Air Force Chief confident Prabhakaran critically injured in air raid
* Unprecedented resistance came from Tiger leader’s special anti-aircraft unit
* All 20 bombs hit the target, no underground bunker safe
* Defends purchase of MiG 27s: ‘They can carry more bombs’
* Pays glowing tribute to Gotabhaya: ‘The best defence secy’
by Harishchandra Gunaratna

Air Force Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonetilleke on Thursday said he was confident that LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had been critically injured in a series of air strikes on Nov. 26, 2007. The Air Force had, he revealed in an interview with ITN, dropped twenty bombs in the raid and all of them had hit the target. After that attack, he said, very little had been heard or seen of Prabhakaran, who didn’t even turn up at the funeral of senior LTTE leader Charles’.

He said the war would be over ‘very shortly’ but refrained from giving a timeframe.

Goonetilleke said the jets involved in the attack had come under very heavy anti-aircraft gunfire, which he said was a sure sign of Prabhakaran being there at the time of the attack. In the run up to the Nov. 26 attack, he said, the Air Force had taken several targets in the Wanni but LTTE resistance had not been so heavy. He said Prabhakaran had a special mobile unit equipped with anti-aircraft guns. Judging by the intensity of the LTTE anti-aircraft fire on Nov. 26, he believed, it had come from that special unit.

He said the bombs used by the Air Force were capable of destroying bunkers located deep underground.

In answer to a question, Goonetilleke said the Air Force had information that the LTTE may have carried out a missile attack on an earlier occasion but the SLAF jets were unharmed as they were equipped with anti-missile systems.

Before taking the Nov. 26 target, the Air Force chief said, he had briefed Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on the details of the planned air strikes and sought his permission, which had been readily granted as there were no civilians in the vicinity of the target, though it was close to Kilinochchi.

He said he didn’t subscribe to the view that Prabhakaran had left the country for treatment. "A terrorist leader usually doesn’t leave his movement at a critical juncture like this," he said, "as he fears that someone else might take his place."

He dismissed the news of Prabhakaran being treated in India as baseless rumours.

Speaking of his official residence, Goonetillke said, it was while residing there that he and his younger brother Shirantha had joined the Air Force. He said his brother had been killed when his fixed wing aircraft was hit by an LTTE missile in 1995.

"I am sure we can finish this war, before I leave this residence," he said adding that the mission of the Air Force was to target the LTTE leadership and crush the movement’s command structure.

He defended the government’s decision to purchase Russian built MiG 27s, which he said could carry more bombs than other jets. Kfirs, he said, were capable of air to air strikes. The successful Nov. 26 attack, he said, had been carried out with Kfirs and MiGs. The SLAF pilots, he said, were happy with the MiGs and if anyone had doubts, they could consult him and he would explain the correction position.

The Air Force chief paid a tribute to Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who, he said, was the best defence secretary the country had produced. "He knows our requirements and is more than willing to help us," he said.


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