Elephant Pass

Elephant Pass

“The Unceasing Waves and a Battle Lost”

In July 1991, after a heroic battle lasting a little over a month, the military retained the strategically vital Elephant Pass (EPS) linking the Jaffna peninsula to the Northern mainland in Sri Lanka. The military occupied this region for another nine years till April 2000. The LTTE came back with vengeance having learnt many lessons from the first battle at Elephant Pass and demolished this vital military base to take control of a long stretch of land from Muhamali in the Jaffna peninsula to Omanthai in Vavuniya on the main highway to Jaffna the A9.

Rebels changed their tactics

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) realised the mistake they made in the first attack on the military base at EPS. They mobilised their cadres in a conventional type of warfare and confronted the Army head-on without realising that the Sri Lankan Army had superior manpower and firepower. They lost more than 1000 of their cadres in that battle and retreated to the jungles of Wanni only to plan out a different strategy for the capture of the vital Elephant Pass camp on a subsequent well-planned slow and steady attack lasting four months.

They learnt a bitter lesson and realised that ………..

“Enemies are the Best Teachers”

They changed their strategy to take EPS by gradually encircling and weakening the troops inside, cutting off the supplies and in effect strangling the base. A shortage of drinking water added to the woes of the personnel within the base.

“Unceasing waves”

The LTTE was determined to capture the vital EPS at any cost and show their power and boost the sagging morale of the cadres. In a well-organised and planned operation starting on 11th December 1999 and carried out with much grit and determination they attacked the military camps situated in the outskirts of EPS moving from land and sea. It was a gradual process lasting over four months and included ………….

  • The capture of the southern defences at Paranthan around the EPS base
  • Then they severed the sea link to the base which the army used in the first battle for EPS. They captured the area around Vettilaikerni on the Eastern coast.
  • They took control of the Northern highway, the A9 and
  • Attacked the defence locations north of EPS, namely the well-fortified Iyakachi base, and stormed both the Iyakachi and the Elephant Pass central command structure.

Life-line to the camp cut off

The region to the South and North of Elephant Pass was important for the soldiers at EPS as it was from these two locations that they were obtaining their supply of drinking water with the desalination plant at EPS being out of order.

The Battle continued and the military decided to withdraw

The battle continued till 22nd April 2000. By then the main Elephant Pass camp held by the army had been over-run by the LTTE. The Sri Lankan Military could not hold on and decided to withdraw from EPS to prevent further loss of lives and started moving further North towards Jaffna along the main highway (A9) up to a point and then using  by- ways towards Kilali along the Jaffna lagoon to avoid enemy fire (please refer map).

Largest Military Debacle

This was perhaps the biggest military debacle in the history of the Sri Lanka Army. The Army had to leave behind large quantities of weapons which included artillery, heavy mortars, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons, military vehicles, tanks, bulldozers, military trucks, and also high-tech communication equipment which no doubt was taken by the LTTE to the region of the Wanni to be used against the army in the battles to follow. The army also lost many high-ranking officers as well as soldiers.

The Fear

The fear in the minds of the army, as well as the political leadership, was that the LTTE would advance and capture the Jaffna peninsula. The lives of 35,000 troops in the Jaffna peninsula were in danger. The battle continued till mid-May 2000. Sri Lankan Army retreated and the LTTE advanced towards Jaffna. Fierce battles took place and the superior firepower of the army prevented further incursions of the LTTE cadres towards the city of Jaffna.

The army finally decided to establish the forward defence lines along the Kilali-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil axis north of EPS to prevent the advancement of the LTTE and further loss of lives. Although the army attempted to advance towards EPS on several occasions following the military debacle, this was not successful due to the stiff resistance of the LTTE. Both parties maintained their forward defence lines at Muhamalai north of EPS. Seven hundred and fifty-eight army personnel were killed, over 2000 injured with nearly 350 missing in action. A heavy toll for the army!

Elephant Pass Deserted

The LTTE won the second battle at Elephant Pass but had no intention of establishing a ‘Base’ at EPS as it would have been a heavy burden on their part to maintain such a large ‘desert’ like landmass without a proper supply of water. What remained at EPS were only the wrecks of military vehicles destroyed in the war and this included the ironclad bulldozer which was used by the LTTE to penetrate the army defences at EPS on 14th July 1991. 

LTTE hold on to large swathes of land

With the capture of Elephant Pass, the LTTE was holding on to a large landmass extending from Muhamalai northwest of EPS in the Jaffna peninsula to Omantai a small town North of Vavuniya on the A9 road to Jaffna. It is at these points that both parties had their forward defence lines for many years till the cessation of hostilities in 2002.

Cessation of hostilities and opening of the highway to Jaffna – the A9

The Norwegian brokered pact for the Cessation of Hostilities was signed by both parties to the conflict in 2002. The army and the LTTE were allowed to maintain their forward defence lines at the already established locations 600 metres apart. The A9 road to Jaffna was opened with many restrictions and several checkpoints on the way where every passenger had to be registered at both the army and LTTE checkpoints situated at Omantai in the South and Muhamalai in the North.

Invitation to travel on the A9 to Jaffna

That was the only route I had not travelled on to war-torn Jaffna and the opportunity came my way when I was invited to accompany a group of “peacemakers” whose attempt was to bring about reconciliation between the people of the North and the South. I had no hesitation in joining that group and accepted the invitation with pleasure. THAT WAS MORE ADVENTURE!

Yes, it was and more about that in the next story…

Dear Reader, If you haven’t read my earlier story, you can read by clicking this following link : “THE BATLLE FOR ELEPHANT PASS’

You also might be interested in watching some of our other photo gallery links are given here : ‘WAR FRONT – 1’‘WAR FRONT – 2’ / ‘PHOTO GALLERY – PICTORIAL JOURNEY OF SURGERY’ / ‘MY LIFE’ / ‘SPORTS’

4 thoughts on “Elephant Pass

  1. A brief and a short recap of events makes one curious to know more.
    Horrific details of Casualties. 750 KIA, 2000 injuries and 350 MIA.
    What were the nature of injuries you had to deal in this debacle?? The most horryfing you had to treat?
    Never ending Wars in the World in the name of Democracy & Freedom.
    For SL, Its okay to look back. To think how gruesome a War can get. But, the life’s lesson is to move away from it all.
    Thank you Doc… A mistering Angel in the midst of casualties.

  2. Your service during those gloomy days in the north is well documented. Congratulations for the great work done.

  3. “ Accompanying a group of peace makers”.
    “ They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks ;
    One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again”
    Isaiah 2/4.
    You are part of that promise. Praise God!

Leave a Reply