Formation of the STF and tribute to heroes | Daily News

Formation of the STF and tribute to heroes

September 1, 1984, is a very important day in my life. It was a Sunday, where all the police pistol shooting members and men attached to personal security divisions attend small arms practical pistol shooting at the Police range in Katukurunda.

 Most of the shooters assemble at FFHQ Bambalapitiya in the morning around 7.00 am and leave for Katukurunda in a police vehicle. We picked up Ravi Jayewardene from his residence at Ward Place. At that time J.R. Jayewardene, Ravi’s father, was President. Yet, Ravi was a very humble person. Due to his personal interest and encouragement and leadership, the Police shooters achieved a very high level in practical pistol shooting.

At the Katukurunda Range from left: Zerney Wijesuriya, Nimal Lewke,  M.D. Perera, Amoura, Deva Corea and Lancelot Perera (September 1, 1984).

He was the Godfather of practical pistol shooting and the Special Task Force (STF) in Sri Lanka. On our way to the training school, we stopped at a small boutique at Palapathwela for breakfast. In this group were M.D Perera, Zerney Wijesuriya, Muni Gomez, Deva Corea, Lancelot Perera, Witharana, Karunarathne, T.H. Jayah and myself and many others. Most of these men retired as DIGs later.

 On this day, when I was cleaning my weapon being seated with others, Zerney Wijesuriya told me, “Nimal, I am taking over the STF as Commandant from today and I would like you to join me as OIC of the Unit, as I feel you are the ideal man for it.” I didn’t make any comment but later when I went to the firing range, Ravi Jayewardene who was next to me in the firing lane turned towards me and told me, “Nimal I heard the good news.” I was a bit surprised, when he told that Zerney had confirmed that I am prepared to join the STF. Then I informed him that I will think about it and come back to him. 

I had returned to the island a few months ago after being in the UK for a period of one year for training and I had to discuss this matter with my wife because I also had a young son. For me to be away again will be a huge challenge to the family. In the evening, on my return, I told my wife about the suggestion, but she was unhappy that I was going to be away from the family and this time, in the danger zone.

 Around 7.00 pm, the bombshell news came. I got a call from the Commandant FFHQ asking me to come immediately to the office as I had to go to Katunayake to escort four bodies of STF officers who were victims of a landmine in Thikkam, Jaffna. All my hopes were shattered as convincing my wife was going to be a huge challenge. To her credit, she later agreed.

I got a transfer to the STF training wing on September 24. After training, I was posted to Kalavanchchikudi as Base Commander. At that time there was only one more STF camp in Batticaloa which was situated in Kalladi. N.K. Illangakoon who later went on to become the IGP, oversaw that.

From left – Nimal Lewke, Ranjith Mendis, Nelson Jayasinghe, Victor Adikari, Muni Gomez and Ravi Jayewardene. 

After the training period, I went to the Anti-Terrorist Unit in the CID and got all the details of the terrorist groups in the country and the gazette notifications. Later I went to meet the Director, Crime Record Division, and got all the pictures of the terror group members, leaders, etc. 

By the time I assumed duties in Kalavanchchikudi, I had a fair knowledge, but I knew the task at hand was difficult. I had to educate my set of young men, for at that time most people thought that every Tamil is a terrorist. So it took time to educate them as the most important thing to counter terrorism in this society is that you had to win the confidence of the masses. 

The KMS training by Ex-SAS officers was the strength of the STF. Since all STF personnel were Police officers, they had the knowledge of the law of the land which helped the STF to be a solid peace-keeping unit.

In the operational area, the STF completely dominated their terrain. All LTTE camps were located and destroyed. The STF took over the district, protected all Sinhala villages, namely, Bakmityawa, Mangala Gama, Aranthalawa, Gonagolla, Lahugala and Hulannuge. All movements, especially public transport, were resurrected. Our motto was ‘Dominate the area between you and the enemy’.

 The STF consisted of special units for Counter Surveillance, Counter Drug Trafficking and Counter Underworld and had an excellent Intelligence Unit trained in India and USA. The STF also had a Rapid Deployment MC Unit, Para Jumpers, Unarmed Combat Unit, High Profile VIP Unit to protect the leaders and foreign dignitaries, a very effective and powerful Communications Unit to monitor terrorist communications and a unit to provide security and guidance for key installations.

Direction finders, the small team concept (eight man teams), GIS and GPS Technology, which was introduced over the years, have tremendously enhanced the efficiency of the technical intelligence aspect apart from the hard intelligence component which has made the STF one of the best counter-terror establishments in the region.

The STF has also trained the Indian and Maldivian Police Officers on handling explosives and VIP Security. The STF provided experienced officers to the UN Missions and even went to the extent of protecting the LTTE leaders when they had peace talks with Government delegations. Over the years the STF has won the confidence of the leaders of this country and the masses. This was purely due to their professional approach, discipline, and untiring commitment.

 Finally, during this period, well over 400 officers and other rankers have sacrificed their lives to protect the country and over 700 have been injured and disabled in the war. At no stage did they hesitate when a task or responsibility was entrusted to them. Sri Lankans should really be proud and honoured to have such a committed unit which has faced many challenges and battles and always come out victorious.

Niyathai Jaya! (Victory is assured)

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