Wednesday, October 29, 2008




The air wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) carried out two attacks within an interval of about 90 minutes on a militarytarget in the North and an economic target in Colombo on the night of October 28,2008. This is the seventh operation by the LTTE's air wingsince it went into action in March last year.

2.Tamilnet, the pro-LTTE web site in the English language, which has again been giving battle front news after being silent on this subjectfor some days last week, reported as follows on the LTTE air attacks of October 28: " The LTTE carried out an air attack on the Thallaadimilitary base, the main artillery and Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher (MBRL) launchpad of the Sri Lanka Army in Mannaar around 10:30 p.m.,dropping three bombs on the base. The Tiger aircrafts then proceeded to Colombo and dropped two bombs on the Kelanitissa power station,while Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) bombers were searching for LTTE aircrafts in the skies over Kilinochchi between 11:00 and 11:30 a.m.The SLAF aircrafts were flying over the suburbs of Mullaiththeevu and Puthukkudiyiruppu with para lights focused on the ground from 1:30a.m. on October 29. An SLAF reconnaissance aircraft was continuously circling over Vanni from 11:00 p.m. Immediately after the Tiger airraid on the Thallaadi garrison, the SLAF fighters were circling over the suburbs of Kilinochchi, Iranaimadu, Visuvamadu and Murasumoaddaiareas between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m. The SLAF aircrafts were using para lights in their search mission over Vanni. Civilian sources said theTiger aircrafts flew back to Vanni over Mannaar. " It did not specifically mention the safe return of the aircraft to their base.

3. However,, the pro-LTTE website in the Tamil language, carried the following official announcement purporting to befrom the LTTE: " At 10-20 PM on Tuesday night, Air Tigers of the LTTE bombed the Thallaadi military base in the Mannaar region. Themilitary base sustained heavy damages. Many were killed and injured. At 11-45 PM on Tuesday the Air Tigers carried out a successful attackon the Kelanitissa power station in Colombo. After carrying out these strikes, the aircrafts returned safely to base."

4. Pro-LTTE sources have tried to give the impression that more than one LTTE aircraft were involved in the two attacks. The report of theReuters correspondent claimed that only one aircraft was involved in the attack on the military base.Sri Lankan military sources have alsospoken of only one aircraft being involved in the attack on the Colombo power station.Pro-LTTE sources have claimed that the same aircraftor aircrafts, after dropping the bombs on the military base in the Mannaar area, flew to Colombo to bomb the power station. The militarybase attacked is about 250 Kms to the north of Colombo. Would the aircraft or aircrafts, which must have been carrying at least two bombseach, have had sufficient fuel to be able to take off from the Vanni region, bomb the military base, fly to Colombo, bomb the power stationand then return to their secret base?

5. Pro-LTTE sources have claimed that there were many fatalities and severe equipment damage in the military base, but according to Armysources, there were no fatalities and very little equipment damage.Only one security forces personnel was injured, they claimed. The powerstation admitted the death of one of its employees due to shock when the bomb or bombs fell. The administrative buildings and the coolingsystem sustained some damage resulting in a fire, which was put out by the Fire Brigade. Pro-LTTE sources have claimed some damage tothe turbines, but there are so far no reports of any serious disruption of the power supply in Colombo.

6.The attacks were tactically successful in the sense that the aircraft involved in the two attacks reportedly returned safely to base afterdropping the bombs on the targets without being intercepted by planes of the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) or without being hit and broughtdown by the anti-aircraft defence. But their strategic significance is limited since they do not appear to have caused any damage of aserious nature. However, the attacks could have a psychological significance in maintaining the morale of the LTTE cadres and itssupporters in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and in the overseas diaspora.

7. These attacks and the earlier strike by two officers of the Sea Tigers, one of them a woman, on two commercial ships used by the SriLankan Army for carrying military supplies to the Sri Lankan troops in the Kilinochchi area at the Kankesanthurai port on October22,2008, show that the LTTE's command and control is functioning well despite the losses suffered by it on the ground in the Vanni region during thecurrent ground offensive by the Sri Lankan Army.

8. Military analysts have commented that since the LTTE started using its air wing in March last year, it has been emulating the tacticsfollowed by North Korea during the Korean war of the 1950s. The tactics consisted of using small planes to surprise and embarrass theSouth Korean and American Air Force planes without achieving any strategic objective. Since the LTTE started using its planes,only in twoinstances were substantial human fatalities and equipment damage inflicted. The first was during the raid on the Anuradhapura trainingbase of the SLAF in October last year and the second was during the attack on the Vavuniya military base on September 9,2008. Both theseraids were conducted jointly by the LTTE's planes from the air and suicide cadres from the ground. It is the suicide cadres on the ground,who caused the fatalities and most of the equipment damage. The role of the aircraft was essentially psychological, meant, inter alia, todivert the attention of the ground personnel of the Sri Lankan security forces . But the combined operations carried out successfully didshow good qualities of co-ordination between air-borne and ground-based cadres. Whenever the LTTE planes have operated alone and notin conjunction with ground-based cadres, the results achieved were not significant operationally.

9. Aircraft operating alone without support from ground-based elements can cause substantial damage to an economic target if the bombsare powerful enough and the bombing is precise. The LTTE has carried out two bombings of economic targets so far----one against somepetrol storage tanks in Colombo last year and the other against a power station in Colombo on the night of October 28. In both instances,the bombs were not powerful enough to cause serious equipment damage and the bombing was not precise. As a result, these twobombings failed to cause any economic dislocation.

10. The latest strikes like the previous ones once again highlighted the weak night operational capabilities of the SLAF and the weakanti-aircraft defences. They were neither able to bring the planes down through anti-aircraft fire, nor able to chase the raiding planes and force them down nor identify the place of landing of the LTTE planes as they returned to base and strike them from the air. It is reportedthat SLAF planes were patrolling in the air at the time of the return of the LTTE planes, but they failed to locate their landing place andstrike at them as they were landing. The aircraft managed to land safely and ground-based technicians of the LTTE's air wing managed todismantle them quickly and shift them to their intended place of concealment. (29-10-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: )