By Amantha Perera
IN the documentation of Eelam War IV, August
26 would be noted as the day that indicated
a significant shift in the fighting,
especially by the Tigers.
It was an important day for the Tigers and
was known as such in the Wanni. In leaflets
and letters the organisation had distributed
among the Wanni populace earlier, August 26
was the deadline given to civilians to
complete constructing bunkers. The Tigers
wanted civilians to build bunkers wherever
possible - behind houses, at junctions,
offices, playgrounds, in fact all over. The
Wanni was being turned into an open battle
field with civilians called up for military
training and former cadres being issued
notice to rejoin.
The significance of August 26 would be re-emphasised
in no uncertain terms that night when the
Tigers launched an air attack on the
Trincomalee Naval Headquarters. It signified
a change in the Tiger fighting mode. Up
until then the Tigers had fallen back deeper
into the Wanni when challenged by government
forces moving on four fronts along the
southern Wanni frontline - Task Force I on
the A32, the 57 Division on the Thunukkai/Mallavi
line, Task Force II in Palamoddai and the 59
Division in the Welioya sector. The other
significant theatre at Muhamalai had
remained deadlocked since August 2006 with
the two sides clashing thrice in August and
October 2006, and this April.
Five days after the air raid heavy fighting
erupted in a three mile stretch between
Vannerikulam and Akkarayankulam tanks north
of Thunukkai. The fighting was fierce and
intense, according accounts by both parties.
The Tigers had dug deep trenches linking the
two tanks using the waterways and had dug
in for the long haul. Two senior rankers -
Theeban, who formerly led operations in the
Muhamalai sector, and Bhanu had been placed
in the area to lead the cadres.
Theeban is also in charge of artillery units
and there were reports that the Tigers may
have moved a couple of large artillery
pieces into the theatre and also to defend
Last week too there was more evidence that
the Tigers had upped the ante considerably.
Around 2.50 am on September 9 artillery fire
rained down on the Wanni Security Forces
Headquarters just south of Vavuniya town
located on the eastern side of the A9.
The artillery was backed by mortar fire and
a group of Tigers had sneaked into the camp
through the Irrataperiyakulam jungles that
border on the eastern side. The runway and
air field that adjoin the camp also houses
the vital Indra radar systems. A fence
separates the air field from the army base.
Artillery and MBRL fire and shell fire
erupted from within the headquarters as well
as from other camps in Vavuniya. At 3.26 am,
the radar screens detected an unauthorised
blip that was heading south from the Wanni.
Five minutes later another was detected. The
Tiger Air Wing was airborne again and this
time was flying into join ground attack
backed by artillery fire.
The anti aircraft guns were also activated
and tracers and anti aircraft fire streaked
the air, similar to what took place over
Trincomalee on August 26. The army said that
the main target of the coordinated attack
was the radar systems. And the artillery
fire was to distract. The radar system may
have been the target for both the
infiltrators and the Air Wing which could
have dropped the homemade gravity bombs
close to them if proper coordinates were
relayed from the ground based infiltrators.
Some reports said that the infiltrators were
killed just 200m from the radar systems.
"Terrorists, intending to strike on the air
force radar station continued to direct
artillery rounds on the area, but radars and
other vital stations escaped unaffected and
remained intact. In the meantime, as the
LTTE artillery rounds fell, two LTTE light
air craft flew in on the Wanni Security
Forces Headquarters complex and started
dropping two bombs at about 3.30 am. Those
bombs, contrary to terrorist expectations,
fell on the officers' mess area and another
office complex in the area headquarters,"
the army said.
The Tigers' claim
The Tigers had fired at least 70 rounds of
120 mm artillery at the camp complex plus
the shell fire.
The Tigers said that the radar system was
damaged. Two Indians who were at the base on
work connected with the radar also sustained
minor injuries. The infiltration team had
cut through barbed wire from the sides of
Irrataperiyakulam jungles and entered the
camp. They probably used the Bangalore
torpedoes that were later recovered by
security forces to cut through the fences
and clear mine paths.
Unconfirmed reports from Vavuniya said that
a group of special forces men had detected
the intruders well in advance but had
pursued them in order to find out the aim of
the infiltration. Eleven bodies of the
infiltrators were later recovered along with
arms, communication equipment and GPS
devices indicating that some of them were
artillery spotters, giving coordinates to
guns firing from the Wanni. They probably
could have directed artillery fire towards
the radar stations if the opportunity arose.
There were five women among the attackers,
and they were attired in uniforms similar to
those used by the army. One dead Tiger was
seen wearing the dress code of the special
forces even to the extent of wearing the
black bandana, a special mark of the SF.
The team may have been inducted into the
area well in advance, probably using
Omanthai and then assembling for the
operation thereafter with handlers providing
the weapons and uniforms, going by tactics
used by the Tigers in the past. The team
however appeared to have been trained for
the specific mission. The Tigers later
released pictures of the team, but only 10
were posing with Velupillai Pirapaharan. The
Tiger leader also participated in paying his
respects to the Black Tigers where their
garlanded pictures were kept in front of
empty coffins at a undisclosed location in
The ground battles also left 10 soldiers and
one policeman killed, and scores more
injured including at least five civilians.
Most of them had been hit by artillery fire.
A few houses in the adjoining village,
Tekawatte, were also damaged by the intense
In the meantime, the Tiger aircraft flew
over the base, according to the Tigers and
dropped the pay load of four bombs on the
intended target - the radar and returned to
base. Only two of the bombs had exploded.
The air force however told a different tale.
A F-7 interceptor with air to air attack
capacity took off from Katunayake and
located one of the fleeing Tiger aircraft
over the southeastern Mulaithivu jungles.
According to Squadron Leader Sanjeewa
Adikari, a senior officer at the flight
control post at Katunayake, the pilot of
the jet identified the Tiger craft and
opened fire using on-board guns and
missiles. The Tiger aircraft was hit and
The Tigers denied that any of the aircraft
had crashed, but the denial came 12 hours
after the government claim. But neither side
has provided credible evidence to debunk the
other. The air force has not released
footage, either of the attack or others
obtained later of the area where the
aircraft supposedly went down.
Some air force sources say that the pilot of
the F-7 had in fact sought permission from
ground control to fire missiles at the Tiger
aircraft and was permitted to do so. When he
returned to base in Colombo he had been
welcomed by senior officers. The aircraft is
believed to have gone down in the Muliaveli
area - that is thick jungle - and unmanned
drones have been unable to gather any
pictures due to thick foliage, according to
air force sources. The mid-air confrontation
took place around 3.50 am according to the
The Muliaveli area lies ahead of the forward
lines of the army's 59 Division and is just
southeast of Mulaithivu proper.
The path taken by the Tiger aircraft over
Mulaithivu and the interception location
over Muliaveli indicates that it was flying
on a north-easterly direction. If the
aircraft were using the runways in Iranamadu
or south of it the path needs to be more
straight. The Tigers may be using an
airstrip in the Mulaithivu area or as some
have suggested a tarred road stretch. The
Zlins do not require large and lengthy
runways and 2km would do fine and that can
be easily located in the Mulaithivu area.
This theory of the Tigers using a road has
gained credence of late with press reports
in the south suggesting that a captured
Tiger operative has said as much quoting
Keerthi, a top Tiger intelligence operative.
So have other reports of foreign mercenaries
flying the Zlins. That rumour was flying
around blog sites and was based on the
manoeuverability achieved by the pilots of
the Zlins on top of the difficulties of
Last week's air attack was the second
successive in a 10 day span. But the Tigers
have not deviated from what they have shown
in the recent past, that they are loathe to
risk the longer flights as they did in March
and April 2007 over Colombo.
The last three attacks have been Welioya
(April 27, 2008), Trincomalee (August 26,
2008) and Vavuniya (September 9, 2008).
Areas close to Mulaithivu, and aircraft may
have been airborne for little over 30 to 40
mins. The preference has been to keep the
aircraft flying in areas on the eastern
flank of the Wanni and according to the
government security establishment the radar
is the prime target because it has detected
the flight very early.
Indian security analyst B. Raman has opined
that even if the Vavuniya attack was a total
success, its impact on the ground realities
in the Wanni would not be heavy.
"Even if it is established that the radar
has been severely damaged, if not destroyed,
this should not affect the on-going ground
operations of the Sri Lankan Army. The
mastery of the skies enjoyed by the SLAF
during day time ensures that the LTTE planes
could not pose a threat to the troops
engaged in battle. The absence of a radar
would not also affect the punitive air
strikes made repeatedly by the SLAF on LTTE-held
"The successful Vavuniya raid would be a
morale-booster for the LTTE cadres, but
would not turn the tide of the battle
against the armed forces," he wrote last
week in the South Asia Analysis Group's
In the overall scheme of things, the battles
between Vannerikulam and Akkarayankulam two
weeks back are far more significant than the
two attacks by the Tiger air wing with its
limited capacity. The ground component of
the Vavuniya attack is an indication of the
Tigers' ability to carry out attacks in the
south using suicide cadres, whose very
nature entails that there need not be a
retrieval or a get out plan. That will
always be there as long as the Tigers remain
a significant operational unit.
A similar scenario has been played out in
the southeastern regions where periodic
attacks beginning with the January 27
claymore at Helegama on a passenger bus have
spelt the presence of Tigers who are
committed to carrying out destabilising
attacks on soft targets.
Last week the latest such from the area was
reported when seven farmers were shot dead
in the Ithamale area, close to Kotiyagala,
an area that many suspect to be a haunt of
the Tigers who are operating there. They are
suspected to be operating from deep jungle
areas in small groups.
It was only two weeks back that a group of
Tigers infiltrating into the east from the
Welioya frontlines in the Padaviya area were
spotted and 10 in a group were later killed
by special forces members. But the
resistance in Thunukkai/Mallavi showed what
the Tigers plan to do in the coming battles
in the Wanni. The Tigers have placed cadres,
experienced battle hardened in long trench
lines with six feet high earth bunds with
gun-holes and positions, at regular
One has been witnessed running east from
Vannerikulam and probably there are more
such lines before Kilinochchi. They have
used the streams running through the areas
to build the trench lines. A similar trench
is reportedly present in the eastern flank
as well running west from the southern
reaches of the Nayaru lagoon toward the
Trench warfare is old as Napoleonic wars,
when armies with limited manpower dug them
to face large attacking forces and to limit
the chances of being outflanked and
outnumbered in open warfare.
The trench theoretically puts the onus on
the attacking force to breakthrough, while
those in the defensive trenches will wait
till attacked. But if a trench line is
broken or ruptured - the trenches usually
run in three tiers with interconnecting
links for communication, supplies and
mobility - especially at one of the
inter-connecting links, then there is
serious trouble for those manning them.
Government forces with greater manpower and
fire power feel that they can break the
trenches. It will take time and effort, but
they feel confident. The Tigers are staying
put to fight.
Tigers can't afford to lose Kili -
The importance of Kilinochchi as the
showcase of the organisation was
weighing heavily on the Tigers, and may
have prompted them to defend the town,
former LTTE eastern military head
Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan alias
Karuna told The Sunday Leader.
"Kilinochchi is an important place as
far as the LTTE is concerned. The moment
it falls, the LTTE would lose even the
(little) support of the Tamil diaspora
and Tiger sympathisers abroad. They
collect money based on the fact that
there is still a chance for the LTTE, as
Kilinochchi is still under them. But, it
will not be long before it falls. The
military should not give LTTE time to
regroup and reorganise. They should keep
on attacking without harming the
civilians," Karuna said.
He however observed that the chances of
civilians moving out of the Wanni on
their own were slim and that only
international intervention could assure
the Tigers' allowing them safe
"The Tigers will also not let the
civilians get out of their territory.
But, the international community should
intervene in this issue and make sure
that the civilians who are stuck in the
area are freed."
Karuna also said that when he was part
of the Tigers he was aware of supplies
sent for civilians ultimately ending up
with the Tigers.
"Those who worked for these humanitarian
agencies were also linked to the Tigers.
Therefore, most of the essential items
only reached the Tigers and not the
He warned that with the relocation of UN
and other international agencies present
in the Wanni, the Tigers could use the
absence of information and outsiders for
propaganda purposes. "The government
should be careful on this issue. If the
international community believed the
Tigers on this issue, then it will not
be good for the government," he said.
"The actual victory would not be the
military defeating the LTTE. The actual
victory would be ensuring the safety of
the civilians and also making sure that
fighting does not affect the civilians