|Some of the air craft types destroyed by LTTE commandos in Anuradhapura attack.
The Sri Lanka Air Force lost over $40m dollars worth of aircraft and equipment in the Tamil Tiger ground and air attack Monday, international press reports said quoting Sri Lankan officials.
Amongst the losses was a specialized surveillance aircraft ordered by the then UNP government just before it began peace talks with the LTTE, the reports said.
Twenty one soldiers from the LTTE’s elite ‘Black Tiger’ regiment stormed the SLAF airbase in Anuradhapura in the early hours of Monday. The fighting continued for several hours after the attackers took control of key sections of the base.
The Tigers were supported by at least two aircraft of the Tamileelam Air Force (TAF) which bombed the airbase shortly after the attack began at 3a.m.
Citing the official government statements of two Mi-24 helicopter gunships damaged and one Bell 212 gunship crash landing, the British newspaper, ‘The Telegraph’ also quoted ‘well-placed sources in Colombo’ as saying the damage was on a far greater scale than had been admitted.
The LTTE attack had destroyed military planes and equipment worth more than £20 ($40m) million, the paper reported Tuesday.
“Among the planes allegedly damaged or destroyed was a Beechcraft surveillance plane worth £14 million, two Mi17 helicopters, two Mi24 helicopters, three unmanned aerial vehicles, a K-8 jet and eight PD6 propeller trainer aircraft,” the paper reported.
Earlier, press reports also quoted Sri Lanka’s best known defence correspondent, Iqbal Athas as saying the destruction of the propeller driven naval reconnaissance aircraft had “crippled” the Sri Lanka Navy's deep sea operations.
12 to 18 aircraft might have been damaged or destroyed, Athas told the Hindustan Times Monday.
The Sri Lankan military said it lost fourteen servicemen killed in the fighting, including the four man crew of a Bell 212 gunship which was shot down. Amongst the dead were an Air Force Wing Commander and a Squadron Leader. Twenty two other servicemen were wounded.
The Beechcraft 200 HISAR surveillance aircraft is said to be equipped with a Hughes synthetic aperture radar system which the manufacturer, Raytheon, says can track low flying aircraft in addition to ground and sea targets.
In July 2002 Raytheon reported it had won a 10 million dollar plus order from an 'unspecified South Asian customer' to supply one of these surveillance aircraft.
Under that contract, Raytheon was to provide one Beech King Air 200 turboprop aircraft, a HISAR radar system, ground station, spares, training and technical support.
Raytheon had, at the time, only supplied 22 such aircraft.
The aircraft was delivered in late 2002 to the then United National Party (UNP) government, which was engaged in Norwegian facilitated peace negotiations with the LTTE.
Since then the Beechcraft has often been spotted patrolling over LTTE controlled Vanni, amongst other areas, earning itself the apt local nickname ‘Vandu’ (Bug or Beetle).
The Tigers, in their first combined air and Black Tiger ground attack targeted the airbase, the largest Sri Lankan military installation in the Main Supply Route between Colombo and Vavunniyaa, at Saliyapura in Anuradhapura in the North Central province, in the early hours of Monday.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have released photos of the 21-member Black Tiger attack team that included three female Black Tigers and the Air Tiger personnel who took part in the attack. The photos were taken when LTTE leader V. Pirapaharan sent the commandos on their mission, the Tigers said.
The LTTE leader had code named the attack "Operation Ellaalan," TamilNet's Vanni correspondent quoted a high ranking LTTE official as saying.
Ellalan (Elara) was a Tamil (Chola) king, referred as the Just King by the Buddhist chronicles, ruled the island from the ancient city of Anuradhapura, in the 2nd century BC.
Sri Lanka parades bodies
|Sri Lankan soldiers transporting naked corpses of LTTE commandos in open tractors.
Sri Lanka armed forces Tuesday paraded the bodies of the Tiger commandos killed during the, agency reports said.
The authorities stripped the bodies of the LTTE troopers before putting them on display for the mainly Sinhalese residents near Anuradhapura airbase.
Two farm tractors pulled trailers loaded with the naked corpses and mutilated body parts to the Anuradhapura hospital mortuary, local journalists and residents told AFP.
According to the opposition Lankadissent.com website, the bodies were displayed to "prevent the mentality of defeat from entering the public mindset in the aftermath of this major military debacle."
"The tractors stopped outside the hospital where there was a large gathering of people," one journalist said. "People took pictures while others were even filming."
Earlier the Sri Lankan defence ministry posted photographs of the bodies of some of the LTTE fighters lying on the tarmac and wearing camouflage uniforms.
The early morning raid destroyed or damaged $40m worth of aircraft and equipment, including a specialised surveillance plane.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government has transferred the responsibility for outer perimeter security at all airports to the army after the air force failed to secure the Anuradhapura base, officials told AFP.