Second Battle of Elephant Pass
|Second Battle of Elephant Pass|
|Part of the Sri Lankan civil war
Operation Unceasing Waves III
|Military of Sri Lanka||Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Srilal Weerasooriya||Velupillai Prabhakaran
|Casualties and losses|
The Second Battle of Elephant Pass (code-named Operation Unceasing Waves III (ஓயாத அலைகள் மூன்று) by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), was a battle fought in April 2000 for the control of the Sri Lankan military base in Elephant Pass, Jaffna.
In 1991 the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) made their first attempt to take the Elephant Pass base. The attack was a failure, as troops led by Col. Sarath Fonseka held on despite the overwhelming odds and the subsequent Operation Balavegaya. The Tigers suffered over 1,000 casualties. Given these circumstances, LTTE leader Prabakaran changed his strategy to take Elephant Pass by gradually encircling and weakening the troops inside, cutting off supplies and, in effect, strangling the base. The idea was to avoid a frontal assault that would have led to the loss of many LTTE lives, since the army had numerical and logistical superiority. The Elephant Pass isthmus is of strategic importance, as it links the northern mainland known as Wanni with the Jaffna Peninsula. The Jaffna-Kandy road, the A-9 Highway and the railway line to Jaffna run through Elephant Pass, making the narrow strip of land in a sense the gateway to Jaffna. Elephant Pass was thought to be an impregnable military complex. Before the battle the LTTE seized the southern defenses around the base and then severed the sea link to it by capturing the area around Vettilaikerny and cutting the main northern highway, threatening to completely isolate the base.
The first stage of the LTTE campaign to take control of the peninsula was launched on 11 December 1999. The camps at Vettilaikerny and Kattaikadu on the east coast and Pullaveli to the north of Elephant Pass were taken in a joint land/sea operation. Meanwhile, the 53rd Division of the Sri Lanka Army was brought in to relieve the pressure on the 54th Division deployed in the Elephant Pass sector. The 53rd was an elite force that had been trained by the United States and Pakistan. It had a series of commanding officers, including Brig. Gamini Hettiaratchy, Gen. Sisira Wijeysinghe, Brig. Sivali Wanigaseker and Brig. Egodawela. On 22 April 2000 the LTTE attacked the twin complexes of Iyakachchi and Elephant Pass, pounding the government positions. The LTTE's veteran Black Tiger units stormed into the Iyakkachchi military base in the early hours of the morning in a multi-pronged assault and overran the well-fortified camp after several hours of intense fighting. LTTE rebels penetrated the central base, destroying several artillery pieces, tanks, armored vehicles and ammunition dumps. With the fall of Iyakachchi and the collapse of the command structure of its defending troops, LTTE combat units moved swiftly and stormed into Elephant Pass from different directions. By late evening Army Command decided to evacuate all of its positions in Elephant Pass and ordered a new defensive line further to the north. The defense establishment's decision to move the troops out of the Elephant Pass base was, however, forced on it primarily by a shortage of drinking water. The camp was equipped with machinery for desalination of water, but it had broken down and not been repaired.
The LTTE captured three long-range 152 mm artillery pieces, two 122 mm artillery pieces, 12 120 mm heavy mortars, one 25 mm cannon, several .50-caliber machine guns, hundreds of rocket-propelled grenades and thousands of automatic rifles. The Tigers also captured several armored vehicles, tanks, military trucks, bulldozers and high-tech communication systems. The Battle of Elephant Pass will be remembered as the largest military débacle in the history of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. In the end 204 soldiers and 150 rebels were killed. Another 357 soldiers were wounded. Among the top army officers killed were Brig. Percy Fernando, Col. Bhathiya Jayatilleka, Col. Neil Akmeemana and Lt. Col. Hewage Hewawasam. On the Tigers' side, the women's brigade chief, Lt. Col. Lakshiya, was reported killed.
Fighting continued until mid-May for control of the Jaffna peninsula, and by 9 May the Deputy Defence Minister reported that 758 soldiers had been killed, 2,368 had been wounded and 349 were missing since the battle for Elephant Pass started on 22 April. The progress of the LTTE raised concerns about the future of around 35,000 troops in the Jaffna peninsula. The fear was that the Tigers, with their rapid mobility and artillery firepower, could quickly take over the entire peninsula. With the possibility of the army facing an irreversible catastrophe in Jaffna, President Kumaratunga requested India to help evacuate the army from Jaffna, but India declined. Barely days before the fall of the Elephant Pass base, President Chandrika Kumaratunga made some abrupt changes in the defense structure; retired Chief of the Defence Staff Rohan Daluwatte was placed in overall charge of the three Services, Gen. Janaka Perera was made Northern Province Commander and Gen. Sarath Fonseka the Jaffna Commander; the former had insisted on the latter. The LTTE pushed towards Jaffna, but in the following large-scale battles along defense lines that offered little tactical leverage, the LTTE suffered heavy casualties at the hands of Sri Lankan forces that were well equipped with heavy artillery, air support, leadership and commitment. Despite gaining footholds in the areas of Chavekachechri and Ariyalai, the LTTE was forced to retreat to the Muhamalai and Nagarkovil defensive lines after suffering heavy losses from artillery and air strikes. Although the fall of Elephant Pass was seen as a great triumph, various setbacks highlighted LTEE's weakness against conventional military forces in regular conflict.
On 3 September 2000 the army mounted a massive counteroffensive, named "Agni Keila", to retake some of the LTTE-held territory to the south of its defensive lines, but after advancing a few kilometers the troops met heavy resistance. The army was hampered by the presence of two narrow strips of land over which their forces had to advance. The LTTE had registered all its artillery and mortars onto this area. In addition, it had extensively booby-trapped the strips of land, rendering them extremely dangerous for armored units. Although the army claimed that it managed to advance well into the LTTE lines, heavy casualties forced a withdrawal to its original positions.
In 2006 fighting renewed for control of the Jaffna peninsula. Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels fought pitched battles for control of the peninsula, which left hundreds dead in a matter of months. In a major offensive launched by the Sri Lanka Armed Forces, Elephant Pass was recaptured on 9 January 2009.
- First Battle of Elephant Pass
- Operation Unceasing Waves I
- Operation Unceasing Waves II
- List of Sri Lankan Civil War battles
- Colonel Bhanu
- "The taking of Elephant Pass". HinduOnNet. 10 May 2000. Retrieved 10 January 2009.
- The taking of Elephant Pass, D.B.S. JEYARAJ Frontline (magazine), Volume 17 - Issue 10, May. 13 - 26, 2000, Retrieved 29 March 2015
- SLA admits loss of Iyakkachchi, TamilNet, Retrieved 04 April 2014
- Royalists honoured for bravery, Sunday Observer (Sri Lanka), Retrieved 4 April 2015
- Plea for India to rescue 40,000 Sri Lankan troops, The Guardian, Accessed 17-06-2015
- Lanka’s Geneva defence: Course correction needed urgently, by Shamindra Ferdinando, The Island, Accessed 17-06-2015
- I know nothing about politics, By Tissa Ravindra Perera, The Nation, Accessed 17-06-2015
- We built too many walls and not enough bridges, By Keerthi Ratnayaka, Sri Lanka Guardian, Retrieved 31 March 2015
- SF – from Best Commander to Prisoner 022032, By Rasika Jayakody, Ceylon Today, Retrieved 04 April 2015
- A fearless defender of the Motherland, SPUR, Daily News (Sri Lanka), Retrieved 04 April 2015
- "Army 'takes key Sri Lanka pass'". BBC. 9 January 2009. Retrieved 10 January 2009.