Tigers in Dunkirk-type evacuation from
Troops carrying out operations
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
"Operation Dynamo" was the codename for the
successful exercise that succeeded in
evacuating trapped soldiers from the
beaches and harbour of Dunkirk in France in
May - June 1940 during World War Two.
I don't usually like to compare battles
fought by the Sri Lankan armed forces
against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) to those of World War One and Two.
When comparisons were made between the
fight for Killinochchi and the siege of
Stalingrad, I pointed out that the
similarity was only superficial and that
equating both amounted to the fallacy of
It is with some reluctance therefore that I
to describe an event unfolding in the
Jaffna peninsula right now. But then I do
see shades of Dunkirk there!
What happened in World War Two was that the
rapidly advancing German army had separated
and cut off the Allied army confronting it
in France and Belgium.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of
stranded soldiers from Britain, France and
Canada retreated for three days and were
trapped in a coastal strip of land
extending from Dunkirk in France to
Poperinge in Belgium.
It was then that the British launched the
massive "Operation Dynamo" to evacuate
trapped soldiers from Dunkirk across the
English channel to British shores.
In a nine - day exercise from May 26th -
June 4th , 42 British naval vessels and 860
other smaller ships and boats called the
"Little ships" engaged in maritime
evacuation. The so - called 'Little Ships'
comprised fishing boats, pleasure cruisers
and commercial vessels manned by civilian
Together they made several trips back and
forth facing great danger and brought back
to safety 338, 226 soldiers. These included
45,000 men of the elite British
Expeditionary Force who later went on to
accomplish many spectacular feats.
Earlier it was feared that the entirety of
trapped soldiers would be killed or
imprisoned by the Germans. British Prime
Minister Winston Churchill warned the house
of commons to expect "hard and heavy
tidings." Later he called it a "miracle of
When the British press portrayed the
Dunkirk evacuation as a "Disaster turned to
Triumph" the realistic Churchill was to
caution "We must be very careful not to
assign to this deliverance the attributes of
a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations."
The Dunkirk evacuation is now embedded in
British national memory. The phrase "Dunkirk
spirit" is descriptive of the British
people's ability to face up collectively to
impending disaster and snatch victory from
the jaws of defeat.
What is going on in the Jaffna peninsula
now ( I am writing this on Jan 6th night)
is also an evacuation exercise. It is
nowhere near the scale and scope of Dunkirk.
But in some ways it amounts to a "kutty" or
Why do I say this? Let me place events in
One of the strongest defence lines
maintained by the LTTE is in Jaffna
peninsula. This 12 mile long line extends
from one coast of the peninsula to the
It is along the axis of Kilaly on the west ,
Muhamaalai in the middle and Nagar Kovil in
the east. Soldiers of 53 and 55 Divisions
are stationed opposite the LTTE forward
The 53 and 55 Divisions have been conducting
several operations in the past to break
through LTTE defences. The LTTE has been
The Tigers have attached tremendous
importance to the need to retain their
presence and hold in the peninsula. An
elaborate system of trenches, bunds and
bunkers have been constructed with three
lines of defence.
The LTTE's northern commander "Col" Theepan
himself was until recently in the peninsula
supervising defences personally.
The LTTE retains areas in the south - west,
south, south - east and east of the
peninsula. These include the
Pachchilaippalli AGA division and parts of
the Pallai and Vadamaratchy east AGA
Once during July - August 2006, the LTTE had
deployed nearly 10, 000 cadres to this front
with ambitious plans of launching a
peninsular invasion. This did not
materialise. Later the numbers dwindled to
around 6,000 Tiger cadres being in the
With the Tigers coming under increasing
military pressure in the northern mainland
of Wanni, cadres from the peninsula were
transferred to augment fighting formations.
As a result there were only around 3,500 to
4,000 cadres within the peninsula as the
year 2008 ended.
Earlier the Tigers were able to resist a
series of offensives and mini - offensives
by the army inside the peninsula. It was at
this juncture that the military balance
shifted rapidly in Paranthan - Kilinochchi.
Task Force One or 58 Division commanded by
Brig. Shavendra Silva succeeded in taking
Paranthan on the eve of the new year. With
that success, the army was in a position to
move north towards Elephant Pass.
This , the 58 division did and within a few
days moved up to Kurinchatheevu adjacent
to the Elephant Pass Isthmus. As is well
known the Elephant pass Isthmus linking
Peninsula with mainland by land is of
strategic importance and described as the
"gateway to Jaffna." The LTTE had vacated
positions in the mainland areas adjacent to
Elephant Pass after the fall of Paranthan.
The army is now in Elephant Pass at the
southern end of the causeway. Troops are
staying put as the Tigers have established
fresh positions in Northern Elephant Pass
and are capable of inflicting heavy losses
on advancing soldiers.
The Tigers however were caught between a
rock and a hard place. It was only a matter
of time before the 53 and 55 from the north
and 58 from the south would move closer and
link up in a pincer - like move called
"double envelopement" in military parlance.
This had to happen and was inevitable. The
only question was "When"? Initially , the
LTTE seemed to have other plans. Instead of
withdrawing from the Peninsula well in
advance the LTTE cadres continued to remain
there. The Tigers seemed determined to
resist the army at both ends.
There may also have been contingency plans
to move into areas east and south of the
Jaffna - Kandy road or A - 9 highway and
hold on to the region. This would encompass
a coastal strip from Thalaiaddy to
Chundikulam lagoon. Another possibility is
that the LTTE in an unconventional gambit
was thinking of a limited counter offensive
inside the peninsula.
Also a communication "gap" though highly
unlikely cannot be ruled out entirely.
Whatever the reason the Tiger cadres
continued to remain in the peninsula despite
the over hanging Damoclean sword .
Suddenly, a change of plan seems to have
occurred. Why, is yet an unknown.
A plausible reason may be the belated
realisation that the army could move further
east of the A - 9 in a push parallel to the
A - 35 or Paranthan - Mullaitheevu road and
seal off the coastal areas adjacent to the
If and when that happened the existing
supply route to the peninsula would be
knocked out, rendering entrapped cadres in
the peninsula vulnerable.
The series of ground - based drives by
soldiers to reach the Kandawalai - Ooriyaan
region along the lagoon complicated the
Meanwhile the 53 and 55 were "revving" up
their engines to launch a multi - pronged
assault. Against this backdrop a late
decision was probably taken to evacuate.
Soon frantic efforts were underway to
bring the boys back.
Unlike in Dunkirk there were no civilian
volunteers to assist in the efforts. Besides
the beleaguered Tamil civilians were in no
shape to do so. So the LTTE began its own
"Dunkirk - type" evacuation. Two rout‚s are
One is for the cadres to move eastwards to
the Vadamaratchy east coast where sea Tiger
boats transport them to the Mullaitheevu
coast. The other is for cadres to go to the
south - eastern area to a place called
Kombaatty and then go across the lagoon to
Ooriyaan on the mainland.
There was a time in the nineties of the
last century when the people of Jaffna used
the Kombaatty - Ooriyaan route to go across
and return to the peninsula.
Later another route across the lagoon
between Kilaaly in the peninsula and
Paranthan Nalloor on the mainland was used.
To strike a personal note there was an
occasion in 1986 where I was stranded in
Paranthan. I had to reach Jaffna but
transport through Elephant Pass was
suspended then because of an escalation in
So some of us went to the Ooriyaan area.
Fortunately the waters in the lagoon were
shallow. We got into a tractor - trailer.
The driver charged 100 rupees per head to go
He navigated the vehicle through very
shallow waters. At one stage it got bogged
down in the mud and all males had to get
down and push. It is this very route which
is being used now.
Apparently an LTTE commando unit is engaged
in ferrying across trapped cadres in dingy
boats and rafts. Seeing that the withdrawal
process had begun the army also began
moving. After resisting for hours , the LTTE
began retreating from positions along Kilaly
The army moved at least 500 metres and took
over vacated LTTE second line of defence
positions. The army is likely to push
forward further in the next few days
Withdrawing Tigers have established a new
line of defence in areas north of
Puthukkaadu junction on the A - 9 highway.
Tigers are also sniping from the Pallai
area. Cadres stationed along the Nagar Kovil
front continue to remain for now. Current
LTTE resistance is not likely to be durable
as it is only a matter of time before the
Tigers would have to completely withdraw
from entrenched positions in the peninsula.
The countdown has begun. Meanwhile the
evacuation goes on like a caricature of
Dunkirk. The armed forces are shelling the
fleeing Tigers. Aerial attacks are also on.
Still large numbers of Tiger cadres have
been evacuated. The remaining cadres would
also be evacuated within a day or two. The
resistance being put up now amounts to
delaying tactics by the LTTE until cadres
are safely relocated.
How long the LTTE would try and hold on to
positions in the peninsula is not very
clear. But it certainly appears that the
bulk of cadres stationed in Jaffna are
evacuated or will be evacuated.
Already the evacuation exercise is being
glorified in pro - Tiger media as a glorious
The Tigers and fellow travellers would do
well to remember what Churchill said after
the miracle of Dunkirk. "We must be very
careful not to assign to this deliverance
the attributes of a victory. Wars are not
won by evacuations."
Pros and cons of the
By Dislrukshi Handunnetti
The Sri Lankan government for the third
time, has banned the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE), declaring it to be a
Minister Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday
announced the government's decision to ban
the LTTE, and another Minister Keheliya
Rambukwella claimed that the reimposition of
the ban was due to the continued human
rights violations and the tremendous
atrocities committed by the LTTE.
That this was coming for some time is a
given. Time and again, Defence Spokesman
Keheliya Rambukwella and Foreign Minister
Rohitha Bogollagama have been advocating the
same. Whatever the advocacy through missions
and at local level were aimed at achieving
Besides, the government does understand that
this would be a popular move at a time when
the troops have shown military prowess with
the capture of Killinochchi, the LTTE
This also means the LTTE would be made to
face all the consequences that a regular
terrorist organisation would. Chief among
them - and this is where the government does
appear unstable - there would be legal
implications if the government were to hold
discussions with a banned organisation.
It also does not take a rocket scientist to
figure out that the government has little or
no intention of talking to the Tigers,
specially riding a crest in the aftermath of
continuous military achievements.
It was also clear, as the government
persisted on not laying down arms in order
to enter a dialogue process, practically
precluded any chance of resumed talks.
And then came the ban - for the third time.
President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is also
Minister of Defence, submitted a memorandum
to the cabinet on Wednesday proscribing the
LTTE as a terrorist organisation under the
emergency laws. "The cabinet has unanimously
approved it," explained Minister Sirisena
who added that it was the appropriate time
to do so.
Banned by the government
On two earlier occasions too, the Liberation
Tigers have been banned by the govt. Among
the most public supported bans was in the
aftermath of the bombing of the Temple of
the Tooth by the Liberation Tigers. In an
angry reaction, the Chandrika Kumaratunga
led government immediately banned the
organisation. The ban was lifted in 2001
when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
wished to create conditions for a peaceful
It is seven years after that, that the LTTE
is banned yet again.
Repeatedly demanding the laying down of
arms and surrender of cadres to the
advancing troops, President Rajapakse on
December 22 significantly threatened to
outlaw the LTTE as a terrorist group if it
did not allow Tamils living in its control
to move to government-held areas for the
According to analysts, banning the LTTE is
more of a formal move. It also seeks to
create the impression that those who have
any links with the LTTE or even suspected of
such links would be dealt with under the
Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and other
anti terror laws.
Given the strong treatment meted out to LTTE
suspects - a treatment that sometimes
extends to the members of the Tamil
community itself - the UPFA administration
has severely dealt with those who may be
suspect. And they have been dealt with under
the PTA the biggest legal tool in the
Some seven years after the lifting of the
ban on the LTTE to facilitate political
engagement and a peace process, the current
government insists that the LTTE is
committing immense atrocities and that the
organisation's record of human rights
violations was tremendous.
Besides, the charge is also that the Tigers
allegedly prevent civilians trapped in LTTE
held territory from crossing over to
government controlled territory.
The plight of trapped civilians in the
territory under LTTE control is on the rise.
Given the LTTE's track record, it is
difficult to perceive that the organisation
would mend its ways simply by way of
response. It had been banned twice before to
While political analysts consider the recent
ban as a negative, symbolic gesture that
seeks to close all doors to negotiated peace
with the Tigers, there is Senior
Presidential advisor Dulles Alahapperuma who
He insists that though banned, it would in
no way hamper possibilities of engaging in a
peaceful dialogue with the LTTE. The
scholastic arguments apart, there is very
little that the state inspires about a
desire to engage in a peaceful dialogue. In
that sense, proscribing the LTTE is only the
formalisation of its approach to the ethnic
question as well as its resolution.
History of the ban
The LTTE was first banned in Sri Lanka in
1983 with the introduction of the emergency
regulations and it was automatically revoked
when the emergency regulations were
withdrawn in 1987.
The willful ban took place later, on a wave
of emotion. It was re-imposed on January 25,
1998, after the LTTE attacked the sacred
Dalada Maligawa in Kandy.
The ban was revoked in September 2002 after
the signing of the Norwegian-brokered
ceasefire agreement to facilitate peace
talks between the then Sri Lankan government
and the LTTE.
The LTTE is already banned in several other
countries, chief among them, neighbouring
India that extended its ban on the LTTE only
Besides, the LTTE is designated as a
terrorist organisation in the European
Union, United States, Canada and Australia.
India stands firm
A special tribunal has asked the central
government to justify its renewal of the ban
on Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE). The tribunal, headed by
Justice Vikramjit Sen, in September 2008
called upon the central government to
produce fresh evidence against the LTTE as
to have the ban on the group extended by
another two years. The ban was first imposed
in 1992 under the Unlawful Activities
(Prevention) Act of 1967, a year after the
LTTE was accused of assassinating former
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The ban has
been extended after every two years. LTTE
counsel has argued that the group cannot be
banned because it does not come within the
territorial jurisdiction of the Indian