Special Operations: The Black Tigers


October 26, 2007: Unique in the field of special operations are the "Black Tigers" of the separatist LTTE rebels in Sri Lanka. A force of about two dozen of these commandos raided the heavily guarded Anuradhapura air base, 170 kilometers north of the capital, on October 22nd, 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 reason for the LTTE attitude was that one of the aircraft destroyed, the Beechcraft 200 HISAR, was largely responsible for destroying most of the LTTE "navy" of small gunboats and transports that kept the LTTE force in Sri Lanka going, by smuggling in weapons and munitions. The Sri Lankan air force got the Beechcraft 200 HISAR five years ago, and since then the LTTE has been having a much more difficult time moving supplies in by sea. The Beechcraft 200 HISAR can also be used to search for LTTE camps on land, and this has kept the dozen or so bombers of the air force busy. Thus this one raid has greatly reduced the reconnaissance capabilities of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Before the raid, the situation looked very bleak for the LTTE, but now the LTTE has a chance to rebuild, unless the government quickly replaces the recon aircraft.

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.


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