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Operation Pawan
Part of Sri Lankan Civil War
Pawan23.jpg
Indian soldiers on their T-72 tank during the fighting at Jaffna
Date 11–25 October 1987
Location Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Result IPKF victory
Belligerents
Flag of India.svg India Tamil-tigers-flag.svg LTTE
Commanders
R.I.S. Kahlon
Casualties and losses
214 killed,
700 wounded
36 missing[1]
2,000 killed,
200 captured

Operation Pawan was the codename assigned to the operations by the Indian Peace Keeping Force to take control of Jaffna from the LTTE in late 1987 to enforce the disarmament of the LTTE as a part of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord. In brutal fighting that took about three weeks, the IPKF took control of the Jaffna Peninsula from the LTTE rule, something that the Sri Lankan army had then tried and failed to achieve for several years. Supported by Indian Army tanks, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery, the IPKF routed the LTTE. But this victory came at a price, as the IPKF lost around 214 soldiers.[2]

Contents

Background

On 4 October 1987, the Sri Lankan Navy captured an LTTE boat off Point Pedro with seventeen Tigers, including some high-profile leaders of the movement, onboard.[3] The Colombo government alleged the boat was involved in smuggling arms across the Palk Straits and on these grounds denied immunity to these captured Tiger rebels.[3] The LTTE denied this claiming the rebels' movements were in accordance with the truce, being in the process of transferring documents for shifting the Tigers Headquarters from Madras to Jaffna. The Sinhalese government intended to bring a number of the rebels captured, including Pulendran, Kumarappa and others, to trial in Colombo for allegedly masterminding the massacre of a hundred and fifty civilians.[3]

The Tigers, who were at the time still in negotiation with the Indian authorities, appealed for enforcement of protection by the IPKF. The rebels were at this time in IPKF custody at Palay Airbase pending transfer to Sinhalese authorities. Although the Indian authorities insist that they had explained the possible repercussions[4] of such an action on the fragile truce and exerted considerable pressure on the Sinhalese authorities to desist from proceeding,[3] ultimately the IPKF withdrew allowing the Sri Lankan forces to proceed with transferring the captured rebels to Colombo. The detainees however, attempted mass suicide by swallowing cyanide—a common LTTE practice when faced imminent capture. This singular event marked a total break-down of the truce. The night of 5 October saw large scale slaughter of Sinhalese people who had returned to Jaffna,[3] including eight soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army who were at the time being held hostages by the LTTE. These coincided with armed confrontations between the Tiger Cadres and the Indian Troops in and around Jaffna.[3]

On 8 October, the LTTE carried out a number of mortar attacks and ambushes on the IPKF.[5 ] In the face of this detoriating situation, President Jayawardene threatened the visiting Indian Defence Minister and the Chief of Army Staff to re-induct the Sri Lankan Army to protect Sinhala interests if the IPKF did not take actions against the LTTE. The Indian government, already accused of inaction in the face of a failing accord, was forced into a position of having to enforce peace in Jaffna by force.[3][6]

Operation Pawan

By 7 October, the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), had issued directives to the IPKF, laying down its operations parameters in the directive[6] as:

  • Seize/destroy the LTTE radio/TV transmission equipment in the Jaffna Peninsula;
  • Seize or jam LTTE communication network;
  • Carry out raids on LTTE camps, caches and strong points;
  • Personnel manning LTTE offices in the East be detained and interrogated to gain information. In case of resistance,force to be used; and
  • Actions to further consolidate hold of IPKF in the region.

It was declared on 9 October that the IPKF was to launch a final campaign against the LTTE.[6] This was the point of no return.

The first of the major IPKF operation was launched on 9 October 1987. Codenamed Operation Pawan (Hindi for Wind), it was expected to neutralise the LTTE operations capability in and around Jaffna. This included the capture or neutralisation of the LTTE's chain of command.[7] which was expected to leave the rebel movement directionless in the face of the impending assault on the LTTE strongholds by the IPKF.

On the nights of 9 and 10 October 10, the IPKF raided and captured the LTTE radio station at Tavadi and TV station at Kokkuvil, while the printing presses of two LTTE sponsored newspapers were destroyed.[6] These operations also led to the capture of nearly two hundred Tiger rebels.[8] In retaliation, the LTTE ambushed a CRPF convoy near Tellipallai, killing four jawans, as well as an IPKF post at Tellipallai with automatic and mortar fire on IPKF post. Later that day, the Tigers hijacked a 10 Para Commando jeep on patrol, killing all five occupants.[6]

Also on 10 October, the Indian 91st Brigade, consisting of three battalions and led by Brigadier J. Ralli, began its push into the city of Jaffna.[9][10]

The Jaffna University Helidrop

The first battle signalling the real beginning of Operation Pawan was the Heliborne assault on Jaffna University head-quarters of the LTTE by a detachment of Indian Para Commandos and the Sikh LI on the night of 12 October. Jaffna University was the tactical headquarters of the LTTE. This was planned as a quick commando raid to capture the top LTTE leadership and local commanders who, according to Indian Intelligence, were supposed to be in the building at the time.[5 ][11] and was thus expected to cut short the Battle for Jaffna. The plan was to land a company of 70 men from 10 Para Cdo. to secure the football field. A second wave was to follow with a company of the 13th Sikh LI. The heliborne troops were to link up with 4/5 Gorkhas of 72 Brigade and the Sikh LI troops advancing on the ground.[9] However, the operation ended in disaster as the LTTE, having intercepted IPKF radio transmissions, set up an ambush. The helidropped troops came under intense LTTE fire as they were inserted which, while increasingly vicious fire from LTTE positions hit and crippled the Mi-8s enough to force the insertion to be terminated midway through operation. Over the battle that lasted through the night, twenty nine of the entire Sikh LI contingent of thirty troops and six of the one hundred and twenty commandos were killed before detachments of the 65th armoured regiments were able to extract the Paras from their defensive positions.[2] The Sikh LI radioman was shot by LTTE snipers early on, with the unit losing contact with the Indian High Command at Palay Air base and the lone survivor of the Sikh LI detachment, Sepoy Gora Singh was taken prisoner by the Tigers. It was not until his release later during the conflict that the fate of the unit was known.[2][5 ]

Battle for Jaffna

As the battle for Jaffna proggressed, the IPKF advance came under intense and vicious opposition from the Tigers. Fighting in built-up and an as-yet unevacuated Jaffna, the Indian High command insists that the slow advance was, in addition to Tiger resistance, more a result of reluctance on the part of the IPKF to use heavy weaponry to clear LTTE defences.[10] Furthermore all the approach roads had been armed with Claymore mines or explosives by the Tigers in its years of fighting with the Sri Lankan army.[9] The Tigers also made extensive use of IED[9] which could be remotely detonated from over a kilometre away. During this time, the Indian Navy, supported by the Coast Guards was key in establishing a 300 miles (480 km) long blockade around the Northern Sri Lanka from October 1987 to disrupt the Tigers' supply and communications routes.[12] In addition, it was around this time the MARCOS commandos of the Navy first went into action. Detachments of the IMSF (Indian Marine Special Forces, as the MARCOS was then known), along with a battalion of the 340th Independent Brigade of the Indian Army, provided beach reconnaissance around Jaffna and Batticaloa.[13] The 340th Brigade was one of the first IPKF units to be deployed, and served until operations in the Trincomalee area were complete. The IMSF, at this time, also provided security patrols along the coastal road west of Jaffna until the 41st Brigade took charge later in November.[13]

On October 15/16, the IPKF advance stopped its advance to stabilize the front. In addition, Palay, the major operations headquarters for the 54th Infantry Division, was secured from Tiger attacks. At this time the Indian Air Force undertook a massive airlift to reinforce the 91st with three brigades and heavy equipments including T-72 Tanks and BMP-1 fighting vehicles. The improvised controllers worked round the clock to fly in troops and equipment. In addition, the Indian Airlines is said to have contributed, with its Boeing 737s transporting troops.[9] In addition, this short interval saw the induction of the Mi-8s and the first induction of the Mi-25s of the No. 125 Sqn, along with the HAL Cheetahs. By end of October the IAF flew 2200 tactical transport and 800 helicopter sorties.[9]

Now reinforced, the IPKF resumed the battle for Jaffna town. The tanks and armoured fighting vehicles are said to have been an effective protection against the anti-personnel mines.[9] However, even with this protection, the IPKF advance was torturous in the face of the Tigers' sniper fire. The rebel snipers would take positions along rooftops of buildings, treetops and even coconut palms. Equipped with powerful telescopic infra-red sights, the Tiger snipers were able to selectively take out officers and radiomen, taking a heavy toll and bringing the advances to a grinding halt. In addition, Helicopters flying below 2000 feet also remained vulnerable, with at least five shot at and damaged before the Mi-25s took up their offensive role. The IPKF adapted quickly, with its officers taking off pips of their ranks, wearing slouch hats and carrying oversize back packs. However, as advances got bogged down, the battalions, instead of maneuvering around the defenders, were forced to commit more troops under orders from New Delhi.[9] In addition, the LTTE increasingly started the use of anti-tank mines, taking a further heavy toll on IPKF casualties. A frustrated IPKF cut off power to Jaffna to counter these.[9] In addition, the IPKF communication lines were extensively mined by the LTTE, which further compounded the sometimes perilous situations that the Indian troops faced. It was not before the IMSF commandos broke out of the besieged Jaffna port and cleared the heavily mined Navanturai Coastal Road, that a crucial link up between 1 Maratha Light Infantry in the Jaffna fort and the advancing troops of 41st Brigade could be established that secured the Nallur area.[9] On 21 October, the commandos conducted a successful amphibious raid against a LTTE base at Guru Nagar.[13] It was also toward the end of the Jaffna campaign that the IPKF started the use of Mi-25s for close air support[14] when they flew against LTTE positions in Chavakacheri village on 23 October 1987.

The operation also saw significant contributions from the Indian Air Force, as well as the Indian Navy. The Eastern Command of the Indian Navy, supported by the Coast Guards was key in establishing a 300 miles (480 km) long blockade around the Northern Sri Lanka from October 1987 to disprupt the Tigers' supply and communications routes.[12] In addition, it was around this time the MARCOS commandos of the Navy first went into action.Detachments of the IMSF (Indian Marine Special Forces, as the MARCOS was then known as), along with a battalion of the 340th Independent Brigade of the Indian Army, provided beach reconnaissance around Jaffna and Batticaloa.[13] On 21 October 1987, the commandos conducted a successful amphibious raid against a LTTE base at Guru Nagar.

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Culmination

Ultimately however, after two weeks of bitter fighting, the IPKF had wrested the control of Jaffna and other major cities from the LTTE, but operations were to continue well into November, with major operations coming to an end with the fall of Jaffna Fort on the 28th of November.[10] Through the duration of Operation Pawan, the casualties suffered by the IPKF has been put at varying figures between 600 [15] and 1,200.[1][2] In addition to the LTTE's defensive tactics alluded to above, the IPKF's problems were compounded by the fact that the Tigers, using classical guerrilla strategy, blended in with the local population. In addition, the IPKF came face to face with the child soldiers of the LTTE, something it had not expected.[9]

This was however only the first of the IPKF's three year campaign to neutralise the LTTE. By the time Jaffna fell, however, the LTTE had merely exfiltrated out of the town, moving south to the jungles of Vavuniya. Its hard core fighters moved to the safety of the jungles by skirting the coast of Jaffna from Point Pedro to Elephant Pass, sheltered by the impenetrable jungles and criss-cross waterways of the Nittkaikulam jungles. Within Jaffna sector, although the LTTE had shifted out of the town itself, it nevertheless harassed the 54th's efforts to consolidate its positions using IEDs and anti-personnel mines. In turn, however, the IPKF was able to disrupt the LTTE's activities with regular raids that led to capture of large caches of Rebel weaponry.[16] Brigadier Manjit Singh was later replaced by Brigadier JS Dhillon, under whom the 54th underwent considerable modifications of its operations routine. Small highly mobile units became the staple of the 54th's operations.[16]

The IPKF at this point still consisted mostly of an overstretched 54th Division. Following the Jaffna Operation, the 36th Infantry Division was inducted, along with two additional brigades, to take over the Vavuniya sector and the Trincomalee-Batticaloa axis. This relieved the 54th Division which, led by Brigadier Manjit Singh, could now focus on consolidating the Jaffna sector.[16] The 4th Mountain Division and the 57th Infantry Division were inducted still later in February 1988 to take charge of Vanni and Batticaloa from the 36th.

The 340th Brigade was one of the first IPKF units to be deployed, and served until operations in the Trincomalee area were complete. The IMSF, at this time, also provided security patrols along the coastal road west of Jaffna until the 41st Brigade took charge.[13]

See also

Notes

References

  • Chattopadhyaya, Haraprasad (1994), Ethnic Unrest in Modern Sri Lanka: An Account of Tamil-Sinhalese Race Relations, M.D. Publications Pvt Ltd., ISBN 8185880522


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