Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was the Indian military contingent performing a peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990. It was formed under the mandate of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lankan Accord that aimed to end the Sri Lankan Civil War between militant Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan military.
The main task of the IPKF was to disarm the different militant groups, not just the LTTE. It was to be quickly followed by the formation of an Interim Administrative Council. These were the tasks as per the terms of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, signed at the behest of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Given the escalation of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and with the pouring of refugees into India, Gandhi took the decisive step to push this accord through. The IPKF was inducted into Sri Lanka on the request of Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene under the terms of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord.
The force was initially not expected to be involved in any significant combat by the Indian High Command. However, within a few months, the IPKF became embroiled in battle with the LTTE to enforce peace. The differences started with LTTE trying to dominate the Interim Administrative Council, and also refusing to disarm, which was a pre-condition to enforce peace in the island. Soon, these differences led to the LTTE attacking the IPKF, at which point the IPKF decided to disarm the LTTE militants, by force if required. In the two years it was in northern Sri Lanka, the IPKF launched a number of combat operations aimed at destroying the LTTE-led insurgency. Given LTTE's tactics in guerrilla warfare and using women and child soldiers to fight battles, it soon escalated into repeated skirmishes between the IPKF and LTTE.
The IPKF began withdrawing from Sri Lanka in 1989, following the election of the V. P. Singh government in India and on the request of the newly elected Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa. The last IPKF contingents left Sri Lanka in March 1990.
Sri Lanka, from the early 1980s, was facing increasingly violent ethnic strife in the Sri Lankan Civil War. The origins of the Sri Lankan Civil War can be traced to the independence of Sri Lanka in 1948, after the end of British rule. At the time, a Sinhalese majority government was instituted. This government, which included the Tamil Congress, passed legislation deemed discriminatory by some against the native Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.
In the 1970s, two major Tamil parties, the Tamil Congress and a split, the Federal Party united to form the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), a separatist Tamil nationalist group that agitated for a separate state of Tamil Eelam in north and eastern Sri Lanka that would grant the Tamils greater autonomy within the federal structure.
However, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, enacted in August 1983, classified all separatist movements as unconstitutional, Outside the TULF, Tamil factions advocating more militant courses of action soon emerged, and the ethnic divisions eventually led to violent civil war.
Initially, under Indira Gandhi and later under Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Government sympathised with the Tamil insurrection in Sri Lanka because of the strong support for the Tamil cause within the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Emboldened by this support, supporters in Tamil Nadu provided a sanctuary for the separatists and helped the LTTE smuggle arms and ammunition into Sri Lanka, making them the strongest force on the island. In fact in 1982, the LTTE supremo Prabhakran was arrested by the police in Tamil Nadu, for a shoot-out with his rival Uma Maheswaran, in the middle of the city. Both of them were arrested and later released by the police. This activity was left unchecked as India's regional and domestic interests wanted to limit foreign intervention on what was deemed as a racial issue between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. To this end, the Indira Gandhi government sought to make it clear to Sri Lankan president Junius Richard Jayewardene that armed intervention in support of the Tamil movement was an option India would consider if diplomatic solutions should fail.
The first round of civil violence flared in 1983 when the killing of 13 soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army sparked anti-Tamil pogroms—the Black July riots—in which approximately 400 Tamils were killed. The riots only aided in the deterioration of the ethnic relations. Militant factions, including the LTTE, at this time recruited in large numbers and continued building on popular Tamil dissent and stepped up the guerrilla war. By May 1985, the guerrillas were strong enough to launch an attack on Anuradhapura, attacking the Bodhi Tree shrine–a sacred site for Buddhist Sinhalese–followed by a rampage through the town. At least 150 civilians died in the hour-long attack.
Gandhi's government attempted to re-establish friendly relations with the various factions in Sri Lanka while maintaining diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the conflict as well as limiting overt aid to the Tamil fighters.
The Sri Lankan government, deducing a decline in support for the Tamil rebels from India, tried to rearming itself extensively for its anti-insurgent role with support from Pakistan, Israel, Singapore, and South Africa. In 1986, the campaign against the insurgency was stepped up. In 1987, retaliating against an increasingly bloody insurgent movement, the Vadamarachchi Operation (Operation Liberation) was launched against LTTE strongholds in Jaffna Peninsula. The operation involved nearly 4,000 troops, supported by helicopter gunships as well as ground-attack aircraft. In June 1987, the Sri Lankan Army laid siege on the town of Jaffna. This resulted in large-scale civilian casualties and created a condition of humanitarian crisis. India, which had a substantial Tamil population in South India faced the prospect of a Tamil backlash at home, called on the Sri Lankan government to halt the offensive in an attempt to negotiate a political settlement. However, the Indian efforts were unheeded. Added to this, in the growing involvement of Pakistani advisers, it was necessary for Indian interest to mount a show of force. Failing to negotiate an end to the crisis with Sri Lanka, India announced on 2 June 1987 that it wound send a convoy of unarmed ships to northern Sri Lanka to provide humanitarian assistance but this was intercepted by the Sri Lankan Navy and forced to turned back.
Following the failure of the naval mission the decision was made by the Indian government to mount an airdrop of relief supplies in aid of the beleaguered civilians over the besieged city of Jaffna. On 4 June 1987, in a bid to provide relief, the Indian Air Force mounted Operation Poomalai. Five Antonov An-32s under fighter cover flew over Jaffna to airdrop 25 tons of supplies, all the time keeping well within the range of Sri Lankan radar coverage. At the same time the Sri Lankan Ambassador to New Delhi, Bernard Tilakaratna, was summoned to the Foreign Office to be informed by the Minister of State, External Affairs, K. Natwar Singh, of the ongoing operation and also indicated that the operation was expected not to be hindered by the Sri Lankan Air Force. The ultimate aim of the operation was both to demonstrate the seriousness of the domestic Tamil concern for the civilian Tamil population and reaffirming the Indian option of active intervention to the Sri Lankan government.
Following Operation Poomalai, faced with the possibility of an active Indian intervention and lacking any possible ally, the President, J. R. Jayewardene, offered to hold talks with the Rajiv Gandhi government on future moves. The siege of Jaffna was soon lifted, followed by a round of negotiations that led to the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord on 29 July 1987 that brought a temporary truce. Crucially however, the negotiations did not include the LTTE as a party to the talks.
The signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord on 29 July 1987 brought a temporary truce to the Sri Lankan Civil War. Under the terms of the agreement, Colombo agreed to a devolution of power to the provinces, the Sri Lankan troops were withdrawn to their barracks in the north, the Tamil rebels were to disarm.
Amongst the provisions undersigned by the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was the commitment of Indian military assistance should this be requested for by the Sri Lankan Government, as well as the provision of an Indian Peace Keeping Force that would "guarantee and enforce the cessation of hostilities". It was on these grounds, and on the request of President J. R. Jayewardene, that Indian troops were inducted to Northern Sri Lanka. J N Dixit, the then Indian ambassador to Colombo, in an interview to rediff.com in 2000 described that ostensibly, Jayawardene's decision to request Indian assistance came in the face of increasing civil riots and violence within the southern Sinhala majority areas, including the capital Colombo that were initiated by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that necessitated the withdrawal of the Sri Lankan Army from the Tamil areas of northern Sri Lanka to maintain order.
Originally a reinforced division with small naval and air elements, the IPKF at its peak deployed four divisions and nearly 80,000 men with one mountain (4th) and three Infantry Divisions (36th, 54th, 57th) as well as supporting arms and services. At the peak of its operational deployment, IPKF operations also included a large Indian Paramilitary Force and Indian Special Forces elements. Indeed, Sri Lanka was first theatre of active operation for the Indian Navy Commandos. The main deployment of the IPKF was in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. Upon its withdrawal from Sri Lanka the IPKF was renamed the 21st Corps and was headquartered near Bhopal and became a quick reaction force for the Indian Army.
The first Indian Army troops to be inducted into Sri Lanka were a ten thousand strong force from the 54th Infantry division, composed of elements of the Sikh Light Infantry, the Maratha Light Infantry and the Mahar Regiment which flew into Palay airbase, from 30 July onwards. This was followed later by the 36th Infantry division. By August, the 54th Infantry Division under the command of Maj Gen Harkirat Singh and the 340th Indian Inf Bde had landed in Sri Lanka. By 1987, the IPKF consisted of54th Air Assault Division. (Major General Harkirat Singh (General Officer Commanding), Brigadier Kulwant Singh, Dy GOC):- Became an infantry division later due to lack of airlift capacity within the Indian armed forces.
10 Para Commando. (Jaffna) – an attached unit
65 Armoured regiment-with T-72 tanks, played a major role in the operations. The regiment was deployed in all parts of the island where the operations were taking place.
6th Battalion, Brigade of Guards (Mechanized) (Col BR Bhatia, SC)
91 Infantry Brigade (Jaffna)
5th Battalion of the Madras Regiment
8th Battalion of the Mahar Regiment
1 Maratha Light Infantry Bn
76 Infantry Brigade (Brigadier I.M. Dhar) (Mannar, Vavuniya, Mulliativu)
47 Infantry Brigade (Trincomalee-Batticoloa-Amparai)
36 Infantry Division.115 Infantry Brigade.(Jaffna)
5th Bn The First Gorkha Rifles. (5/1 GR). (Battle of Urumparai, Battle of Nallur Temple Jaffana, Battle of Manipai)
72 Infantry Brigade.(Jaffna)
4 Bn./5 Gorkha Regiment.
13 Sikh LI Bn.
41 Infantry Brigade. (Jaffna)
5 Rajputana Rifles
57th Infantry Division, trained in jungle warfare,
4th Mountain division, only two brigades used.
340 Independent Infantry Brigade (Amphibious). (Trincomalee) The Indian Marines
18 Infantry Brigade. (Jaffna)
5 Para Battalion.
Soon after its intervention in Sri Lanka and especially after the confrontation with the LTTE, the IPKF received a substantial commitment from the Indian Air Force, mainly transport and helicopter squadrons under the command of Gp.Capt. M.P Premi, including:No. 19 Squadron- Antonov An-32s
No 109 and No. 119 Helicopter Units – Mil Mi-8 helicopters.
No. 125 HU – Mil Mi-24s.
No. 664 AOP Squadron Chetak and Cheetah
The Indian Navy regularly rotated naval vessels through Sri Lanka waters, mostly smaller vessels such as patrol boats.Indian Naval Air Arm
No. 321 Squadron of the Indian Navy- HAL Chetaks
No. 310 Squadron of the Indian Navy- Breguet Alizé
MARCOS (also the Marine Commando Force or MCF) – Took part in Operation Pawan (Hindi, "wind") in 1987 and in the raid on an LTTE base at Guru Nagar. MARCOS operators (including Lt Singh) boarded two Gemini rafts off the coast of Jaffna City and towed two wooden rafts of explosives into a channel leading to the city's Guru Nagar Jetty. Avoiding mines, eight men and two officers shifted to the wooden rafts and paddled to the jetty then fixed demolition charges to the jetty and LTTE speedboats. The commandos were detected but laid down suppressive fire and detonated the explosives before retreating to the Geminis without taking casualties. Two nights later, commandos swam back into the harbour amidst heavy patrolling by the LTTE to destroy the remaining speedboats. They were again detected and sustained minor injuries. These actions helped recapture Trincomalee and Jaffna harbours from the LTTE. For leading these actions the 30-year-old Lt. Singh Arvind Singh became the youngest officer to receive the Maha Vir Chakra Award.
Central Reserve Police Force
Indian Coast Guard
Jaffna University Helidrop
The IPKF suffered around 1,200 killed in action and several thousand wounded. The LTTE casualties are not known. Tamil Civilians Killed By IPKF is 15,000-20,000
The Indian intelligence agencies failed to consistently provide accurate information to the forces. One example is the Jaffna football ground massacre. The LTTE's disinformation machinery leaked information to the Indian army that the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was hiding in a building near the Jaffna university football ground. A major operational plan was chalked out by the Indian generals to capture him alive. The plan involved airdropping commandos on the ground, while tank formations would move to surround the area, to prevent anyone from the stadium and its surrounding buildings to escape.
However, when the plan was executed, the Indian troops came under heavy attack from hidden LTTE sharpshooters. the tanks moving on the ground were ensnared by anti-tank mines placed by the LTTE fighters. This resulted in heavy losses for the Indian side. According to later accounts, the LTTE leader, Prabhakaran was not in the area at the time of the operation.
The IPKF complained that accurate maps of the operational theaters were not made available to them by the various intelligence agencies.
There was also a case where an agent of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was killed in an ambush set up by the IPKF. He had been acting on orders to carry out back channel diplomacy and peacetalks with the LTTE.
The IPKF mission while having gained tactical successes, did not succeed in its intended goals. On 21 May 1991, the LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi for his role in sending the IPKF to Sri Lanka.
The primary impact of the IPKF, has been that it shaped India's counter-insurgency techniques and military doctrine. On the international scene, it does not find significant mention in National or International military history. The political fallout, the IPKF's casualties, as well as the deterioration of international relations has however shaped India's foreign policy towards the Sri Lankan conflict. (see below)
The decision to send the IPKF in Sri Lanka was taken by then prime-minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, who held office until 1989. The operation in Sri Lanka was one of the factors that led to the ouster of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government in 1989.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at a rally at Sriperumbudur on 21 May 1991, while he was campaigning for re-election during the 1991 Indian General Election, by a suicide bomber, who was a member of the LTTE, named Dhanu.
The debacle that was IPKF's intervention in Sri Lanka is raised at times in Indian political discourse whenever the situation in Sri Lanka shows signs of deteriorating, and there is a question of intervening; or, in Sri Lankan politics (particularly by the LTTE), when it is proposed that India, or, more broadly, other foreigners, ought to have a role in promoting peace on the island nation.
As a result, relations between India and Sri Lanka became extremely sour and India vowed never to offer any military help to Sri Lanka again. This policy has not been changed since and no defence pact has been signed between India and Sri Lanka. India has never been directly involved in the peace talks between the LTTE and Sri Lanka but has supported Norway's efforts.
The IPKF's role in the Sri Lankan conflict was much maligned by voices both there and at home at the time. It was alleged by the LTTE to have engaged in a number of incidents of human rights violation. Some neutral organisations also alleged the IPKF and LTTE engaged with scant regard for civilian safety and to have violated human rights. These allegations led to considerable outcry and public resentment within Sri Lanka as well as India, especially in Tamil Nadu, where the IPKF came to be viewed as an invading and oppressing force.
Indian forces were accused of indulging in number of civilian massacres & Involuntary disappearances during their time in the Northeastern province of Sri Lanka. These include complicity in the incidents such as Valvettiturai massacre in which on 2, 3, and 4 August 1989 over 50 Tamils were massacred by the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Valvettiturai, Jaffna. In addition to the killings over 100 homes, shops and other property were also burnt and destroyed. Another notable incident was the Jaffna teaching hospital massacre on 22 October 1987, following a confrontation with Tamil militants near the hospital, IPKF quickly entered the hospital premises and massacred over 70 civilians. These civilians included patients, two doctors, three nurses and a paediatric consultant who were all in uniform. The hospital never completely recovered after this massacre. The IPKF was also accused of complicity in murder of Sinhalese civilians in the 1987 Trincomalee massacre where according to Asian Times in August 1987, a number of majority Sinhalese civilians were massacred. The then Sri Lankan government accused the Madras Regiment posted in the Trincomalee district of complicity, although the Indian officials denied responsibility, they withdrew the Madras Regiment from Trincomalee district.
The Sri Lankan government had mooted the idea of a war memorial to those soldiers of the IPKF who lost their lives during the peacekeeping mission, in the early Nineties during President Premadasa's rule. The memorial was finally constructed in Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte  on the outskirts of Colombo in 2008. The names of the 1200 soldiers who died are inscribed on black marble. The first official memorial service was held on 15 August 2010 when the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Shri Ashok Kantha laid a wreath to honour the dead. The absence of a representative of the Sri Lankan government has been criticised by Indian ex-servicemen who had served in the conflict.
A renovated memorial for IPKF soldiers in Palaly, Jaffna, has been declared open in June 2015. The names of 33 who died in the operations in the Northern Province during 1987–1990 have been inscribed on a wall at the memorial site.