October 22, 2007

LTTE Attacks Anuradhapura Air Base

LTTE Attacks Anuradhapura Air Base International Terrorism Monitor--Paper No.291

Source: SAAG
By B.Raman

Despite bad weather, two aircraft of the so-called Tamil Eelam Air Force of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) managed to provide air cover to a ground attack launched by a specially-trained commando unit of the LTTE on a Sri Lankan Air Force base at Anuradhapura, 212 kilometres north of Colombo, on October 22, 2007. The LTTE aircraft first appeared over the air base and dropped two bombs. Taking advantage of the resulting confusion in the air base, the LTTE commandoes infiltrated the base. The resulting exchange of fire between the Sri Lankan forces guarding the base and the LTTE commandoes lasted about two hours between 3 AM and 5 AM.

2. While the LTTE disseminated its version of the joint operation shortly after it had ended, the Government version came about an hour later. Both versions said that two Russian-made MI 24 helicopters parked in the air base were affected. While the Government version said the helicopters were damaged, the LTTE version said they were destroyed.

3. The two versions also said that a third helicopter (Bell 212) was destroyed when it crashlanded at Doramadalawa, 13 kms east of Anuradhapura. The Government version said four airmen were killed during the crashlanding. It also said that the helicopter had taken off to take action against the LTTE commandoes, but it developed technical trouble. According to the LTTE version, two pilots and two engineers stationed in the air base tried to flee in the helicopter when the LTTE launched the attack. They were killed when they lost control of the helicopter and crashed on the ground.

4. Neither side has given any further details. Some Pakistani Air Force pilots are based in Anuradhapura to train pilots of the Sri Lankan Air Force. None of them appears to have been affected by the LTTE attack. This is the fourth air strike launched by the LTTE since March 26, 2007, when the LTTE brought its long-concealed aircraft into the open and used them for its operations. Two of the previous attacks were on targets in Colombo and the third was on a target in the Jaffna area. All the four attacks were at night. The last attack from the air was on the Delft naval base in the Jaffna area on the night of May 24, 2007. Since then, the LTTE has not used its air power despite its repeated threats to attack economic and other strategic targets in the Sinhalese areas. This had given rise to speculation that it might be facing spare parts or fuel procurement problems.

5. Since May, the LTTE has been going through serious operational difficulties. The flow of funds from its overseas supporters has declined due to action taken against them by their host governments. Its arms procurement network has also had a number of set-backs due to actions taken against them by foreign governments. Its sea transport capability has been damaged by some successful operations mounted by the Sri Lankan Navy. It has practically lost control of the areas in the Eastern Province, which were previously under its control.

6. Despite this, the morale, the motivation and the determination of its cadres remain strong. Its resilience as an organisation is intact. There has been no decline in their ability to innovate and take the adversary by surprise. However, the attrition in resources suffered by it is having an impact on its operations. It is now taking a longer time than in the past to plan and mount a major terrorist strike. This is because mobilisation of resources----human and material---is taking a longer time.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

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