard-earned advantages and their special forces led by Ralph Nugara and Athula Kodippilly penetrated the Last Redoubt on the night of April 19th. It took the SL Army troops another 21 days to vanquish the LTTE forces – with talaivar Pirapāharan being among the last to fall in a patch of marshy terrain along Nanthikadal Lagoon.

 An Excellent Analytic Map prepared by the Daily Mirror, in succinct summary of a remarkable military operation, 18-24 April 2009

This victory, as we know, came at a price: the pay-back game marshaled by the United States of America and its international allies gathered pace and weight from late May 2009 on. One culmination point was at the Presidential Elections in Sri Lanka in January 2015.

   *** END ****

SELECT REFERENCES

Defence Ministry 2009Army annihilates terror pocket in Aanandapuram; LTTE loses its final stronghold in Puthukkudiyiruppu,” http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20090402_10 …. [now unavailable –a mark of the present GSL wisdom!]

Sergei De Silva-Ranasinghe 2009a “Political and Security Implications of Sri Lanka’s Armed Conflict,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, Feb. 2009, Vol. 35/1, pp. 20, 22-24.

Sergei De Silva-Ranasinghe 2009b “The Battle for the Vanni Pocket,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, March 2009, Vol. 35/2, pp. 17-19 — http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/aulimp/citations/gsa/2009_157395/ 156554.html

Ferdinando, Shamindra 2009 “Tiger force annihilated near Mullaitivu civilian safe zone,” Island, 6 April 2009, http://www.island.lk/2009/04/06/news1.html

C. Bryson Hull 2008 “Sri Lanka army seizes entire west coast,” 15 November 2008, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-srilanka-war/sri-lanka-army-seizes-entire-west-coast-idUSTRE4AE1SE20081115

D. B. S.Jeyaraj 2009a “Theepan of the LTTE: Heroic Saga of a Northern Warrior,” 4 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/5381

D. B. S.Jeyaraj2009b “Anatomy of the LTTE Military Debacle at Aananthapuram,” Sunday Leader, 8 April 2012 —http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/04/08/anatomy-of-the-ltte-military-debacle-at-aananthapuram/

D. B. S.Jeyaraj 2009c “Fraudulent concept of a “fire-free, no-fire, safe zone,” 18 April 2009, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/343.

Michael Roberts 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/

Michael Roberts 2016 Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan,” 6 April 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/saving-talaivar-pirapaharan/

Roberts, Michael 2014e ““BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” in Roberts, Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: VijithaYapa Publications, pp. 210-29.

Michael Roberts 2015a “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 23 July 2015, http://groundviews.org/2015/07/23/targeting-lanka-playing-ball-with-tamil-extremism-2008-14/

Michael Roberts 2015b “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/ambassador-blake-in-never-never-land-misreading-ltte-capacity-in-early-2009/

Michael Roberts 2016 “Speaking to Gotabaya-II: Listening in on KP’s Chats with Prabhakaran’s ‘Man Friday’,” ,8 March 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/speaking-to-gotabaya-i-plans-afoot-in-2009-to-rescue-the-tiger-leadership/#more-20092

Sengupta, S. 2009 “U.S. Faults Sri Lanka on Civilian Woes,” 22 April 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/world/asia/23lanka.html?_r=0

END NOTES

[1] A full report on this exchange has yet to be presented in the public realm.

[2] One instance was in mid-July 996 when the SL Army and Navy forces at the beachhead bastion at Mullaitivu was totally overrun and around 1200 personnel lost their lives, with further casualties (said to be 80) met by a rapid deployment force led by col. A. F. Lafir who also died. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mullaitivu_(1996) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._F._Lafir

[3] See Roberts, “Calamity,” 2014 and “BBC Blind,” 2014.

[4] One illustration of this explosive poer was when the LTTE high command realised its end was nigh and proceeded to blow up its munitions and stock of equipment from around the 13th/q4th May. This scenario was depicted rom the horizons by GSL television and news crews. There were graphic pictures at one point on the Defence Ministry web site. Kanhan Prasad and Muralidhar Reddy witnessed the scenario when they visited the Last Redoubt in the period 14-18 May 2009.

[5] My thanks to Jagath Senaratne for the term “paddle gun.” Re the capture of this artillery piece at Aanandapuram is highlighted by Jeyaraj (2009b).

[6] See the remarkable detail and the analysis in De Silva-Ranasinghe 2009a and 2009b.

[7] Tammita-Delgoda 2009a and 2009b –especially the latter entitled “……T he Curious Case of the Sunday Times.”

[8] See Jeyaraj “Fraudulent concept of a “fire-free, no-fire, safe zone,” 18 April 2009,  http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/343 as well as my writings (for e. g. “Calamity,” 2014). This conclusion is supported unequivocally by the British legal expert Sir Desmond de Silva (personal communication).

** In military parlance “encirclement’ occurs  when an army is surrounded on two or more sides, leaving no easy options to retreat. Encirclement forces one’s adversary to attempt a risky breakout maneuver; or be faced with the possibility of fighting a battle of annihilation” (an email note from Brigadier Halangode).

[9] Thus, General Silva’s chat highlighted the importance of this single innovation: placing UAV operations in the hands of frontline commanders and not purely in the hands of distant backroom HQ. I note, here, that I do not have the expertise to expand on this dimension of military operations.

[10] See the tentative explorations in Roberts, “Speaking to Gotabaya II,” 2016 and “Blake in Never-Neverland …,” 2015. Also note Sen

2 Comments

Filed under accountability, american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, law of armed conflict, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, politIcal discourse, power sharing, prabhakaran, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, war reportage, wikileaks, world events & processes

2 responses to “The LTTE Debacle at Aanandapuram, April 2009

  1. truly authentic material masterfully arranged.

  2. Pingback: The Gash Files II: LTTE’s Strategic Design | Thuppahi's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s