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
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.
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.
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.