28 March 2007
The Tamil Eelam Air Force of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which has been in existence for at least nine years without the Sri Lankan intelligence having the least idea about its location and capability, went into action for the first time since its creation in the early hours of March 26. It was a conventional air attack and not a suicide mission.
Two aircraft of the TAF flew over the Sri Lankan Air Force base at Katunayake near Colombo and dropped four bombs. At least three SLAF personnel were killed and about 20 injured. Two helicopters, reportedly given by Pakistan, were badly damaged. There was also some damage to the Israeli aircraft of the Sri Lankan Air Force.
The LTTE has claimed that both its planes returned safely to base and has released a photograph of Prabakaran with the officers of the TAF. It is reported that the approach of an unidentified aircraft towards the base was detected by the Sri Lankan Air Force radar, but the anti-aircraft units at the base failed to go into action. The SLAF pilots' capability for night operations is poor and the Air Tigers took advantage of this to fly over the base unintercepted and bomb it.
The Sri Lankan authorities immediately closed the nearby civilian airport and diverted all incoming flights to Indian airports.
The LTTE has projected its air strike as in retaliation for the repeated bombing of civilian areas by the Sri Lankan Air Force, which has killed a large number of innocent Tamil civilians. Many of these air strikes of the SLAF were carried out by mercenary Ukrainian pilots.
It was not only a reprisal air strike, but also a pre-emptive air strike to prevent an offensive operation, which the Sri Lankan Armed Forces are planning to launch in the Northern Province in order to liberate the areas under the control of the LTTE there. A fresh team of Pakistani counter-insurgency experts and air force officers has recently arrived in Colombo to assist the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in their planned operations in the Northern Province.
Apprehending this offensive, the LTTE has stepped up its arms procurement efforts. As reported earlier, it has already managed to replenish its stocks of explosives. It had undertaken a detailed study of the Hizbollah operations against Israel in July last year in order to draw lessons from it. It was also trying to procure from the Hizbollah the surface-to-surface rockets, which it had used effectively against Israeli targets.
It is not yet known whether it has succeeded in procuring them. If it has, it may bring them into action against military and economic targets in Colombo.
The war against the LTTE started by President Mahinda Rajapakse after assuming office in November, 2005, with the help of Pakistan, has now entered a new phase.
B. Raman is Director of the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He has served as head of counter-terrorism for India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing.