Leadership: Black Day For The Black Tigers


September15, 2008:  On September 9th, the Sri Lankan military got a major morale boost when their Special Forces troops and air force defeated a three pronged attack on the Vavuniya air base in the northern part of the island. The LTTE (separatist rebels) were intent on destroying a newly installed Indian radar in the air base, and killing soldiers in an adjacent army base. But army Special Forces troops in the base detected the eleven LTTE "Black Tiger" commandos sneaking into the base, and maneuvered to ambush them. Meanwhile, the LTTE was sending its two single engine commercial aircraft, modified as light bombers, to bomb the base once the Black Tigers lit is up. At the same time, the LTTE had moved a few of their remaining 130mm artillery pieces to the front line, which was within range of the Vavuniya base. But the Sri Lankan Special Forces had already quietly alerted the entire base, and the new radar also spotted the income LTTE aircraft. The radar had been installed specifically to spot these low flying aircraft. The Sri Lankan got several F-7 (a Chinese clone of the Russian MiG-21) fighters into the air, and one of the LTTE aircraft was found and shot down. The Black Tigers were all killed. The LTTE artillery fired about 70 shells at the Vavuniya base, killing 14 and wounding 20 people.

But the big news was the defeat of the dreaded Black Tigers. Last Fall, two dozen of these commandos raided the heavily guarded Anuradhapura air base, 170 kilometers north of the capital, killing 14 air force personnel, and destroying eight aircraft (two MI-24 helicopter gunships, one Beechcraft 200 HISAR naval reconnaissance aircraft, three PT-6 trainers, one K-8 trainer and one Mi-17 transport helicopter). Eight other aircraft were damaged, but repairable. Nearly all (21) of the Black Tigers were killed in what the LTTE declared a successful operation.

The Black Tigers have been an elite force of suicide bombers for over twenty years. In that time, they have lost about 350 men and women while carrying out suicide attacks. There have been about fifty such attacks in the last year. There are only a few hundred people in the Black Tiger organization. The Black Tiger suicide bombers are carefully selected, highly motivated and well trained, enabling them to get to heavily guarded targets. The preparations for each attack are extensive. The LTTE will sometimes even conduct research to see what types of bombs work best. In one case, a live dog and goat were strapped into the front seat of a car, and then exposed to a bomb blast in the car to see if the bomb had enough force to kill. The bombers themselves undergo months of training and dry runs before they are turned loose with a live bomb.

The two dozen Black Tigers that attacked the heavily guarded Anuradhapura air base (north of the capital, far from the LTTE base areas) apparently planned their attack carefully, and carried it out successfully, despite the knowledge that few, if any, of them would come back. People around the air base remembered seeing some the Black Tigers before the attack. And the raid was coordinated with an aerial attack by two of the single engine commercial aircraft the LTTE uses as improvised bombers. The pre-dawn raid took the air force guards by surprise, and was over quickly, mainly because the raiders went straight for their objectives (the aircraft, especially the Beechcraft radar plane), regardless of losses. The air force security personnel had to kill all the raiders to halt the destruction of aircraft. In response, the Sri Lankan military are again revising their security measures, sure that they will have to deal with the Black Tigers again.

This time, the army was apparently expecting an attack. The army commando force has been growing in numbers and competence over the last few years, regularly carrying out patrols and raids deep into LTTE territory, and getting away with it. The fact that the commandos confronted a Black Tiger squad at 3 AM, and wiped them out, makes all Sri Lankan soldiers believe that the last few years of successful operations against the LTTE was not a fluke, but the result of better training and combat experience.




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