Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vaan Puli: Calm Before the Storm?

The LTTE’s Air Tiger Wing (Vaan Puli) operations have receded to a lull with the element of surprise now lost. The lull is also subsequent to the installation of upgraded radars at the Katunayake Air Base. The LTTE is not the first and perhaps the last rebel-group to use airborne attacks on established armies. Apart from the 9/11 attack some rebel movements have targeted civil, military, and political targets in daring aerial attacks. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) launched a hang-glider attack on Israeli soldiers in November 1987.

A close comparison between these attacks and the attack by LTTE reveals considerable skill and success on the part of the LTTE in smuggling in, concealing, arming and resourceful use of its light Aircraft. The Air Tigers used home-made gravity bombs which were off-target in most cases. In the dark, they were guided by the lights at Katunakaye Air Base. However, the Tigers managed to expose the lackluster approach by the former governments and former heads of Armed Forces to the potential threat posed by a Tiger Air Wing. With that battle won, the Tiger Air Wing went into hibernation, maybe to reappear again when least expected. This time it could be a combined air, ground and sea assault!

The significance of the LTTE’s air attack in the post 9/11 period is that it has considerably increased the organization’s options for launching suicide attacks on selected targets. For the time-being LTTE seems to be using its Air Tigers sparingly with majority of strikes occurring at night to ensure low detection. However, given the organization’s insistence on Martyrdom for the cause of Tamil Ealam, Tiger pilots volunteering for Black Tiger (Karum Puli) suicide missions would not be surprising, especially if and when the LTTE has its back against the wall.

The LTTE is considered the leading non-Islamic ‘terrorist’ group to use suicide attacks on military and political targets both in Sri Lanka and abroad. The suicide attack killing former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on May 21st 1991, was the LTTE’s first ever cross-border terror attack. However, the majority of its suicide attacks have taken place in the sea.

In the post 9/11 scenario the group has not been considered a direct threat to Western Powers although an LTTE-like sea-borne suicide attack crippled USS Cole in Yemen on October 12th 2000. Another similar attack on USS The Sullivans on January 3rd 2000 failed after the suicide boat sunk under its own weight. The LTTE has been accredited with many successful sea-borne suicide attacks against the Sri Lanka Navy, sometimes using stealth boats allegedly designed in North Korea.

In terms of US interests, the threat posed by the LTTE’s air-wing seems almost negligible at present. US military assets in the Indian Ocean area are stationed in Diego Garcia, which is almost unreachable by LTTE’s light aircraft. However US warships infrequently dock the Colombo harbor for refueling purposes.

The United States government and the government of Sri Lanka signed an Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement (ACSA) recently to exchange Logistics, Support, Supplies and Services (LSSS) between their armed forces on request. The LTTE has traditionally been bitter over joint military exercises and trainings by the US Armed Forces in Sri Lanka for government troops. The LTTE’s Political Wing head, S.P. Thamil Selvan, in a statement issued soon after the last attack on Katunayake, disagreed with the opinion that it posed a threat to any foreign government.

2 comments:

Wathsala said...

Excellent analysis. Now let's talk about how to end this war!! We need a solution.

Thanks,
Watsala

Defencewire said...

Thank you Wathsala. A military solution alone will not suffice. It must be backed by a political solution. This is what even the most seasoned Generals have recommended. Power-sharing, devolution of power models are inapplicable unless insurgency is put down. the campaign by LTTE has crossed the boundary of minority rights into something much greater than that- cessation! Cessation too is not a solution to ethnic conflicts, especially when the geographic region is small (Sri Lanka 65,610km2). The solution, therefore is reciprocal. Both the government and the LTTE must reach a 'mutually hurting stalemate' to negotiate in earnest. It is upto the military forces to create a hurting stalemate for the LTTE and convince that war is costlier than peace.

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