2ND LEAD

LTTE Air Strike, no terrorism- SAAG

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 27 March 2007, 12:16 GMT]
B. Raman, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG) Chennai, says in his analysis: "The TAF's [Tamileelam Air Force's] air strike was well-planned and equally well-executed. It was a night operation taking advantage of the weak capability of the SLAF for night operations. It was a precision attack, which carefully avoided causing any casualty or damage in the international airport, which could have roused international ire. There were no civilian casualties----targeted or collateral. As a result, it would not be possible to characterise the attack as an act of terrorism. It was pure and simple a conventional air strike."

Full text of the article follows:

LTTE'S AIR STRIKE---AN ASSESSMENT
By B.Raman

The Sri Lankan Government has imposed a total black-out on the losses suffered by it from the conventional air strike launched by the Tamil Eelam Air Force (TAF) of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the air base of the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) at Katunayake outside Colombo on March 26,2007. The air base is located adjoining the international airport. The black-out is meant to hamper any damage assessment by the media and other analysts----from Sri Lanka as well as outside. One has to,therefore, depend on source reports.

2. The only information which the Government has given out is that two helicopters were damaged. It has tried to create an impression as if there was no damage to its fighter aircraft. Source reports, on the other hand, indicate that the TAF air strike has severely damaged, if not destroyed, at least a half of the aircraft holdings of the SLAF. The truth will be known only if and when the SLAF resumes its operations in the Tamil areas. If the Government's contention that there was no damage to its fighter aircraft is correct, then there would be no impact on its air operations in the Tamil areas. If the source reports' contention is correct, one would see a marked decrease in the SLAF's air operations in the days to come.

3. The TAF's air strike was well-planned and equally well-executed. It was a night operation taking advantage of the weak capability of the SLAF for night operations. It was a precision attack, which carefully avoided causing any casualty or damage in the international airport, which could have roused international ire. There were no civilian casualties----targeted or collateral. As a result, it would not be possible to characterise the attack as an act of terrorism. It was pure and simple a conventional air strike. The bombs targeted the hangar or hangars at the base inside which the aircraft of the SLAF are normally parked at night. Three SLAF personnel were killed and about 20 injured. It is not yet known whether they were the maintenance people or whether any of them were pilots. Maintenance casualties can be easily replaced, but not pilot casualties.

4.Some worrisome questions arise. Even professional pilots of a State Air Force need regular flying practice. You can't just assemble or take out an aircraft from a hide-out and fly out on a bombing mission. Where were the TAF pilots doing their flying practice? How come the Air Force intelligence set-ups of Sri Lanka as well as India missed detecting these training flights of the TAF? One needs fuel for the aircraft. From the way the LTTE has been warning of more air attacks, it seems to have an adequate reserve of fuel. Where from it got the fuel? Hopefully, not from India. Since April last year, when the Government of President Mahinda Rajapakse started using the SLAF, the latter has been claiming that it had repeatedly bombed the air strip of the TAF. When an air strip is bombed, it takes time to repair it. How did the LTTE manage to repair it without any problem? Or, does it have another air strip, which has not come to the notice of the Sri Lankan intelligence?

5. The air strike was a daring operation. The TAF aircraft were air-borne for a little over two hours.There was every danger of the aircraft being intercepted and destroyed by the SLAF. The fact that the LTTE leadership decided to face this risk speaks of a certain desperation behind the decision to launch the air strike. One could detect a similar desperation in its efforts to smuggle material required for improvised explosive devices (IEDS) from Tamil Nadu. Since November,2006, a number of consignments of ball bearings, aluminium and similar material intended for smuggling to the LTTE-controlled areas have been intercepted by the Tamil Nadu Police and the Coast Guard. "The Hindu" of March 24,2007, has reported that one of the arrested persons admitted during the interrogation that one consignment had managed to reach Sri Lanka. (see item titled " Two Held in Iron Balls Seizure Case" on Page 8). Two conclusions emerge: First, the LTTE is so desperate for replenishments from Tamil Nadu that it is prepared to face the risk of the arrest of some of its collaborators in Tamil Nadu. Second, if one consignment managed to avoid detection and interception and reach the LTTE, there is a strong possibility of more consignments having reached the LTTE. This reveals gaps in our counter-LTTE security measures.

6.This desperation has arisen from the LTTE's fears that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces were planning to launch an offensive in the Northern Province after having ejected the LTTE from nearly 85 per cent of the total territory in the Eastern Province. If the SL Armed Forces score similar successes in the Northern Province, that could deal a severe blow to the LTTE's political objectives. LTTE spokesmen have been repeatedly hinting that any offensive in the North would lead to a blood-bath in areas outside the Eastern and Northern Provinces.The Sri Lankan Armed Forces and their Foreign Office were treating these warnings casually as the dying gasp of the LTTE. Through its daring air strike, the LTTE has conveyed a credible message that it may be down, but not out. It still has a lot of daring, fight and innovative ability left in it.

7.The Sri Lankan Armed Forces would be stupid to over-estimate the significance of their successes in the Eastern Province and under-estimate the LTTE's capabilities in the Northern Province. The successes in the Eastern Province were largely due to the role played by Karuna and his men, and the ruthless use of the SLAF and the heavy artillery of Pakistani origin. Karuna is a former commander of the LTTE from the Batticaloa District of the Eastern Province, who deserted from the LTTE in March 2004 due to differences with Prabakaran. The LTTE did not consider it necessary to use the TAF to prevent the set-backs in the Eastern Province. It is facing a serious shortage of anti-aircraft weapons and ammunition, but still has some, which have been kept in the reserve for use in the North and to prevent a decapitation strike against Prabakaran. The Sri Lankan Army will have to operate in the North without the support of Karuna and his men, who are detested there as Sinhalese quislings. Moreover, the LTTE's soldiers will be fighting in their own area with which they are familiar. Any operations in the North will see the LTTE fighting ferociously----possibly making full use of its air and anti-aircraft capability. It will hit out against the Sinhalese in the rest of Sri Lanka. It is not doing so presently due to fears of a backlash against the Tamils living in the Sinhalese majority areas, but a desperate LTTE will not be inhibited by such considerations.

8. The demonstrated air attack capability of the LTTE poses immediate, short, medium and long-term threats to Sri Lanka and medium and long-term threats to India. The first immediate threat is to the security of President Rajapakse and other VIPs. The ability to use an aircraft---either conventionally or through a suicide mission--- will enable the LTTE to circumvent access control measures.Without effective access control, there is no effective VIP security. The second immediate threat is psychological---the negative impact on foreign tourists and investors. This impact will be enhanced if the TAF carries out attacks on economic targets.

9. The third immediate impact is also psychological on the minds of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Prabakaran is stated to be a voracious reader. He reads everything that is available on guerilla warfare, covert actions etc. A favourite quote of his from one of these books is:" Those, who dare, win". It is said that this quote is exhibited in all training centres of the LTTE. The TAF dared on the morning of March 26 against tremendous odds. It succeeded. There was elation among the Sri Lankan Tamils all over the world. Many champagne bottles were broken by members of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. An added reason for this elation is stated to be the fact that all the TAF pilots are from the diaspora. One could see a fresh flow of volunteers to join the LTTE from Sri Lanka itself as well as from the diaspora. And a fresh flow of funds.

10. To neutralise these psychological impacts, the the SLAF has to demonstrate quickly that its capability and morale have not been affected. Can it do so? It is very important.

11.The short, medium and long-term threats to Sri Lanka will arise if as a result of this demonstrated air capability of the TAF, the SLAF loses its present air superiority. If that happens, the SL Armed Forces and the LTTE will be more evenly matched on the ground than they are today. That means continuing bloodshed and the danger of Tamil Eelam becoming a reality one day.The statements of the close advisers of Rajapakse before the air raid including those of his Foreign Minister show considerable naivete. They seem to think the LTTE can be defeated militarily. The only instances in recent history where terrorist organisations have collapsed without achieving any of their stated objectives are those of the Khalistanis and of the Western ideological groups such as the German Red Army Faction. They collapsed or withered away because they had no support from the people for whose cause they claimed to be fighting. The LTTE has considerable support from the Sri Lankan Tamils---in Sri Lanka as well as abroad. Unless they are weaned away from the LTTE through appropriate political measures, a military victory is doubtful. Repeated bombing raids by the SLAF on Sri Lankan Tamils in order to intimidate them are not the way of winning over the Tamils. Barring the US, which has been heavily using air strikes against the Neo Taliban in Afghanistan and the terrorists and resistance-fighters in Iraq, without any significant success, and Israel, which did so in the Lebanon in July last year,no other country in the world uses air strikes for counter-insurgency operations in such a ruthless manner as the Rajapakse Government has been doing. At the least the US and Israel have been bombing foreign people in foreign territory, but the Rajapakse Government has been bombing from air its own people in its own territory.

12. There is no immediate security threat to India. The medium and long-term threats will arise from the likelihood of copy-cat terrorism and the LTTE one day using it against an Indian target. India has any number of terrorist and insurgent organisations active in different parts of the country. Some of them might be tempted to emulate the LTTE. Successful development and use of an independent air strike capability by a terrorist organisation is largely conditional on its having territorial control over the rural areas. Purely urban terrorist organisations would find it difficult to develop an independent air capability. In India, the Naxalites (Maoists) have effective control over large parts of rural areas. One has to be careful about them.

13. India is no stranger to air terrorism. The plane hijackings by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Khalistanis, the blowing-up of the Kanishka aircraft of Air India by the Babbar Khalsa of Canada and the clandestine air drop of weapons by a plane manned by a mercenary crew in Purulia were instances of air terrorism. In the early 1990s, a member of the Babbar Khalsa trained by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence had stated during his interrogation that the ISI had asked him to join the Mumbai Flyting Club, take a trainer aircraft up and crash it on the Bombay High Oil platform. Such instances of air terrorism can be prevented by effective physical security on the ground.

14. But when an insurgent or a terrorist organisation acquires an independent air strike capability, the task of countering it becomes much more difficult. Preventive intelligence is an effective way, but it totally failed in the case of the LTTE. It was able to hoodwink the intelligence agencies of many countries---including those of India, Sri Lanka and the European countries--- get its pilots recruited from the diaspora and trained in foreign training institutions ---like Al Qaeda did-- and smuggle the aircraft in dismantled forms to the areas controlled by it.

15. The LTTE should not be allowed to retain its TAF. The matter should be taken up in the UN Security Council under Resolution 1373 and an ultimatum issued to the LTTE to surrender its planes to observers appointed by the UNSC. If it fails do so, the bank accounts of all members of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora suspected or known to be funding the LTTE should be frozen as a first step to make it see reason. If it continues to be defiant, other measures have to be considered like knocking them out. These measures have to be combined with pressure on the Rajapakse Government to initiate a political process towards a federal solution. Unilateral action only against the LTTE without simultaneous action against the Rajapakse Government or vice versa will prove counter-productive.


Related Articles:
30.05.05   Coercive Airpower in the Eelam Conflict- Taraki


External Links:
SAAG:  LTTE'S air strike---An Assessment By B. Raman

 

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