B. Muralidhar Reddy
14 military personnel, 20 Tigers killed; four planes destroyed
COLOMBO: Fourteen personnel of the Sri Lanka military and 20 cadres of the LTTE were killed and four aircraft of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) destroyed in a pre-dawn ground and aerial attack by the Tamil Tigers on Monday on the Anuradhapura air base in the North Central Province, the Sri Lanka Defence Ministry said.
This is the first co-ordinated ground and air attack by the Tigers since the first strike by the so-called Tiger Air Force on the SLAF airbase near the only international airbase in Katunayaka in the last week of March. Though it is the fifth aerial strike by the Tigers since March, it is the first since the Sri Lanka Government revamped its air defence system in June/July in response to the Tiger aerial strikes with light aircraft.
The attack on the Anuradhapura air base was initiated by a 21-member ‘Black Tiger’ suicide squad at 3.20 a.m. from two different directions and the death and destruction which followed were the result of fierce fighting between the military and suicide squad members.
Two light aircraft of the LTTE surfaced over the airport 40 minutes later and dropped two bombs, which according to the military caused no damage either to the aircraft or the air base.
Though the radars detected the approaching aircraft, they managed to sneak back into the Tiger controlled territory as the military helicopter deployed to intercept them developed a technical snag and crashed.
The LTTE version of the attack varied from the Government’s.
The Tigers claimed that eight aircraft of the SLAF were destroyed in the operation and maintained that their light aircraft joined the mission 70 minutes after the suicide squad struck.
The LTTE released two separate purported photographs of the suicide squad and its light aircraft posing with Velupillai Prabakaran.
Defence spokesperson and Minister Keheliya Rambukwelle termed the Tiger attack as a ‘desperate attempt’ to avenge its debacle in the East. .
The incident would not deter the government from carrying out its “humanitarian operations to free the people of all areas from the clutches of terrorism,” he added.