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Attack on SL air base was VP's brainchild

world Updated: Nov 09, 2007 16:44 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran
Hindustan Times
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The devastating ground cum air attack on the Sri Lankan Air Force's base at Anuradhapura in North Central Sri Lanka on October 22, was LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran's brainchild and showed his penchant for meticulous planning, high secrecy, hard training and meticulous execution, a top LTTE official has said.

"The Leader was very keen that the operation should not fail. And towards this end, the planning and training for the attack and its execution were kept a top secret. Very few people even at the top most level knew about it. A lot of work had gone into it from the stage of planning to execution," said S Yogaratnam Yogi, head of the LTTE's
History Division in a panel discussion on Tamil National Television (TNT), a station run by the LTTE, on October 28.

"The Leader went through the customary rituals before the Black Tigers squad set out on its mission, and Lt Col.Ilango assured him that it would not fail," Yogi recalled in the programme which could be seen in the Tamil language website www.pathivu.com.

In the pre-dawn attack, mounted by 21 to 27 Black Tiger suicide cadres and a couple of planes of the fledgling rebel air force, 24 out of the 27 Sri Lankan military aircraft were either destroyed or damaged, causing a loss of $30 to 40 million, according to media reports. The Tigers had cleverly chosen a time when the Sri Lankan defenders were distracted by high voltage events like a motor race and a popular TV musical competition.

Why Anuradhapura?

Participating in the same programme, the LTTE's military spokesman, Rasaiah Ilanthirayan alias Marshall, said that the Anuradhpura air base was chosen out of many other Sri Lankan military installations because of its centrality in Sri Lanka's military structure in the North. The Anuradhapura base was a strategic communications, logistics and command centre, he pointed out. It was a training, medical and repatriation centre, and a springboard for campaigns in the Wanni and the northern parts of the Eastern province. It was from here that the SLAF was observing the goings-on in the LTTE-controlled areas of the Wanni and the deep sea through aerial surveillance by manned and unmanned aircraft, he explained.

Yogi revealed a historical angle to the choice. In ancient times, Anuradhapura had been the prime seat of Sinhala power. But because of periodical attacks by the Tamil-speaking Chola and Pandyan kings from South India, the Sinhala kings had to vacate Anuradhapura and repair to Polonnaruwa further to the south, which then became the centre of
Sinhala power, religion and culture. The LTTE's attack on Anuradhapura was a bid to re-create the past.

Militarily speaking, the attack had showed that an important base could be disabled in 20 minutes and that the LTTE's air force could fly in and out without being challenged, Ilanthirayan said. The attack had also inflicted an enormous financial and material loss which would take time to be made good, he added.

He denied the contention that the air attack was only 'cosmetic' as it had taken place 45 minutes after the land operation had begun and the airbase had been disabled. Ilanthirayan argued that the ground cum air action, which had taken place for the first time in the history of the LTTE, was a demonstration that the LTTE was progressing in its bid to move away from being a guerilla outfit to being a conventional armed force in which the land, sea and air forces could work in
coordination.

Ilanthirayan further said that the LTTE's attacks in Tissamaharama in the deep south and Anuradhapura in the North, in quick succession, showed that the organization could strike anywhere in Sri Lanka and that no place was now safe. "These attacks are part of a unified plan and should not be seen in isolation," he said indicating that the LTTE was working to a grand design and not haphazardly.

Why name it Elalan?

There was a historical basis for the attack being code named "Elalan" (or "Elara" ), Yogi said. Elalan was a famous Tamil king of Jaffna who was defeated and killed by the Sinhala king Duttugamunu. The latter had unified Sri Lanka under Sinhala rule by defeating Elalan, besides several Sinhala kings in other parts of the island.

"Since the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was portraying himself as the modern day Duttugamunu, Prabhakaran decided to deal a telling blow to him in the name of Elalan, and thus make a deep impact on the Sinhala psyche," Yogi explained. Incidentally, both Rajapaksa and Duttugamunu are from the Ruhunu area in South Sri Lanka.

Prabhakaran had been itching to get even with the Sri Lankan state after the latter inflicted defeats on him in the Eastern province over the past year. He wanted to avenge the hardships, displacement and other damages inflicted on the Tamil people during the Sri Lankan military operations there, Yogi said.

Political fallout

The successful attack on Anuradhapura had "sharpened" the Tamils' faith in Prabhakaran, and it was possible that the international community would also review its attitude to the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, Yogi said.

"Those countries which supply arms to Sri Lanka may begin to wonder if it is useful to do so. The US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's recent remark that all terrorists cannot be put in the same category and that one would have to differentiate between them on the basis of their reasons for existence indicates the possibility of a change in the American attitude. And she had gone to the extent of mentioning the LTTE," Yogi said.

"The attack on Anuradhpura has upset the Sri Lankan government's time schedule. It was thinking that it will defeat us soon and then impose a political solution on the Tamils. The time table for that now lies shattered," Yogi added.