A popular TV show on the model of the "Indian idol" coupled with the annual Gajaba Super Cross motor race had distracted the Sri Lankan forces on duty at the Anuradhapura airbase so much, that the LTTE could easily infiltrate and destroy at least eight military aircraft costing US$ 30 to 40 million in the wee hours of October 22, media reports said.
The Gajaba Super Cross was a major event on Sunday, October 21, and the armed forces personnel were in the thick of it all. The same night, there was the Super Star Singer competition on Sirasa TV, one of the most popular programmes, which no Sri Lankan would miss, and the troops at the Anuradhapura base were no exception.
The result of such exhausting and exciting preoccupations was that the security system had not detected the assembling of a group of over 21 heavily armed LTTE commandos just outside the base under cover of darkness.
As the Tiger commandos cut the wires of the fencing and sneaked into the base, there was no resistance from the guards on the outer perimeter, The Sunday Times reported. Adding to the Tigers' convenience, the "electric fencing" had not been electrified, another media report said.
It is recalled that when Tiger aircraft attacked the Katunayake airbase in April, most Sri Lankans were watching the Cricket World Cup finals on TV. And when their commandos attacked the same base in July 2001, they had cut through the barbed wire fencing unnoticed by the defenders.
In last Monday's attack, Tiger suicide commandos, armed with Light Anti-tank Weapons (LAWs), Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), Mark 82 Chinese hand grenades, IEDs, Czech pistols, T-56 and AK-47 assault rifles, explosive laden suicide belts, walkie-talkies and satellite phones, went about systematically destroying the parked aircraft both inside and outside the hangars.
The Sri Lankan defenders took five hours to clear the area. While some of the attackers blew themselves up, others were killed. According to The Sunday Times, there might have been more than 21 attackers, probably 27, whose identities the LTTE might have chosen to hide to enable their escape.
Air attack cosmetic
The paper said that the "air attack" component of the assault on the Anuradhapura base was "cosmetic" as the damage done was outside the air base and minimal too.
The two Czech-made Zlin 143s were dispatched only after the commanders in Wanni were sure that these aircraft would not come under ground fire or air action. They came after the ground based Sri Lankan guns had been silenced, and the parked aircraft were destroyed or damaged in the ground attack. But to the credit of the Tiger pilots, they were able to fly back to their base safely.
Operational capability impaired
The Sunday Times said that the aircraft destroyed inside the hangar were two UAVs, one MI-17 troop carrier and four Chinese-built PT-6 basic trainers. Aircraft destroyed outside the hangar were one US-built Beechcraft 200 surveillance plane, one Chinese built K-8 intermediate jet basic trainer, one MI-24 helicopter gunship.
Aircraft damaged outside the hangar were a UAV, three PT-6 basic trainers, five K-8 jet trainers, and four unserviceable Sia Marchetti bombers. One MI-24 gun ship was damaged on the runway.
"The attack does heavily affect the SLAF's pilot training operations with the loss of five PT6 training planes and a K-8 (jet) trainer. In addition, the SLAF's fleet of MI-24 helicopter gun ships was particularly hard hit, losing three choppers and having another damaged. This may lead to some loss of close support for ground troops in operations," The Sunday Island said.
"The loss of three un-manned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is again a serious one, sharply reducing the SLAF's reconnaissance capabilities."
"By far the most important loss, in the light of the on-going ground operations in the Wanni, is that of the Beechcraft. This aircraft (converted to be a reconnaissance vehicle) had played a crucial role in the SLAF's success in (the on-going) Eelam War IV, flying high in the skies and guiding jet bombers successfully to their targets," The Sunday Island said.