by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
This article was first written on April 10th 2009 under the heading”Top Tiger Leaders killed in a major debacle for LTTE”.Subsequently it was updated,revised and posted under the current heading. “It is being posted here again to commemorate the third anniversary of the decisive battle of Aananthapuram that concluded on April 5th 2009. As I wrote then the Aananthapuram battle was indeed the defining moment of the on going war from an LTTE perspective-DBS Jeyaraj
“Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods, – Thomas Babington Macaulay
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization has experienced many major setbacks during the course of its 33 year old history.
Despite misgivings expressed on these occasions by prophets of doom, the movement has always managed to withstand these blows and continue on its politico-military journey. Nevertheless the debacle it suffered in the Aanandapuram area of Puthukkudiyiruppu AGA division, during the first week of April seems to be different both qualitatively and quantitatively.
In what may very well be the defining moment of the on going war the tigers have lost a vast array of illustrious fighting commanders as well as large numbers of cadres in a single battle. More than 625 bodies of dead LTTE fighters have been recovered and a special military intelligence squad was busy identifying those killed. Some details are being revealed in stages. The LTTE keeps “official silence” over the debacle and its propaganda networks keep “mum” but the bad news is spreading slowly yet surely.
LTTE stalwarts are contacting close relatives of the tiger leaders who died at Aanandapuram and informing them of what had happened. The relatives are told to conduct religious rites and funeral ceremonies on a low-key level. Likewise different tiger officials are informing close family members of the other tiger cadres also about what had happened to their departed relatives.
Among the fallen tigers “Col” Theepan (presumably promoted posthumously as Brigadier) is perhaps the single biggest loss to the movement. This LTTE veteran with 25 years of experience hails from Kandawalai in Kilinochchi district and served as overall commander of the LTTE northern front fighting formations. Velayuthapillai Baheerathakumar alias Theepan was also the de-facto deputy military commander of the LTTE after the demise of Kandiah Balasegaran alias Balraj. Theepan’s communications codename was “Tango Papa”. He is married to an ex-tiger woman fighter. They have no children.
Along with Theepan, the top four woman fighter commanders have also been killed.
Vidhusha, special commander of Maalathy regiment, her deputy and Maalathy regimental commander Kamalini, Durga, special commander of Sothia regiment and her deputy cum Commander Mohanaa have all been killed.
An unconfirmed report states that womens wing political commissar Thamilini has also been killed. Among other senior tigers killed were the special commander and commander of the Jeyanthan infantry brigade, Keerthi and Nagesh.The Jeyanthan brigade is raised from Eastern province cadres.
Manickapodi Maheswaran alias Keerthi is a native of Arasaditheevu in Batticaloa district and served as intelligence chief for the east earlier. Selvaratnam Sundaram alias Nagesh is a native of Periyaporatheevu and has served as district military commander earlier. Both remained loyal to Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and despite being eastern sons of the soil opted to fight against Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias Karuna after he revolted against the leadership citing northern hegemony.
Another huge loss is that of Gaddafi also known as Viduthalai and Amuthan. This Native of Kotraavathai in Vathiri, Vadamaratchy was at one-time a bodyguard of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran . When Prabhakaran delivered his famous speech at Suthumalai after the Indo-Lanka accord was signed, Gaddafi was one of the two bodyguards standing behind the leader.
Gaddafi was later a commander of the Imran-Pandian regiment. He was in charge of an RPG unit at one time. Gaddafi was one of a ten-member squad trained by the Indian government in firing anti – aircraft missiles. Later when the LTTE acquired some SAM-7 missiles in the nineties of the last century, Gaddafi became the specialist in firing them. Gaddafi has brought down several aircraft of the Sri Lankan air force through his shoulder-fired missiles. He was also a weapons expert and spent some months in Europe undergoing special training.Currently he was in charge of the tiger training academy for special forces. The LTTE’s elite special forces division is named after former tiger leader Harichandran alias Radha. This special force was led by Silambarasan . He was killed.
The deputy-commander of Radha regiment was Anbu. He was seriously injured and captured alive. Likewise Asmi the leader of “Ponnamman” mining unit was also seriously injured and captured alive. The fate of these two is unknown. The leader of “Kittu” artillery unit, Manivannan and chief of “Kutty Sri” mortar unit Gopal were also killed. An unconfirmed report states that S. Thangan , the deputy-political commissar and administrative officer under SP Thamilselvan is also no more. Seralaathan who was in charge of the Tiger TV “Nitharsanam” was also killed.
Among other senior tigers killed who have been identified are Ruban, Panjan, Nehru, Anton, Maankuyil, Amudha, Iniyawan, Aadithyan and Chitrangan. A senior sea tiger Mahindan has also been killed.
All these top tigers were killed in the first week of April. But the military hostilities leading to their death commenced on March 30th.
Another two senior tiger leaders were killed on March 31st. They were Gopith the Charles Anthony infantry brigade , special commander and Amuthaab , the commander of Charles Anthony brigade. There is much bewilderment about how so many top tigers could get killed in a single battle and why so many top commanders got caught up in a single location. To understand what had happened a brief re-run of preceding events is necessary.
The LTTE has been suffering a series of military setbacks in the recent past. It has been a case of the Army advancing and tigers retreating because the security forces enjoy an overwhelming superiority over the LTTE in terms of manpower, firepower, airpower and armor power.
The military juggernaut has rolled forward relentlessly and the tigers are currently confined to a small littoral strip of territory located between the A-35 highway (Paranthan-Mullaitheevu road) Nanthikadal and Chalai lagoons on one side and the Indian ocean on the other.
Soldiers numbering more than 50,000 from five divisions and three task forces have besieged the LTTE. The tigers have been trying desperately to break out of this encirclement and drive the forces back. The LTTE registered minor success in late March when it launched a counter-strike led by senior commanders Sornam and Lawrence. The LTTE pushed soldiers back by about 600-700 metres from their forward defence line positions and then proceeded to the north for about 8 km.
The soldiers however rallied and fought back. They managed to beat the tigers back and regained original positions. Both Sornam and Lawrence sustained injuries. Also, Prabhakaran’s eldest son Charles Anthony also received minor injuries on his back and shoulder. Against this backdrop the LTTE planned to launch a massive counter-offensive against the armed forces. The idea was to conduct a meticulously planned operation that would deliver a crippling blow to the security forces.
Apparently the tiger leaders were holed up in Aanandapuram along the Puthukkudiyiruppu-Iranappaalai-Puthumaathalan road busily planning a major counter-attack on the armed forces. The road to Iranappaalai proceeds eastwards from the Puthukkudiyiruppu junction on the A-35 highway.Another road starts out from Iranappaalai east to Puthu (New)maathalan along the coast. There is another minor junction on this road at Pachaipullumottai from where a small road goes to Palam (Old) maathalan.
Anandapuram and Iranappaalai are part of the Puthukkudiyiruppu AGA division, Other areas belong to the Karaithuraipatru AGA division. More than a thousand tiger cadres converged at Aanandapuram to prepare and launch a well – planned counter attack. The defences in and around the Puthukkudiyiruppu-Iranaippaalai – Puthumaathalan road was in the hands of the Charles Anthony infantry brigade. What happened however was that the 58 division commanded by Brig. Shavendra Silva, 53 division led by Gen. Kamal Gunaratne and task force 8 led by Col. GV Ravipriya mounted a successful military operation on March 30th that yielded quick results.
The 58 proceeding south by south-east from northern Puthukkudiyiruppu and the 53 & TF 8 proceeding north by north-east from Southern Puthukkudiyiruupu advanced rapidly and linked up at Pachaipullumottai junction along the Puthukudiyiruppu road behind LTTE positions. There was very heavy fighting at Pachaipullumottai where tiger resistance was spearheaded by the special commander Gopith and commander Amuthaab of the Charles Anthony infantry.On March 31st both Gopith and Amuthaab were reported killed.
The Aanandapuram debacle was preceded by this incident which proved to be a major loss to the LTTE. The loss of these brave fighters Gopith and Amuthab who had a demoralising effect on cadres. This loss of morale is attributed to be the cause of weakened tiger defences which in turn led to rapid breaching, linking and encircling by the armed forces.
The LTTE cadres in Aanandapuram who were engaged in preparing for the major assault were suddenly and unexpectedly “marooned” on land. Realising that top tigers were stranded in Aanandapuram and suspecting that Prabhakaran himself may be there the army moved swiftly and encircled tiger positions. A siege was in progress. Prabhakaran was not there as he had left the place on March 26th.But the other important tigers were ensnared.
The 4th, 6th,8th, 12th,14th and 20th Gajabahu battalions, 5th Vijayabahu,9th Gemunu Watch, 11th and 20th SL Light Infantry along with 1 special forces and 2 commando got into action. Meanwhile a footpath from Ambalavanpokkanai to Pachaipullumottai used as an emergency supply route by the LTTE was also interdicted. Thus more than a thousand tiger cadres and leaders were trapped and encircled in a two sq km area consisting mainly of coconut plantations and palmyrah groves. In a desperate bid to break the siege Sea tiger special commander Soosai sent a contingent by sea to aid his beleaguered comrades at arms. These boats began sailing from Valainjarmadam and hoped to beach near Pattiaddy and fight their way through.
This did not materialise as the Navy maintaining strict vigil engaged the flotilla and beat back the sea tigers, thus preventing the boats from landing. The tigers also sent 120 cadres as reinforcements under Lawrence who was already injured. The army using lethal devices , scorched and destroyed two buses and a truck. Most occupants in the three vehicles were killed and the vehicles virtually reduced to cinders. A few survivors escaped along with the other cadres in the two remaining vehicles of the convoy.Lawrence also returned to safety.
Eventually on April 3rd a sizable number of cadres led by “Col” Bhanu succeeded in penetrating the cordon and escaping to safety. Bhanu himself was injured in the process. Theepan , the de-facto deputy military commander of the LTTE had an opportunity to escape along with Bhanu. Apparently Theepan was injured twice on both April 1st and 2nd.
Bhanu who goes a long way back with Theepan wanted to carry Theepan along with him. But Theepan the courageous fighter known for leading from the front refused. He said that he wont desert or abandon his fighter cadres and seek safety. “If I come out I’ll come with the cadres. Otherwise I’ll die with them” he told Bhanu and later informed Pottu Amman.
The military intercepting this were amazed at Theepan’s sense of loyalty to his cadres and his readiness to die willingly. Theepan’s conduct came in for praise among several officers from the Army’s upper echelons. Another intercept was an exchange between Intelligence chief Pottu Amman and woman tiger leader Vidusha. She was heard pleading for reinforcements and supplies urgently. A thoroughly upset Pottu was virtually choked up saying all his efforts had failed and that they could not penetrate the blockade.
The writing was on the wall for the besieged tigers. Despite his commitment to cadres, the rest of the tigers under the overall command of Theepan were not lucky as those who escaped with Bhanu. Despite the dangerous situation the tigers led by Theepan continued to withstand the three day siege . The tigers were deprived of food , water and medical supplies.Nevertheless the beleaguered tigers did not wilt.
Appeals were made in Tamil through amplifiers to the tigers to surrender but the majority of the tigers refused to heed the call to surrender. 116 tigers surrendered to the army in small groups at various times. But the others in the courageous tradition of the LTTE fought on against overwhelming odds preferring to “die on their feet” rather than to “live on their knees”. From midnight on April 3rd the nature of combat changed.Massive aerial bombardment through planes and helicopters was done. Continuous artillery shelling was also done. It appears that more than 30,000 shells were fired throughout April 4th.
It was all over on Sunday April 5th and the soldiers began gradually recovering LTTE bodies and identifying them. By Monday around 525 bodies had been recovered and around 60 identified. Many tigers had died by biting the cyanide capsule and swallowing its contents.
By Tuesday a further 100 bodies were found. About 60 of these were recovered in a bloated condition lying in a field.Another 40 bodies were in charred condition inside two small buildings where the cadres had sought cover. At least 18-20 injured cadres were captured alive. Some of these are top rung tigers. Three girls were discovered hiding in a makeshift pit , covered by leaves.
The army released some pictures of the dead tigers including Theepan and Vidusha. Some pictures of dead tigers laid out in rows were also released. The state of the bodies shown in the pictures were in abysmal condition. This led to much suspicion. Allegations have been made by pro-tiger elements in the Diaspora that incendiary bombs and chemical weapons including poison gas were used to overcome the LTTE.
Some Indian Military analysts however were skeptical of such allegations as the debacle seemed to be a classical example of a successful outflanking manoeuvre. Other informed sources ruled out poison gas but suggested that “white phosphorus bombs” may have been used. These bombs are not banned from usage on the military front but are strictly prohibited from use against civilians.
They are used in “siege conditions” to overcome tenacious fighters who resolutely dig in.
The US in Falluja, Iraq, Russians in Grozny , Chechenya, Israelis in Beirut, Lebanon have all been accused of using these incendiary devices. The US has used them in Korea and Vietnam while Saddam Hussein has done so against the Kurds. These are not classified as chemical weapons. The pictures displayed of killed tigers indicate that these “White Phosphorus” bombs referred to as “Will Pete” may have been used.
The hasty manner in which the recovered bodies were cremated has also fuelled suspicion. The defence establishment has flatly denied these charges. The reason for hasty cremation was the deteriorating condition of the corpses it is said.
Apart from this development, senior commander Sornam has sustained serious injuries while another leader Lawrence has received minor injuries in earlier skirmishes. The Aanandapuram debacle also resulted in the LTTE losing many weapons including three 130 mm artillery, one 85 mm pounder, five 81 mm mortars, four 12. 7mm anti-aircraft guns and a multi-30 mm Pedal gun.
This piece of equipment has proved very lethal in previous rounds of fighting as it can be used both as artillery and anti-aircraft gun.
Four 30 mm barrels were fixed on this and they could be fired simultaneously like a multi – barrel rocket launcher. It can be fired by stepping on a pedal. According to military analysts the Aanandapuram debacle appears to be the major turning point in the defiant last stand being put up by the LTTE. The armed forces had been expecting a major counter-offensive from the LTTE for quite a while now. Had the envisaged counter-offensive occurred as planned the army would have received a tremendous jolt.
Ironically, the tables were turned and the expected offensive was thwarted by the army in a military move amounting to a pre-emptive strike.pre=empted and thwarted. In the process the LTTE has been dealt a massive setback from which it may never recover.