|Part of Sri Lankan Civil War|
|Sri Lankan Military||LTTE|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Major General (later General) Rohan Daluwatte,
Brigadier (later Major General) Janaka Perera,
Brigadier Neil Dias,
Brigadier P.A. Karunathilaka
|Casualties and losses|
Operation Riviresa (Operation Sunrays), was a combined military operation launched by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in Jaffna. Starting on the 17 October 1995, the primary objective of the operation was the capture of the city of Jaffna and rest of the Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the Tamil Tigers). It is believed that Operation Riviresa was the largest and most successful military operation in Sri Lankan Armed Forces history in recent times.
Preparations for the offensive began with the resumption of hostilities after peace talks failed following the LTTE attack on the Trincomalee naval base. The administration of President Chandrika Kumaratunga ordered active military operations against the LTTE following this attack. Planning and preparations for the operation were conducted by Major General (later General) Rohan Daluwatte who was overall Operations Commander, and under the purview of Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Anuruddha Ratwatte who was the deputy-minister of Defense.
Planning for the operation started in June 1993 under the Command of Major General Gamunu Kulatunge, who directed Col. Lucky Rajasinghe to plan the operation, assisted by Col. Mohan Rockwood as a response to the assassination of President Ranasinghe Premadasa by the LTTE on 1 May 1993. Although the Sri Lanka Army was keen on launching an operation to capture Jaffna, the then President, D. B. Wijetunga, was against the operation. As he was not sure about the armed forces capabilities to sustain the thrust and to prevent further alienating the Tamil population.
The Tiger high-command, knowing that plans were afoot to capture the City of Jaffna, launched a pre-emptive strike on Sri Lanka Army and Navy positions in the Kilali area and tried to overrun their positions at Poonaryn in November 1993. Major losses at Poonaryn left the Sri Lankan Military with the Palaly, Elephant Passs and Kayts areas, leaving the rest of the area in Jaffna to the Tigers. Since the main staging area for the attack was in Palaly, a small scale operation, code-named Operation Leap Forward (Planned and conducted by Major General Srilal Weerasooriya and Colonel Hiran Halangoda), was launched to expand the perimeter of the air base prior to Operation Riviresa expanding the holding area west of Karainagar.
Operation Thunder Strike, a preliminary action to further enlarge the required staging area to the east, was launched on 28 September 1995. 532 Brigade, under the command of Colonel Lucky Rajasinghe, was tasked with the capture of the Achchuweli area. They were supported by the rest of 53 Division's resources commanded by Brigadier Janaka Perera. As 53 Division was consolidating in the Achchuweli area on the night of 31 October, the LTTE launched a major counter-attack on the division's positions. As the attack was anticipated by Brigadier Janaka Perera, it was repelled by troops of the 53 Division, which resulted in a large number of casualties for the LTTE. This was the key moment of the battle as this loss demoralized the LTTE cadres and SL Army troops realized the vulnerability of the LTTE tactical operations, boosting their morale. Operation RIVIRESA-I was launched on 17 October 1995 with the aim of wresting control of the Valikamam area of the Jaffna peninsula. Major General (later General) Rohan Daluwatte and Brigadier (later Major General) Janaka Perera were two key military personnel who were instrumental in the leadership and success of the operation. 20,000 troops of the Sri Lanka Army were deployed at the outset of the attack, they were supported by the Sri Lanka Air Force and the Sri Lanka Navy.
The operation, commanded by Major General Rohan Daluwatte as Overall Operations Commander (OOC), involved three divisions. The 51st Division, commanded by Brigadier (Later Major General) Neil Dias and deputy commander Brigadier (later Field Marshal) Sarath Fonseka and the 52nd Division, commanded by Brigadier (later Major General) P.A. Karunathilaka and deputy commander Brigadier (later Major General) Anton Wijendra, advanced astride the Jaffna - Point Pedro and Jaffna - Palaly Road axes respectively up to a line joining Kopay and Kondavil. This advance was met with stiff resistance from the LTTE. It took the two divisions almost a month to cover the 12-mile stretch. From this lateral line, the 53rd Division, consisting of Special Forces commanded by Brigadier Janaka Perera and deputy commander Colonel (later Major General) Gamini Hettiarachchi broke out and launched a narrow frontal attack that headed directly to the east of Jaffna town, capturing key crossroads along the way. The 53rd Division consisted of the 534 Independent Brigade (commanded by Colonel Percy Fernando), 531 Air Mobile Brigade (commanded by Colonel Hiran Halangoda), 533 Armored Brigade (commanded by Colonel Gamini Balsooriya) and 532 Infantry Brigade (commanded by Colonel Lucky Rajasinghe). The LTTE had prepared for the attack in advance by mining all roads into the peninsula and creating defenses in depth with additional cadres from the eastern province. 531 Brigade met with stiff resistance on 18 November, but managed to maneuver the troops east to avoid the heavily mined built-up areas. On 19 November 534 Brigade stepped into the attack and fought one of the hardest battles as they moved to cut off the main road linking Jaffna from the rest of the peninsula. Brigadier Janaka Perera ordered the 532 Brigade into action without giving the LTTE an opportunity to regroup and the said brigade reached the waters of Colombuthurai on 20 November 1995, cutting off Valikamam from the Vadamarachchi and Tenamarachchi areas. However, an intense battle still had to be fought to evict the remaining cadres from Jaffna town.
Battle for Jaffna
On 29 November 1995, 53 Division, commanded By Brigadier Janaka Perera launched an assault on the LTTE positions guarding Jaffna town. Brigadier Perera decided to commence the operation on a narrow front to minimize civilian casualties. He launched the 532 Infantry Brigade, (commanded by Colonel Lucky Rajasinghe), from the east to penetrate and probe the defenses held by the LTTE. As the brigade ran into a tight LTTE defense on Navalar Road. Colonel Lucky Rajasinghe ordered a 'turning movement' from the north, moving around the LTTE defenses and capturing the Nallur Area. Brigadier Janaka Perera, seizing the gap created by the infantry brigade, simultaneously launched the air-mobile 531 Brigade (commanded by Colonel Hiran Halangoda), to capture Jaffna Fort. At the same time the independent 534 Brigade (commanded by Colonel Percy Fernando), set-out along the east coast to capture the Jaffna Jetty. With three brigades attacking simultaneously from three different sides, the LTTE was unable to coordinate their defenses effectively.
By the evening of 1 December, three brigades had breached the LTTE defenses, causing confusion. During the night of 1 December, LTTE cadres were taking advantage of the darkness, escaping in boats across Kilali Lagoon and abandoning the city's defenses. On the morning of 2 December 1995, following an intense 50-day battle, troops of 53 Division entered Jaffna city almost un-opposed. The LTTE, before retreating, had stripped the town of everything, even the equipment in Jaffna Teaching Hospital.
Although there were very little military intelligence throughout the battle, timely understanding and the anticipation of LTTE tactical planning and positive reactions by SL Army Divisional and Brigade Commanders and their sheer determination to get the job done was the key to the overwhelming success of the operation. It was the best example in modern Sri Lanka military history; how a highly successful campaign can be conducted when there is a unified political will combined with extraordinary military leadership at all levels of command. Political leadership against the advice of military planners, expected the LTTE to collapse after the loss of Jaffna city. But the LTTE fell back to gain time to re-group and was back in little time more fierce than ever.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, five of the brigade commanders who mattered the most were lost within the next year - three were killed in battle and two left the Army, disgruntled by dissatisfied planning by the political and military leadership. SL Forces were unable to hold on to the subsequent gains (Navatkuli to Killinochchi from North and Vavuniya to Mankulum from the South), made into the LTTE areas beyond the immediate vicinity of Jaffna City. Political leadership continued to drive the military leadership (against the advice of the military commanders), to stretch their forces beyond the practical limits of defense as they continued to believe that the LTTE would collapse after the fall of Jaffna City. The whole concept of the conduct of operations changed from the ‘execution of political (National) aims planned and conducted by military leadership' to political leaders stepping in to the shoes of military commanders in their determination to gain popularity (with the objective of destroying the LTTE), by sacrificing the long term political and military objective of 'winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil population'.
- Issue Papers, Extended Responses and Country Fact Sheets
- "1995: Jaffna falls to Sri Lankan army". BBC News. December 5, 1995.
- "Sri Lankan army hails capture of Jaffna". CNN. December 5, 1995. Archived from the original on March 20, 2005.
- "Sri Lankan troops continue push into rebel territory". CNN News. April 21, 1996. Archived from the original on February 22, 2005.
- Official websites
- News reports