D. B. S. Jeyaraj
A news report in the Dailymirror last August stated that the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) of the Sri Lanka Army’s Special Forces has been ranked the third most dangerous Special Forces in the world by the military ranks.info. The United States Navy SEALs was ranked as the most dangerous Special Forces Unit in the World, while the Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation was second.
The top ten lethal outfits named by military ranks.info are as follows -
1. United States Navy SEALs
2. Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation
3. Sri Lanka Army Special Force LRRP
4. United States Army Special Forces
5. British Special Air Service (SAS)
6. Sayeret Matkal
7. France’s National Gendarmerie Intervention Group
8. Unidad de Operaciones Especiales
10. Pakistan Army Special Service Group.
Sri Lanka’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) is known in Sinhala as the “Digu Dura Vihidum Balakaya” and in Tamil as the “Aazha Ooduruvi thaakkum Padaiyani”. It is also called the Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) and “Mahasonon Brigade of the Army. The LRRP Is basically a specialized military intelligence unit utilized for black ops. A black operation or black op is a covert or clandestine operation by a government agency, a military unit or a paramilitary organization. Key features of a black operation are that it is secret and is not attributable to the organization carrying it out. The usage of specialized military intelligence units to assassinate the enemy has been practised by different states and different armies in different situations.
Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP)
The Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) became an instrument of war of the Sri Lankan armed forces at the turn of this century. It is said that the LRRP was a brainchild of former Army Commander Lionel Balagalle, who had conceptualized the project earlier while being the Head of Military Intelligence. The green light was given during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s second presidential term when Gen. Balagalle was the Army chief. Col. Raj Vijayasiri of the Special Forces was the pioneering commander of the LRRP which functioned within the military intelligence division of the Army.
LRRP troopers wait in ambush
Fundamentally, the LRRP teams were a combination of disgruntled ex-Tigers, members of anti-Tiger Tamil militant groups, Muslim home guard/para-military operatives and carefully selected Sinhala personnel from the Special Forces. They were given highly specialized ‘Commando’ type training here and abroad. It is believed that the US was involved in this training exercise.
Basic modus operandi of the LRRP was for small groups to clandestinely infiltrate territory controlled by the LTTE and target senior Tiger leaders and key operatives. This was done in two ways.
One was to creep into Tiger territory through jungle routes, conduct an operation and return. Sometimes the operatives stay in safe houses within LTTE-controlled areas for days to do this. On other occasions, they camp in the jungles and lie in wait for several hours to take on their target. The usual method was to explode claymore mines with remote devices. In some instances timers were used.
Pressure mines too have been used on a few occasions. It is presumed that these attacks were planned and executed on the strength of precise intelligence.
The other method was to co-opt civilians living in the Wanni to ‘plant’ mines and target Tiger leaders. This was done through financial carrots and the sticks of coercion. In some instances, LTTE oppressed civilians nursing a grudge against the Tigers became willing tools.
The first phase of LRRP operations commenced in 2001 in both the northern and eastern Tiger-controlled regions.Among those killed in the east were LTTE Batticaloa District Intelligence Head Lt. Col Nizam, LTTE Batticaloa-Amparai Communications Chief Major Mano and artillery specialists Major Sathiyaseelan and Capt. Thevathasan.
Among those killed in the north were LTTE Air Wing Head Col. Shankar and Sea Tiger Deputy Commander Lt. Col Kangai Amaran.
Of those who narrowly escaped death at the hands of the LRRP in the north then were former Political Commissar Brig. Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan (twice), his Deputy Major S. Thangan, Vavuniya Special Commander Col. Jeyam and Deputy Military Chief Col. Balraj. Of those who escaped death in LRRP ambushes in the East were former Regional Chief Col. Karuna, Eastern Political Commissar Karikalan, Jeyanthan Regiment Chief Jim Kelly Thatha and Regional Intelligence Chief Lt. Col. Ramanan who was later killed by a military sniper.
Ceasefire Agreement of 2002
The 2001 December elections saw the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe coming to power. A ceasefire facilitated by Oslo was declared in February 2002. It was the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) of 2002 which first ‘admitted’ officially to the existence of the LRRP by stating in the CFA that all such activity would cease
LRRP activity was shelved after the ceasefire. Most of the Tamil LRRP operatives had been absorbed into Army ranks. The LTTE was out for their blood. Some of these men were allegedly betrayed influential persons to the LTTE in the defence establishment for large amounts of money.
On January 16, 2002, V. Vidyatharan, alias ‘Mike,’ head of the Paramilitary Intelligence Unit of the Army’s LRRP was seized by the LTTE and executed four days later. This was followed by many more abductions and assassinations of Tamil LRRP operatives by the LTTE. Many fled the country or went underground.
It appeared that the LRRP was now de-fanged as the key Tamil operatives who knew Tiger terrain and acted as guides, pathfinders, safe house providers and information gatherers were either eliminated or had fled abroad. But the LRRP concept experienced a renaissance when the ceasefire unravelled.
The biggest blow from the LRRP received by the LTTE during the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency was undoubtedly the killing of Ravishankar alias “Col” Charles/Arulvendhan.
LRRP Revival in New War Strategy
The election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as President and the appointment of Sarath Fonseka as Army Chief and Gotabaya Rajapaksa as Defence Secretary brought about a qualitative change in the security situation. A determined no-holds-barred war effort was underway. The revival of the LRRP was a key element in this new war strategy. Some of the hibernating old timers were recalled.
Fresh input was gained through the incorporation of the LTTE Eastern breakaway faction headed by “Col” Karuna. Some other northern LTTE deserters were also inducted. The PLOTE, possessing some clout in Vavuniya, also contributed to the effort.
Above all, there were now several highly trained ‘Sinhala’ operatives with knowledge and experience of the northern and eastern jungle terrain.The usage of LRRP squads became a powerful weapon in the security force arsenal. These ‘new’ LRRP teams tasted sweet successes and bitter failures. Some “successes” like the assassination of Tamil National Alliance MP. K. Sivanesan and Catholic priest Fr. M. X. Karunairatnam, the Chairman of the North-East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR) went unclaimed. Chief among the claimed successes was the killing of LTTE Military Intelligence Head Shanmuganathan Ravichandran alias Col.
Arulvendhan, a.k.a. Charles, who was killed in the Mannar District on January 5, 2008. Apart from this, the LRRP attacked several other lesser known LTTE leaders too. One of those targeted and injured was Lt. Col. Kumaran, who was manning defences in the Manal Aaru/Weli Oya region.
The biggest blow from the LRRP received by the LTTE during the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency was undoubtedly the killing of Ravishankar alias “Col” Charles/Arulvendhan. Charles was the mastermind behind most attacks by the LTTE in the areas outside the North and East particularly Colombo.
It is also called the Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) and “Mahasonon Brigade of the Army. The LRRP Is basically a specialized military intelligence unit utilized for black ops
Three Leadership Positions in LTTE
At the time of his death, Ravishankar, alias Charles, held three leadership positions in the LTTE. He was Head of the Military Intelligence Division, he was in charge of all external operations and he was commander of a special combat unit engaged in the Mannar District. Arulventhan or Charles held Lt. Col. Rank when killed. He was promoted posthumously as “Colonel.” His 13th death anniversary was on January 5, last week.
Charles was travelling from Mulangaavil to Pallamadu in Mannar district when his vehicle was hit by a claymore landmine. The white Hi-Ace van in which he was travelling along the Mannar-Pooneryn Road got caught in a claymore mine explosion at a spot between Iluppaikkadavai and Pallamadu. The time was around 3:10 to 3:15 p.m. Three of the Military Intelligence Chief Lieutenants were also killed in the ambush. They were Sukanthan (Sivapalan Sreetharan) from Jeyapuram, Veeramaravan (Pararajasingham Suthan) from Mallaavi and Kalai (Sinnaththamby Kangatharan) from Vaddakkachchi. Sukanthan was the chief bodyguard and close associate of Arulventhan/Charles.
The 35-year-old Ravishankar joined the LTTE in his early teens in December 1985. His original nom de guerre was Charles. Years later, when the LTTE underwent a ‘Pure Tamil’ transformation of names, the English name Charles was turned into Arulventhan. It was, however, as Charles that he was known for years to most people.
For many years he worked in the LTTE’s Intelligence Division under the direct command of Pottu Amman. He was placed in charge of external operations, a euphemism for attacks outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. In order to conduct such ‘operations’ in hostile; enemy terrain, an elaborate network of supportive structures had to be set up. Reportedly, Charles was the pioneer who laid such groundwork. This was despite the fact that he had no previous contacts or experience in Colombo or other parts of southern Sri Lanka. Until the time of his death, Charles was associated with external operations in addition to other duties.
Shanmuganathan Ravishankar - From Pt. Pedro
Shanmuganathan Ravishankar hailing from Point Pedro in the Vadamaratchy sector of Jaffna joined the LTTE in December 1985 as a student in his 13th year. He, like many other Tigers, was recruited as a child soldier. The LTTE’s Jaffna Commander then was Sathasivampillai Krishnakumar, alias “Col.” Kittu. The Vadamaratchy Area Chief was Thillaiambalam Sivanesan, alias “Col.” Soosai, who later became Sea Tiger Commander. Young Ravishankar received his baptism of fire as a sentry near the Point Pedro Army camp. He was then a part-time guerrilla, attending school during daytime and engaging in sentry duty for some hours in the night. According to colleagues, he was a brilliant student who abandoned formal studies in 1987 at the age of 15.
After doing sentry duty for a while, Ravishankar alias Charles was posted as a salesman in a retail shop run by the LTTE known as “Niyaayavilaikadai” or “fair priced store.” During this period Charles received local training in Jaffna. It was during ‘Operation Liberation’ launched by the armed forces in May 1987 that Charles engaged in formal combat. The bulk of the Vadamaratchy area was recaptured from the LTTE by the armed forces.
The Indo-Lanka accord of July 1987 and the coming of the Indian Army saw a new conflict arise. The LTTE was sooner at war with the IPKF. Charles remained in the Jaffna peninsula engaging in guerrilla operations. He was stationed in the Vadamaratchy East sector under the leadership of Capt. Morris.
LTTE Intelligence Chief Pottu Ammaan
It was Kili, Pottu Ammaan’s bodyguard, who first introduced Charles to his boss, the LTTE Intelligence Chief. Pottu Ammaan was impressed by the youngster and transferred Charles to the Wanni. He received some training in intelligence gathering techniques in the Wanni. Charles was sent to Colombo in early 1990 with a few other intelligence operatives to establish a clandestine LTTE presence there. This was the time when talks with the Premadasa regime were on. The truce crumbled in June 1990 and war erupted. Charles returned to the North.
There was, however, a new challenge. As the war progressed the LTTE wanted to target Deputy Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne and the Joint Operations Command (JOC) Headquarters in Colombo. Charles, then only 19, was entrusted with the task. He moved into Colombo in January 1991 and set two plans of attack in motion. Within a few weeks, the LTTE struck in Colombo. The JOC headquarters was blown up. Ranjan Wijeratne was killed by a car bomb.
This was only the beginning. Charles, as an “unknown face” of the LTTE, remained incognito in Colombo until 1997. What his ‘cover’ in Colombo was then not known. It is presumed that he made occasional trips to and from the north during this time to obtain first-hand instructions and also report back directly.
Though working under Pottu Ammaan, Charles was mainly instrumental in building up a clandestine LTTE presence in Colombo and some outstation areas. The setting up of safe houses, sleeper cells, moles and hidden storages, along with other tasks like intelligence gathering, ‘turning’ security personnel, establishing convenient ‘routes,’ etc., were all functioned under his purview.
Series of Assassinations in Colombo
Charles played a significant role in planning, coordinating and executing a series of assassinations in Colombo, ranging from former Navy Chief Clancy Fernando, Lalith Athulathmudali, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake, Weerasinghe Mallimaratchy, G.M. Premachandra, Gamini Wijesekera, Ossie Abeygunasekera etc. He also had a hand in plotting operations like the attacks on the Kolonnawa oil facility and the Central Bank.
When the security authorities became aware of his presence in Colombo, Charles shifted in 1997 to the East. He began directing clandestine operations in the south from places in the Batticaloa and Amparai Districts. He worked with senior LTTE east based Intelligence officials like Newton, Ramanan, Mano, Nizam, Keerthi, Neelan, etc., then.
Charles was in Batticaloa-Amparai from 1997-2000. During this time he masterminded many operations in Colombo. These included the assassination of people like SLFP Cabinet Minister C.V. Gooneratne, TULF National List MP Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and former Army General Lucky Algama. The unsuccessful assassination attempt on former President Chandrika Kumaratunga also had his imprint. This was the time when most of the LTTE Colombo operations had an Eastern connection.
Though Charles had a great deal of functional autonomy as Head of External Operations, he was reporting directly to Pottu Ammaan. Nominally he was Pottu Ammaan’s senior-most deputy. However in 2000, Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan tasked him with a fresh, daunting challenge.
Fundamentally, the LRRP teams were a combination of disgruntled ex-Tigers, members of anti-Tiger Tamil militant groups, Muslim home guard/para-military operatives and carefully selected Sinhala personnel from the Special Forces
Air Force Base in Katunayake
The objective was to attack the Air Force base in Katunayake and destroy the aircraft. This became Charles’ sole responsibility. According to knowledgeable Tamil sources, Charles set up an ‘independent’ team for the purpose. To avoid possible detection and complications, the existing LTTE Intelligence machinery was avoided. Instead, Charles established a new network while basing himself in Negombo.
On July 24, 2001, the LTTE attacked Katunayake and demolished several aircraft.14 Tigers were killed. No civilians were harmed. The Chandrika Kumaratunga regime suffered a massive setback. This was perhaps the crowning achievement of “Col.” Charles/Arulventhan.
The ceasefire between the Ranil Wickremesinghe government and the LTTE in February 2002 saw Charles in “replay activity” again. “Col” Arulventhan was tasked once again to do what he did best. Charles was ordered to revive, renew and re-establish an expanded clandestine LTTE network in Colombo, suburbs and outstations. This included cultivating several Sinhala officers in the armed forces and Police. He also had to eliminate important members of non-LTTE groups and Tamil operatives of the state Intelligence network. This was done despite the ceasefire expressly forbidding such action.
In 2004, he was recalled to Wanni and made Head of Military Intelligence. This was because Prabhakaran had decided by then to commence hostilities in early 2005. Charles had to monitor all security installations and gather necessary intelligence. He was also involved in blueprinting action plans. The tsunami of December 26, 2004 delayed Prabhakaran’s design. In the meantime Charles continued with his work as Military Intelligence Head. He also engaged in work for Pottu Ammaan.
Military Intelligence Director
As Military Intelligence Director, Charles was involved in gathering information about the Anuradhapura air base. He was not involved in planning or executing the attack. The attack on Navy personnel in Habarana and the assault on the Galle harbour were also the handiwork of Charles. It was acknowledged later by Sea Tiger Chief “Col.” Soosai that Charles had been responsible for planning the operation and training Black Sea Tigers for the Galle attack. It was the first time that Black Sea Tigers had launched an attack in the Deep South.
When the security forces commenced massive operations along the Mannar-Vavuniya border, the LTTE found itself under threat. Once again the ‘special’ expertise of Charles was required. He was placed in charge of a special combat unit that conducted raids of an offensive nature on enemy targets. It was in connection with this new duty that Charles was travelling when he met with death.
The LTTE gave him a grand funeral after displaying the body at various places in the Wanni. Almost all the LTTE top brass - except for Prabhakaran who had been recently injured - were there at the final farewell. Shanmuganathan Ravichandran alias “Col.” Arulventhan was buried with LTTE military honours at the Kanagapuram, “Great Heroes’ Abode’ in Kilinochchi.
Charles /Arulventhan Referred to as “Panadol”
As is the case with many dangerous people, Charles was an amiable person with a pleasant disposition. Those who have interacted with him say that he was easy to get along with. He suffered from migraines and used to take Panadol regularly. LTTE colleagues referred to Charles/Arulventhan as “Panadol.”
There is no doubt that Charles was a unique, though destructive, personality. For the LTTE, he was a great asset. The LRRP had caused an irreplaceable loss to the LTTE. It was perhaps poetic justice that the mastermind responsible for many explosive attacks outside the North was finally killed in an explosion inside the North
The author D. B. S. Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com