Operation Pawan: Experiences in Sri Lanka

The Indian Army operates in No War No Peace Environment and is committed to the Chetwode oath which each Gentleman Cadet takes before being pipped as an officer.

The Safety, Honour and Welfare of the Country comes first Always and every time, The Safety, Honour and Welfare of the Citizens comes next

By Lt Col Manoj K Channan

Indian Army is a volunteer army and has officers and men from all the states, religion, caste and creed. The volunteers are put through intensive training and forged into formidable fighting machines as humans, who operate at the Siachen Glacier in -50 degrees centigrade or in the deserts at +50 degrees centigrade. The jungles of the northeast and the riverine terrain on the western border give a unique experience in serving the Indian Army. Those serving in the Andaman Nicobar Islands or Lakshadweep have maritime experience too. The principle of training remains the same across the board, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in War”.

The Indian Army operates in No War No Peace Environment and is committed to the Chetwode oath which each Gentleman Cadet takes before being pipped as an officer.

The Safety, Honour and Welfare of the Country comes first Always and every time, The Safety, Honour and Welfare of the Citizens comes next, The Safety, Honour and Welfare myself comes last.

Having given you the background on the basis of which the Indian Army is a formidable force, let me now share the Sri Lanka experience during Op Pawan.

I was commissioned into 65 Armoured Regiment and had trained to fight on the T 72M1 tanks. We were part of the Strike Corps and had just participated in a famous exercise Exercise Brasstacks IV. I have deliberately kept away the unpleasant side of combat which is adequately covered in movies.

The Tamils in Sri Lanka were being denied equal rights due to various historical reasons. The Tamils in Sri Lanka have support from the Tamil diaspora in India and across the world. As peaceful protests were not yielding any results, armed struggle was started, the leading rebel group was the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE), who were trained in India, and they further reached out to Palestinians to hone their fighting skills.

The Indian Government in April 1987, decided to assist the Tamils of Sri Lanka by an armed intervention. However, by diplomatic negotiations an Indo Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed on 29th of July 1987. LTTE was not happy with this peace accord as it compromised their aim of complete freedom in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

On 30th July 1987 the troops of 8 MAHAR as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) led by that time Major Anil Kumar Vaid and his company officer 2/Lt Satinder Singh landed at Palali Airport of Jaffna, a city in the Northern Province. The IPKF was tasked to ensure disarming of the LTTE and ensuring that Sri Lanka Armed Forces remain contained in their barracks.

In violation of the Indo Sri Lanka peace accord, 13 LTTE Sea Tigers were apprehended and were brought to Palali. This apprehension of the LTTE cadres was a bone of contention between the Sri Lanka government, Indian Government and the LTTE.

Though in Sri Lankan custody these, apprehended cadres were surrounded by the Indian troops. These cadres were sent across the dreaded cyanide capsules so that they could commit suicide. The suicide led to breakout of hostilities between the IPKF and the LTTE, the role of IPKF changed from Peace Keeping to Peace Enforcement.

The IPKF was caught off guard and the changed scenario led to the induction of additional troops who were not briefed on the military situation on ground and lack of maps as well as intelligence on the LTTE.

A violent and bitter engagement over 13 days led to the establishment of IPKF domination of Jaffna Town.

The LTTE cadres were well trained, agile and ruthless. A minor casualness led to casualties.

As a young officer it was a dream come true as it was an opportunity to test oneself against a real enemy. The Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte, Mizoram was established to counter the Mizo Insurgency in the late sixties. Its motto is “Fight the guerrilla like a guerrilla”.

We too started operating in small teams of buddy pairs. We would patrol by day and night. Lay ambushes along the known paths that the LTTE cadres would take, conduct raids on specific information. This required us to be physically extremely fit as the weather was hot, humid and rains would keep you wet. The energy would be sapped very quickly.

There was a requirement to have a good relationship with the local population who were also sources of our information, as the LTTE would tax the locals for their funding.

The LTTE too withdrew from the locations of IPKF and concentrated in the Jungles. It would avoid confrontation with the IPKF where it could.

Due to change of the Government in Colombo in 1989, President Premdasa requested the Indian Government to withdraw the IPKF. In the meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Army and LTTE started conducting joint operations against the Indian Army. The LTTE would use the Sri Lanka Army bases for their operations.

It was decided at one point to launch operations against the Sri Lanka Army, this was however, not undertaken and in April 1990 the IPKF withdrew and came back to India.

This period of 32 months in Sri Lanka trained the Indian Army which was battle hardened. The insurgencies in Kashmir, Punjab and Assam which were festering were fought successfully. This perhaps was the only positive outcome of the deployment in Sri Lanka.

Wars are what changes men, it teaches you to be careful, self – preservation, camaraderie and bonding which last a lifetime develop as you are pitted against a common enemy and the aim and mission is to win. In combat there are no seconds, you have to win each time or lay down your life in pursuit of the task handed over. In life these are valuable lessons, which need to be passed on to the next generation.

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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