Tuesday, 20 December 2016

‘Sri Lanka, an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off Indian coast’




By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000) Shivshankar Menon, in his recently (Oct, 2016) launched memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, indicated that New Delhi had reason to desire a change of government, in Sri Lanka, due to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations.

Menon accused former President Rajapaksa of breaking his solemn pledge, in May 2014, five years after the successful conclusion of the conflict. Obviously, the former President had earned the wrath of India for following a path which New Delhi believed threatened its security interests. Menon declaration that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off the Indian coast underscored New Delhi’s severe concerns in respect of the country being too close to China.

However, Menon, who had been India’s National Security Advisory, from January, 2011, to May, 2014, refrained from revealing a specific incident/or incidents which revealed Sri Lanka’s duplicity in May 2014. The incumbent Ajit Doval succeeded Menon.

Having commented on the conduct of former President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Menon accused Sri Lanka of reneging on bilateral understanding with India. Menon directly alleged that the former President received Chinese funds for his political campaigns, and projects. The veteran diplomat didn’t indicate when the war-winning President first received Chinese funding.

However, some experts interpreted that Menon was only commenting on the period during which he held the post of National Security Advisor. They asserted, therefore it would be wrong to ascertain that Menon felt the previous government had reneged on the promise given to New Delhi. They asserted that perhaps 80 per cent of the Chapter on Sri Lanka was positive. Even the reference to Chinese money could be considered as funds made available for infrastructure development projects.

Sri Lanka reneges promise

The writer felt the need to examine allegations in the wake of the Rajapaksa brothers referring to Menon’s memoirs, in recent conversations with him.

Let me report verbatim the relevant section from the Chapter on Sri Lanka, titled ‘Force works’: "I found that as Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya, had a clear view of Sri Lanka’s interests, one that was compatible with ours. Immediately after the war, he reassured the Indian troika (National Security Advisor M.K. Narayan, Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon) about the nature of Sri Lanka’s defence relationship with China, and helped Indian companies re-enter the reconstruction of Colombo. Security was Gotabhaya’s sole preoccupation, which made him sensitive to India’s concerns, while his brother Mahinda was much more compliant with Chinese demands, having built a political machine on Chinese money. The basic assurances that Gotabhaya and, more reluctantly, Mahinda Rajapaksa gave us were that India’s security interests would be respected and that there would be no surprises in Sri Lanka’s relations with China. In detailed conversations I was assured that there wouldn’t be no permanent Chinese military presence in Sri Lanka and that Sri Lanka would look to India for most of its military training and intelligence needs. These assurances were respected, in practice, by the Sri Lankans, until May 2014. At no stage exclusivity sought or promised. And realistically speaking, it would be unreasonable to expect exclusivity."

Sri Lanka troika comprised Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa. The two groups worked closely throughout eelam war IV (Aug. 2006 – May 2009). Menon stated: "Troika made decision making easy and quick, but the decisions, once made, were also final and hard to change."

Menon conveniently forgot that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have transformed her ceremonial Army to a fighting force with the support of China, Pakistan and Israel if not for Indian intervention in early 80s. Sri Lanka had no option but to rapidly modify and expand the military, with China providing a range of armaments, including artillery, mortars, assault rifles, state-of-the art radar, transport aircraft, gun boats, larger vessels, armoured fighting vehicles, shoulder fired missiles and jets et al.

Origins of terrorism in Sri Lanka

Having wrongly described the first major LTTE attack, on the Army, in July 1983, as an ambush of an SLA checkpoint in Jaffna, Menon asserted that India’s premier external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had intervened in Sri Lanka, in Aug, 1983, thereby cleared India of giving the required expertise to the LTTE to undertake the first major operation (wiping out Army patrol at Thinnaveli/Thirunelveli, Jaffna).

What had been called an ambush of a SLA checkpoint was in fact a coordinated attack on a mobile patrol at Tinnaveli/Tirunelveli resulting in the deaths of 13 soldiers. The Army had never experienced such an attack in the Jaffna peninsula, or any other northern or eastern district. The LTTE couldn’t have acquired such an expertise on its own under any circumstances. The attack triggered the war. Having tried to absolve India of causing the war in Sri Lanka, Menon accused Sri Lanka ORGANIZED (emphasis mine) nationwide campaign against Tamils. Menon stated: "In July, 1983, the reaction to an ambush of an SLA checkpoint, near Tirunelveli, was an organized pogrom and massacre of Tamils across the country during what came to be called Black July. Anywhere between 400 to 3,000 Tamils were killed. The start of the civil war is dated to those events. Two decades of discrimination against the Tamils had been followed by PREPLANNED (emphasis mine) violence."

Obviously, Menon wanted to ensure that India was cleared of triggering the war here. The former Indian Foreign Secretary is comfortable in propagating the lie that India had intervened only in the wake of the organized and preplanned violence, countrywide, that caused hundreds if not thousands of deaths. Sri Lanka should be grateful to Menon for not alleging that the Army mounted an attack on its own to unleash ORGANISED and PREPLANNED violence on Tamils.

TN, Centre in destabilisation plot

Indians seem reluctant to speak in one voice in respect of the origins of war in Sri Lanka. Retired Air Marshal Bharat Kumar in Operation Pawan: Role of Air power with IPKF, contradicted Menon’s assertion that India had intervened, in Aug, 1983, a month after Black July, 1983. Air Marshal Kumar claimed that Tamil Nadu had commenced providing weapons training to Tamil youth immediately after Black July, 1983, whereas the RAW launched its own project in 1984. Kumar’s claim that Tamil Nadu leaders had rejected India’s call to rein in Tamil groups is ridiculous. Kumar stated: "Since the Central government could not afford Tamil Nadu ‘invading’ Sri Lanka, various intelligence agencies also got into the act from 1984 onward. It was better that the Indian state got involved in Sri Lanka rather than the Tamil Nadu government because of obvious repercussions." The retired Air Marshal’s claim regarding so-called Tamil Nadu invasion of Sri Lanka in the 80s and justification of India causing massive death and destruction in Sri Lanka in the wake of Tamil Nadu involvement here is foolish. Had India known Tamil Nadu establishing terrorist training bases within territory coming under its control, the Center should have intervened there. Kumar’s justification of India’s intervention in Sri Lanka is pathetic and the writer had never come across such absurd argument.

There should be a full disclosure of Indian intervention in Sri Lanka without any further delay. India cannot continue to lie regarding origins of the war as Sri Lanka battled accountability issues.

Menon’s one-time boss Foreign Secretary (1991-1994) the late Jyotindra Nath Dixit, who had been Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (85 to 89) in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha genuinely dealt with the contentious issue. Sri Lanka leaders didn’t even bother to examine his comments in spite of their high value.

Dixit’s version

The Chapter titled An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik thoroughly discussed the Indian intervention against the backdrop of Cold War between the Soviet Union and the US led Western powers as well as recurring conflicts with China and Pakistan. India had been among those countries supportive of the Soviet Union. Dixit had the guts to admit that Indian intervention in Sri Lanka was inevitable due to what he called Sri Lanka’s evolving security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel. Dixit emphasized that Indian intervention hadn’t been entirely prompted by successive governments ill-treating Tamils. Dixit asserted: "It would be relevant to analyze India’s motivations and actions vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the larger perspective of the international and regional strategic environment obtaining between 1980 and 1984."

Dixit was appointed National Security Advisor in May 2004. The veteran diplomat published his memoirs as the National Security Advisor. Dixit died in January, 2005.

Dixit alleged that President JR Jayewardene had established significant defence and intelligence contacts with the US, Pakistan and Israel. Unfortunately, Dixit ignored the fact that Sri Lanka had no option but to obtain foreign assistance to counter growing threat posed by terrorists. Having praised the then Indian Premier Indira Gandhi for transforming India from what he called an idealistic player into a force to be reckoned with, Dixit faulted her over the directive to destabilize Sri Lanka. The top Indian diplomat unflinchingly acknowledged what no other Indian had dared to acknowledge so far. Dixit stated: "The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticism of these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests. Her logic was she couldn’t openly alienate the former Soviet Union when India was so dependent on that country for defence supplies and technologies. Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. These aspirations were legitimate in the context of nearly 50 years of Sinhalese discrimination against Sri Lankan Tamils."

Menon in his memoirs referred to India fearing Tamil separatist movement in Sri Lanka spreading to Tamil Nadu and foreign powers using Sri Lanka. Having acknowledged that the RAW had been tasked to monitor armed groups since 70s, Menon discussed the developments over the years before admitting the project’s failure. Menon explained how the LTTE assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, on the night of May 21, 1991, during an election rally in Tamil Nadu, prompted India to support Sri Lanka’s military efforts. D.R. Kaartikeyan and Radhavinod Raju exhaustively dealt with the killing in The Rajiv Gandhi Assassination: The Investigation. Menon asserted that India couldn’t bear being accused of coming to the rescue of the LTTE responsible for Gandhi’s murder.

Menon discussed gradual escalation of fighting in the Northern Province, Indian food drop, subsequent deployment of the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990) under the Indo-Lanka accord, President Ranasinghe’s Premadasa’s partnership with the LTTE to oust the Indian Army and the LTTE taking control of the Northern Province at the onset of the eelam war II. However, Menon, avoided reference to India’s bid to establish a Tamil National Army comprising members of groups sponsored by India before Indian Army quit Sri Lanka. There had been no reference to Indian trained PLOTE (People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) making an abortive bid to seize power in the Maldives in early November 1988. Indian forces thwarted the attempt made by sea borne PLOTE cadres on behalf of Maldivian businessman Luthufee.

According to Menon, there had been an understanding between India and the US regarding Indian intervention in Sri Lanka in 1987.

Last phase and post-war


Menon dealt with midnight visits to Colombo with the then Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Indian Air Force Embraer jet to keep abreast of latest battlefield and political developments. Following discussions, there had been agreement on suspension of air strikes and artillery attacks as well as the safe passage for civilians. However, Sri Lanka had indicated in no uncertain terms that taking LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran alive hadn’t been an option as the Army advanced on the Vanni east front. According to Menon, the Army top brass had been confident by, mid January, 2009, that the LTTE could be finished off. Menon’s comment on US-Norway operation to save Prabhakaran should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s determination to eradicate the LTTE. The US-Norway project had envisaged paving the way for a negotiated exile for Prabhakaran. Menon stated: "...Norway and US were attempting to secure a ceasefire, to negotiate exile for Prabhakaran, and to explore other exit strategies that would effectively keep the LTTE alive to fight another day, politically or militarily."

The US effort was surprising as the sole superpower provided specific intelligence to Sri Lanka Navy to hunt down four LTTE floating arsenals in 2007. In addition to that, the US upgraded Fast Attack Craft (FACs) thereby giving tremendous boost to the Sri Lanka navy.

Menon on Mahinda and Sarath

Menon discussed India’s unsuccessful efforts to convince war-winning President Rajapaksa to reach out to the defeated Tamil community with devolution of political power and democratic ways and means, restoration of human rights and most importantly in former Indian Foreign Secretary’s own words ‘a sense of dignity to victor and vanquished in his country.’ Having condemned the former President for not utilising post-war opportunity, Menon acknowledged the difficulties experienced by the former President due to the absence of acceptable Tamil political leadership. Menon quoted the former President as having said that there was no one he could work with on the Tamil side. Menon acknowledged that the former President had been right to some extent. Menon stated: "Such Tamil politicians as had survived the war in the Tamil National Alliance were either complict with or indebted to the LTTE and the most radical elements in the Diaspora."

Menon couldn’t be unaware of incumbent TNA MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan accusing the RAW of killing two Jaffna district TULF members of parliament, including his father. Although most of the prominent Tamil politicians had been killed by the LTTE, the TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization) is alleged to have shot dead two TULF MPs, Dharmalingam and Alalasundaram, in August, 1985. And, at that time, it was speculated that they were assassinated on the orders of Indian intelligence operatives who handled the TELO. They were assassinated a year before the LTTE wiped out TELO. The Sri Lankan police never cracked that case. In fact, they had not solved subsequent cases of political assassinations either. Siddarthan is on record as having told the writer, in 1997, that the RAW ordered Aug 1985 assassinations. There should be a comprehensive study on Indian intervention in Sri Lanka beginning 70s.

Menon roundly condemned the former President for depending on Douglas Devananda, instead of promoting, what he called, a moderate Tamil leadership. It would be pertinent to ask Menon, or those who found fault with the former President, whether they could name some moderate Tamil politicians.

Menon also accused the former President of deploying 14 out of 21 Army Divisions in the Northern Province after the conclusion of the war. The author described the northern deployment as an occupying force. Sri Lanka never raised so many fighting Divisions during the conflict. There had been four Divisions deployed in the Jaffna peninsula at the height of the war. Of them, two later had joined the Vanni battle, in January, 2009, in support of three newly raised Divisions namely 57, 58 and 59 in addition to two or three Task Forces also deployed in the Vanni. Unfortunately, for some inexcusable reason Menon had propagated a lie over seven years after the conclusion of the war. In spite of the Army presence, in the Jaffna peninsula, being drastically removed within three years after the conflict, those with vested interests continued to propagate lies. India and the Tamil community have never acknowledged that the LTTE defeat automatically cleared land for people. By the time, the former President sought a third term, in January, 2015, six years after the war, military presence in the Vanni, too, had been reduced. Today, 12 Divisions are deployed in the northern theatre with the Jaffna peninsula home to three formations.

India’s second major postwar issue, according to Menon, had been civil-military balance after the conclusion of the war. Having expressed concern over the growing power of the Army, the former National Security Advisor of India expressed relief that war-winning Army Chief had been removed. Menon stated: "The other postwar issue that worried India was the civil military-balance after 26 years of civil war in Sri Lanka. This was solved expeditiously, if unconventionally, by sacking and imprisoning Army Chief Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka’s political ambitions were the real motive behind Rajapaksa’s actions, but the effect of removing him was to take out of politics the victorious and domineering Army, which had got used to playing a role in national politics."

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Post-January 2015 US-Lanka military relations Background



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Three recent events marked the rapidly growing US – Sri Lanka relationship in the wake of the recently concluded US presidential poll which brought Republicans back to power. Republicans lost the White House in January, 2009.

* The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit engaged in what the US called theatre security cooperation (TSC) project with the Sri Lankan Navy’s newly formed marine force. The exercise took place in Trincomalee from 23 to 25 Nov., 2016.

* The unprecedented exercise was followed by the first US four-star officer to visit Sri Lanka, following the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009, participating at the Seventh Edition of the Galle Dialogue. Addressing the two-day conference (Nov 28-29, 2016) the Commander of the US Pacific Command Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. declared his pleasure in seeing a growing military-to-military relationship between Sri Lanka and the United States. The US hadn’t been interested in Galle Dialogue at the onset of the project, in August 2010. Both the US and the Indian delegations had been represented by officers, holding much lower ranks, at the inaugural meet. The People’s Republic of China had been represented by a high level delegation. Gradually, they increased the level of their participation. The unprecedented presence of the Commander US Pacific Command is evidence of the US interest here.

* The third was US Ambassador in Colombo Atul Keshap breaking ground on Dec 6, 2016 for a bigger US diplomatic mission here.

Admiral Harris sought Sri Lanka’s participation in the on-going US- spearheaded military project.

 Among the audience were President Maithripala Sirisena, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, MP, and Commander of the Navy Ravi Wijegunaratne. At the onset of his speech, Admiral Harris acknowledged the war-winning Army Chief’s presence among the distinguished guests.

 The Sinha Regiment veteran’s presence there and the US acknowledgment should be examined against the backdrop of unsubstantiated accusations made against Field Marshal Fonseka, the Sri Lanka Army, as well as the then political leadership. Post-war US Ambassador in Colombo, Patricia Butenis, accused the Rajapaksa brothers and Fonseka of war crimes.

 "To continue along a prosperous path, we must expand partnerships among like-minded nations to uphold the rules-based global operating system," the US officer said. "This helps build what US Defense Secretary Ash Carter calls a ‘principled security network," Admiral Harris said.

 The network, Harris explained, ensures that nations of all sizes have not only maritime access, but equal access to the other shared domains, including air, space, and cyber, within a system that has been underwriting prosperity throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific for the last seven decades.

 Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne, was on stage with Admiral Harris. The US underscored Sri Lanka’s importance in the region and its readiness to work closely with her political and military leaderships. It would be pertinent to study the US role in Sri Lanka during the war, particularly in 2007 during the then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda’s tenure as the Commander of the Navy.

Admiral Harris urged the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration to continue on its path of reconciliation and transparency after three decades of tragic conflict. The US four-star Admiral also referred to the January 8, 2015, change of government though he refrained from making a direct reference. "The people of Sri Lanka have spoken, demonstrating the power of democracy to overcome difficult times and to ensure peace and prosperity. Sri Lanka has adjusted its course away from civil war and isolation, to one of reconciliation and inclusion."

Admiral Harris couldn’t be unaware of what he called a tragic conflict had been nothing but a terrorist campaign launched by India in the 80s due to geopolitical reasons. India can absolve herself of the death and destruction caused by Indira Gandhi’s murderous decision to intervene here. No less a person than one-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1985-1989) and foreign secretary (1991-1994) Jyotindra Nath Dixit, in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’ blamed Mrs Gandhi for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka. Sixty-eight year old Dixit passed away in early January, 2005. At the time of his death, Dixit had been National Security Advisor.

Obviously, an attempt is being made to deceive the world as regards the origins of the war in Sri Lanka.

2007-2009 US-SL relationship

 The first edition of the Galle Dialogue was held in early August 2010, less than a year after Sri Lanka annihilated the LTTE.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May, 2009. The Navy played a significant role in the nearly three-year campaign with the destruction of eight ships carrying armaments for the LTTE, in 2006, and 2007, being its main achievement. The Navy couldn’t have achieved such success without US support.

 Wartime Navy Chief Wasantha Karannagoda dealt with US-Sri Lanka relations in his memoirs, Adishtanaya.

 Although Sri Lanka had earned the wrath of the Super Power for not allowing Western powers and the UN to come to the rescue of the top LTTE leadership in 2009, the Rajapaksa administration received tremendous US support to bring the war to a successful conclusion.

 Karannagoda’s untiring efforts led to unprecedented US support to Sri Lanka’s war effort in 2007. Unexpected US support in 2007, made a far reaching impact on the overall military campaign against the LTTE.

 The military effort received a turbo-boost when the US provided specific intelligence to destroy four LTTE floating arsenals, on the high seas, in late 2007. The present Navy Chief had been the then Director of Naval Operations. Vast US intelligence gathering network ensured specific intelligence required to deliver the single biggest blow to the LTTE overseas arms smuggling network. The US also paved the way for the Navy to upgrade its Fast Attack Craft (FACs) by replacing their 23 mm weapon with 30 mm Bushmaster, one of the most sought after weapons.

Thanks to the timely US Bushmaster offer, the Navy had been able to thwart a despicable project to acquire 20 year old stock of discarded 30 mm naval guns through Israel. Heavily overpriced weapons had been envisaged as replacement for main weapons on board FACs. Had the deal been allowed to go through, the Navy would have suffered a terrible blow.

According to a war time survey, conducted by the Navy, those who had been assigned to FACs considered Israeli built Shaldag class, the best fighting craft of that category available to Sri Lanka. The survey rated US built Trinity Marine craft the second best followed by Israeli Dvoras and the Colombo Dockyard built vessels.

The Navy had established close rapport with the US, in 2007, in the wake of the entire Eastern Province, comprising Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts being cleared. By then the Vanni offensive had been underway with the newly raised 57 Division struggling west of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.

The then US Ambassador Robert O. Blake and Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Robert F. Willard had played a pivotal role in pushing the Bushmaster deal. They had also ensured the supply of required ammunition from USAF stores until supplies, especially meant for Sri Lanka, could be produced. The US went ahead with Bushmaster transaction, though the US Senate suspended armaments sales in January, 2008. The US acted on the basis that export license in respect of Bushmaster cannon and ammunition had been issued in Sept. 2007.

Having served the US Navy, at various command posts, naval veteran Willard assumed command of the US Pacific Fleet, in May, 2007. Willard held that post until he took over the powerful US Pacific Command, in Oct 2009. By then, the LTTE’s conventional military power had been crushed and its floating arsenals sent to the bottom of sea.

Successful Navy-US embassy talks in 2007

 The relationship between the Navy and the US had been so close that Sri Lanka was advised to airlift ammunition meant for Bushmaster cannon immediately from an USAF base in South Carolina to avoid unnecessary complications. The US Embassy and Bushmaster supplier felt that Senate prohibition on armaments sales could undermine the transaction though the required export license was available. Admiral Karannagoda, in his memoirs, appreciated the then Chief Executive of Mihin Air (not in existence anymore) Sajin Vas Gunawardena facilitating a secret operation to airlift 5,000 rounds of ammunition from South Carolina to Colombo.

In late April, 2007, Karannagoda had invited Lieutenant Colonel Jim Oxley, who had been the Defence Advisor, at the US Embassy, at the onset of Eelam War IV, to explore ways and means of securing US assistance to locate floating LTTE arsenals. The meeting had taken place against the backdrop of the Navy destroying four such vessels (mid Sept. 2006 off Kalmunai, late Feb 2007 off south of Dondra and March 2007 east of Arugambay) thanks to specific intelligence provided by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI).

The US assistance had been sought in the wake of running dispute between Karannagoda and Fonseka resulting in the latter terminating the DMI-Navy relationship. Oxley acted swiftly and decisively to provide the required assistance. Oxley’s successor, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Smith, too, worked overtime to enhance relations between the US and Sri Lankan armed forces. The writer had on many occasions pointed out Smith coming to Sri Lanka’s rescue at the first defence seminar organized by the Sri Lanka Army, in May-June 2011. In spite of the US officer strongly countering war crimes allegations, directed at the previous government, the foolish administration never bothered to examine Smith’s statement Vis a Vis accusations.

Perhaps Karannagoda wouldn’t have expected the US Embassy to act so fast. A few weeks after the Karannagoda-Oxley meeting, Ambassador Blake had visited the Navy Chief at his headquarters. Oxley had been with Blake. Having patiently listened to Karannagoda’s plea for US assistance, Blake had posed several questions before assuring that the Pacific Command would be informed of Sri Lanka’s requirement.

Let me reproduce the relevant section from Adishtanaya

Blake: Admiral, how do you identify the LTTE ships from the other ships, from a satellite?

Karannagoda: Your Excellency, the LTTE ships normally stay about 50 kms away from the normal shipping lane. They move at a very slow speed. Sometimes they are stationary and do not move if the sea conditions are good.

Blake: Admiral, I cannot promise you anything at this stage. But I will pass this information to the relevant people at the Pacific Command.

Karannagoda: Thank you Excellency.

Oxley had brought several satellite images when he met Karannagoda, in August 2007. Head of the then Naval Intelligence Captain Mohotti (recently retired in the rank of Rear Admiral), Director General Operations Rear Admiral Jayanath Colombage (having commanded the Navy, retired in the rank of Admiral) and Deputy Director Operations Commander DKP Dassanayake (recently promoted to the rank of Commodore) had been present. The Navy had been able to identify four LTTE ships, shown as dots, in satellite images, positioned away from normal shipping route. As the satellite images had been obtained about a week ago, Oxley asserted that the ships may have moved away. Before leaving Navy headquarters, Oxley had promised to obtain a fresh set of satellite images from US Pacific Command. The US Defence Attache made available the promised images in the second week of Sept 2007. They proved the vessels had been stationary.

Acting on US intelligence, the Navy destroyed three of the four ships on Sept 10 (two vessels) and the remaining one on 11, 2007. The fourth vessel, believed to be the largest operated by the LTTE, was sunk on Oct 7, 2007.

US uses SLN to eliminate possible threat

 The destruction of the LTTE vessel, on Sept 11, 2007 led to the recovery of documents and ammunition which enabled the Navy to identify the manufacturer. Karannagoda refrained from naming the country concerned though he estimated that there had been over 10,000 rounds of 122 mm, 130 mm and 152 mm artillery rounds.

The LTTE had been able to procure a range of arms, ammunition and equipment from China, using end user certificates issued to two countries for several years. Over 10,000 rounds of ammunition, carried in the vessel, sunk on Sept. 11, had been procured from China for LTTE’s field guns. The LTTE had acquired various types of weapons of Chinese origins. Their arsenal included mobile anti-aircraft guns as well as anti-tank weapons. The situation had been so bad; the Rajapaksa government had no option but to make representations to the Chinese government.

 Following comprehensive The Island reportage of the Chinese link, a two-member delegation from the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office met the writer in Colombo. The Japanese had been severely concerned about the alleged North Korean involvement in Chinese weapons transfers to the LTTE. The LTTE ships that had been sunk by the Navy are believed to have taken delivery of Chinese weapons at North Korean ports/North Korean waters. The Island had been severely restrained in its reportage of the Chinese issue due to the People’s Republic being a key weapons supplier throughout Sri Lanka’s war against Tamil terrorists. The Sri Lankan military, particularly the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), had been deeply concerned about The Island coverage.

The US Pacific Command intervention, in 2007, should be examined against the backdrop of Chinese arms transfers to the LTTE. Obviously, the decision wouldn’t have been taken without consultations with the US State Department. Blake would have certainly ensured that. The US would have surely taken into consideration the possibility of some other party using LTTE ships for destructive purpose as well as its ally Japan’s concerns.

A few days after the destruction of the LTTE vessels, in the two-day operation, on Sept 10 and 11, 2007, Blake had personally thanked Karannagoda for eliminating one of the routes utilized by Al Qaeda to procure weapons. The meeting had taken place at Karannagoda’s office after the naval task force, commanded by the then Captain Travis Sinniah, returned to Trincomalee (Having served the US Embassy in Colombo after the war, Sinniah returned to the Navy in the wake of the January 2015 change of government. Currently, Sinniah functions as the Commander, East)

Subsequently, the US Pacific Command provided satellite images of the fourth LTTE vessel which managed to escape during the confrontation in the second week of Sept 2007. The Navy destroyed the vessel on Oct 7, 2007.

A war time visit

 Having facilitated Sri Lanka to acquire weapons from Israel, beginning early 80s, the US accommodated Sri Lanka along with India in Extended Relations Programmes (ERP) conducted by the US Pacific Command during early years of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s administration. The first joint exercise, involving US Special Boat Unit, and Navy FAC squadron, took place in Nov 1997. There had been a gradual strengthening of partnership leading to unprecedented support, in 2007.

 Admiral Willard visited Trincomalee, in January, 2008, at the height of the war. The top level US delegation toured the Trincomalee in one of those Trinity Marine craft mounted with Bushmaster cannon.

Admiral Willard was the senior most US military official to visit Sri Lanka during Eelam War IV. The visit took place close on the heels of a confrontation between a USN flotilla and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) patrol boats on January 6, 2008 in international waters in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

The US convoy, involved in the unprecedented incident with IRGC vessels, comprised AEGIS guided-missile destroyer, USS Hopper, cruiser, USS Port Royal and frigate, USS Ingraham. (The writer had the opportunity to go on board USS Hopper, on October 6, 1997, along with a group of journalists from the Asia-Pacific region, at the Pearl harbour, exactly a month after the commissioning of the vessel).

The then Commander of the USN Fifth Fleet, Vice Admiral, Kevin J. Cosgriff, was quoted in the international media, as having said: "The episode was more serious than we have seen, in particular because it occurred in an important maritime choke point, vital to the global economy." Cosgriff described the Iranian action as "unnecessarily provocative."

In accordance with overall counter measures, to meet any eventuality, the USN wanted Sri Lanka to share its expertise in asymmetrical warfare with the USN.

It would be pertinent to mention that Al-Qaeda caused substantial damage to guided missile destroyer USS Cole in a suicide attack, carried out in the Yemeni port of Aden, on October 12, 2000. The SLN asserted that the suicide attack, on USS Cole, was similar to operations launched by Sea Tigers, targeting the SLN, as well as merchant vessels.

Thillaiyampalam Sivanesan, aka Soosai, in an exclusive interview with BBC’s Francis Harrison, during the Oslo-managed Ceasefire Agreement, had boasted that Al-Qaeda copied tactics from them. Soosai is quoted as having said that other terrorist groups should learn from the LTTE as the Al-Qaeda had already copied them.

The interview, with Soosai, recorded during the LTTE celebrations of Heroes’ Day and broadcast over BBC Television, was posted on the BBC Website’s South Asia section, under the heading, "Tamil Tigers Reveal Suicide Secrets" as a video clip. The news feature introduced the Black Tigers as "the Original Suicide Bombers of the World."

Referring to the attack on USS Cole, Soosai said, "They are using our tactics. I think in Yemen they used our strategy of suicide attack to blow up an American ship. That is exactly what we used to do."

Soosai is believed to have been killed in May, 2009, while crossing the Nanthikadal lagoon with LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and his family.

Having helped Sri Lanka to deliver a deadly blow to the LTTE, the US made a desperate ‘diplomatic’ effort to save the LTTE leadership. The then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s refusal to save Prabhakaran resulted in the US moving a resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva. The US had been so much interested in saving Prabhakaran, the then Army Chief Fonseka believed US carriers could mount massive air strike on the Army. War time GOC of elite 53 Division Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, now retired, in his memoirs Rana Maga Osse Nanthikadal claimed Fonseka warned of possible US air strikes.