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Liberation Thoppigala

The LTTE was defeated in the Eastern theatre one after the other when they lost control of the Chenkaladi-Maha Oya Road to the Security Forces on April 11, 2007. The only hope they had in the East was Baron’s cap area or famously known Thoppigala jungle.

Although many military strategists and experts considered Thoppigala jungle as an area without any tactical importance, for the LTTE it was the main hub for their terror activities in the Eastern theatre.

For them, it was an income generating source, a jungle hideout, training base and also a tactically important location to show their force to few administrative districts including Batticaloa, Ampara and Polonnaruwa.

Having captured the A-5 Road and the Batticaloa West and South from the clutches of the LTTE, the Sri Lanka Army designed its plan to capture the Thoppigala jungle from the clutches of the LTTE.

Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka wanted each and every Tiger operations in the East to be ended to focus his attention towards the Wanni liberation operation.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa extended their fullest support for the operation, providing each and every resource the Security Forces needed to conduct this operation.

The main requirement of the Army was to have more man power in the Eastern province to man the areas they had liberated from the clutches of the LTTE and also to maintain peace in the province without allowing the LTTE to infiltrate into the area.

At the same time, the Army also had to maintain its military thrust on the LTTE continuously without allowing them to re-group in the Eastern province.

Colonel Chagie Gallage, who was in charge of the Thoppigala operation, was asking for more battalions to continue their operation as he was badly in need of man power.

Although many new infantry battalions were formed during this period none of those battalions were deployed to the Eastern battle.

Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka was concentrating his attention on the Wanni liberation operation by this time as he opened up the SLA’s first offensive formation, the 57 Division, to liberate Wanni in February, 2007 in Kalmadu in Vavuniya.

Therefore, Colonel Gallage, who was the Commando Brigade Commander and also the man in charge of the Thoppigala battle, was asked to continue the operation with the available battalions. He made his operational centre in Maha Oya but later moved his Brigade to Illuppakadavai junction. However, all the Infantry battalions established their bases along the Maha Oya-Chenkaladi Road.

Troops of the 2 and 3 Commando Regiments, 6,7,8 and 9 battalions of the Gemunu Watch, 1 Sinha Regiment, 10 Gajaba Regiment, Engineering Regiment, Armoured Corps and Artillery Regiment were entrusted with the task of the Thoppigala liberation operation.

The Tiger leadership in Wanni was shaken with the troops capturing the A-5 Road and nearly 80 cadres under the leadership of Ramesh were sent from Wanni via thick jungle patches in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts to strengthen their strongholds in Thoppigala.

However, Security forces detected this movement and engaged them when they were crossing Angodawilluwa south-west of Trincomalee on April 12. Ramesh had a narrow escape, but ‘Lt. Colonel’ Ashok, Ramesh’s buddy and the doctor who accompanied the team were killed in the attack.

However, troops attached to 2 Commando supported by 6, 7 and 8 Gemunu Watch, Armoured Corps and Artillery commenced the final lap of the operations to fully liberate the East from the Tiger grip on April 25.

Their aim was to clear the Tiger camp complexes in Thoppigala jungles bordering to Polonnaruwa-Batticaloa A-5 Road from the North, Maduru Oya from the West and Maha Oya-Chenkaladi Road from the East and South.

The task before them was enormous since the terrain before them was thick jungle with mountains and rocks giving full advantage to the enemy rather than to the advancing troops.

Commando troops gave the lead moving to Tiger territory and identifying and destroying their gun positions. The 6, 7, 8 Gemunu Watch maintained a defence line after the capture of the areas by the Commando troops.

The troops observed that the Tiger outfit had developed a well planned network of supply routes to the Thoppigala jungles as they advanced towards Tiger territory.

After the loss of a number of LTTE localities between Thoppigala and Batticaloa, LTTE cadres at Thoppigala were cut off from outside resources. They were running short of food, medical supplies and probably heavy weapons and ammunition.

As the first phase of the operation mainly focused to cut off the supplies to Tiger camp complex was successful by June 2007, the Security Forces then moved to the final stage of the Thoppigala battle.

The troops engaged in this operation had been able to reduce the number of Tiger cadres in the entire Thoppigala area to 200 to 250.

According to field commanders, 1,400 to 1,500 cadres were in the South and West of Batticaloa prior to the commencement of this operation and after the completion of the Vakarai operation in January.

More than 600 cadres, many from Batticaloa region left the organisation since the eruption of battles, and reunited with their families.

With many Tiger cadres leaving the organisation Jeyam, Nagesh and Ramesh leading the Tiger battle in Thoppigala jungles were making desperate attempts to keep these Tiger cadres under their fold.

According to Security Forces, the Tiger outfit was making desperate attempts to flee Thoppigala possibly with the support of a sea movement from Mullaitivu as they were making their retreat towards the lagoon.

Many other cadres were fleeing towards Wanni crossing the Polonnaruwa- Batticaloa Road from Vakaneri taking cover in the thick jungles in Trikonamadu, Angodavilluwa.

Amidst these desperate attempts by the Tiger cadres to flee the area, troops were moving towards Narakkamulla and Tharavilkulam where the Tiger outfit was having their main military and training bases.

The three groups in the elite Commando Regiment - ALPHA (A), BRAVO (B) and DELTA (D) launched the mission to capture Thoppigala under the leadership of Captain Thushara Weththasinghe who led the A group, Captain Ravi Ratnayake B group and Captain Malinda Aluvihare D group.

On 10th of June, 2007 SL Army troops overran four LTTE camps in Pankudaweli North, and Narakkmulla South. Four LTTE camps at, Ibbanvila, Akkarathivu, Mawadi-ode, and Veppanveli had been captured by SL Army troops.

Although the offensive met almost no LTTE resistance in early days, it came under heavy LTTE counterattacks in the later stage. LTTE offered fierce resistance when troops attempted to capture the final LTTE defence line (near Narakkamulla east) on the June 19.

The FDL was fortified with 6 bunkers and 3 minor camps. Even after a heavy barrage of artillery and tank fire at the FDL, LTTE had not vacated their positions.

The LTTE was taken by surprise by army’s next move.

Nearly 50 soldiers of the Commando regiment stormed into LTTE bunkers and opened fire on defending terrorists. In a few seconds, the entire scenario of the battle changed. LTTE cadres, who initially had the upper hand of the battle, were now trapped inside their own bunker line.

This devastating commando raid left 30 terrorists dead. Three LTTE cadres had committed suicide during the battle. In contrast to heavy LTTE casualties, only 4 commando personnel received injuries.

It was on June 26, 2007 the 2 Commando Regiment under the command of Major Uditha Bandara was given instruction to capture the Narakkamulla Tiger base. On June 26, around 7 p.m. the number 1 team of the Alpha Group under the command of Captain Dissanayake made a move towards this heavily fortified Tiger base. They had to cross a six kilo metres terrain to reach the rocky mountain unnoticed to the Tiger cadres. Captain Dissanayake and the team reached the Tiger camp complex from the southern direction of the camp and reached closer to it around 3 a.m on the morning on June 27. The team observed that there were around 30 Tiger cadres operating inside the camp. Intercepted radio transmissions confirmed that it was the base where Tiger leader Jeyam was operating.

The LTTE had all their heavy weapons installed there and the commando troops started firing at the Tiger camp around 3 a.m. Fierce fighting continued till morning as the LTTE cadres operating there could not make out from which direction the fire was coming. Amidst stiff resistance from the LTTE, the commando team managed to kill as many Tiger cadres.

Finally, the Tiger leaders had to ask for the assistance of their Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher to neutralize the Commando team. They called three MBRL shoots targeting the Commando team. Captain Dissanayake was seriously injured in one of these MBRL shootings.

However, the 2 Commando Regiment Commanding Officer Major Uditha Bandara and Colonel Chagie Gallage made arrangements to take Captain Dissanayake to a safer place.

Over 30 LTTE cadres were killed during the battle, and the troops found eight dead bodies. One soldier was killed and 17 others sustained injuries during the battle.

The army during the subsequent search found 06 Multi Purpose Machine Guns (MPMG), 21 T-56 assault riffles, 04 Rocket Propeller Grenade (RPG) launchers, and a large quantity of Anti Personnel (AP) mines and Ammunition.

Advancing troops in Thoppigala area detected the largest ever single fleet of vehicles abandoned by the LTTE. Troops in Narakkamulla, Taravikulam and surrounding areas in Thoppigala were able to detect six double cabs, four vans, seven tractors with trailers, fifteen trailers, nine canter lorries, nineteen motorbikes and two bowsers.

A camp where LTTE conscripts and abductees have suffered immense torture after confining them to cells, ‘torture chambers’, was detected by the troops on June 28. The Army was advancing further into the centre of Thoppigala jungles across Narakkamulla and Taravikulam. Few metres away from the camp was a brand new luxurious Nissan Sunny car, said to have been used by one of the LTTE top ranks and now left behind before Tigers ran away as the troops marched on. The car, with all new gadgetry and sophisticated equipment, was found in the Veppavadduan area in the general area of Narakkamulla, Thoppigala.

Thirty-seven- year-old Sergeant M.H. Neelaweera, a father of two was the team leader of the ALPHA team which undertook the task of capturing the Narakkamulla complex which is Karuna’s infamous ‘Tora Bora’ complex.

He is an ‘Angel’ to the Commando Brigade. Each and every solider is given a nick name in the Commando regiment and their nick names are printed on their uniform. Until they are promoted to a higher rank they are popularly known by their nick names.

Angel seems to be proud above all. He says that he led his team to the most crucial point of the LTTE and he took the task of capturing Narakkamulla with the strong determination that they could hoist the National Flag on top of the rock.

On the morning of Thursday, June 28, Security forces personnel confronted a group of tigers who were fleeing the fightings in Thoppigala, west of Mavil Aru in Trincomalee and killed 11 LTTE cadres. In a subsequent search operation a stock of T-56 weapons, three hand grenades and a radio were uncovered from the surrounding where the confrontation took place.

Six Security Forces personnel including two officers attached to the Sri Lanka Armoured Corps were killed on July 6 as they come under LTTE attack from the East of Barons’ Cap and West of Tharavi area.

That was the highest number of Security Forces personnel killed during the operation to wrest control of the Thoppigala. During the entire operation only 18 soldiers were killed and 68 soldiers sustained injuries.

On the LTTE side, 211 LTTE cadres were killed during the Thoppigala operation and the number exceeded 500 in the operations conducted in the west and south of Batticaloa.

The jubilant troops, led by the 2nd Commando Regiment, made their way to Baron’s Cap on Wednesday, July 11, 2007, morning to reach their final target in the East, ending their month long mission in the Thoppigala jungles.However, that was not the end of their operation. More infantry battalions were deployed to unearth the weapons dumped by the LTTE and to clear the booby traps and mines in the jungle. Troops found the hidden wealth of the LTTE in this thick jungle which was described by some disgruntled politicians as a mere jungle.It was one of the major turning points in the fourth Eelam war as the victory in Thoppigala preceded a major public interest towards the military operations, thus encouraging thousands of youth to join the Sri Lanka Army.

 

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