A smaller force for final battle
* Each ‘flying bomb’ carried 210 kgs of plastic explosives
* Low flying Tigers evaded F7 interceptors

With the area under LTTE control now down to approximately 70 sq. km in the Mullaitivu District, some of the fighting formations have suspended offensive action leaving three Divisions and one Task Force to finish off the Tigers.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara yesterday said that 57 and 59 Divisions and three Task Forces (TF II, TF III and TF 8) would engage in clearing operations in newly liberated areas while 55, 58 and 53 Divisions and TF IV would continue the offensive.

Addressing a special press conference at the Media Centre for National Security, he said that 55 Division was directing operations south of Chalai while three other formations were advancing on the enemy’s last bastion at Puthukudirippu.

He said that there was no room for all nine fighting formations to engage in offensive actions on the eastern flank.

At the time the armed forces launched operations in early September, 2006, the LTTE had controlled approximately 15,000 sq. km in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The army spearheaded President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s war on terror campaign to bring the Tigers to their knees in just two and a half years.

Among the items recovered by the army, particularly the 58 Division commanded by Brigadier Shavindra Silva are eight themo-baric weapons, ten 120 mm mortars, twelve 81 mm mortars, two 152 mm artillery pieces and two 130 mm artillery pieces.

He estimated the number of civilians trapped in the battle zone including the area declared as a safe zone on the Mullaitivu coast at 70,000. He said that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) operated by the SLAF had observed large groups of people in the safe zone recently declared by the government.

He placed the number of civilians who had sought refuge in the government held area in January and February at 35, 819.

Defence Spokesman, Minister Kheliya Rambukwella said that

Friday night’s abortive suicide mission launched by the Air Tigers was a desperate attempt to boost their sagging morale. Asserting that the two Czechoslovakian-built Zlin 143s had been the enemy’s last major assets, he said that transformation of them to flying bombs revealed the rapidly deteriorating military capability of the LTTE.

Responding to The Island queries, he said it had been claimed at one time that terrorism couldn’t be defeat. He said that battlefield victories had contributed towards the government victories at the recent Provincial Council polls.

"Had the LTTE planes dropped bombs on the city and its suburbs and managed to return to their base as they did previously, cartoonists would have had a time at the expense of me and the Defence Secretary," Minister Ramukwella said recalling a cartoon which had an LTTE aircraft going through the ears of the Defence Secretary and then through his (Rambukwelle’s) legs. The minister said he could what cartoons would have drawn, had the Air Tigers managed to escape again.

Minister Rambukwella said that there had been eight previous sorties by the Air Tigers.

Air Force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said five of the previous attacks had been directed at Colombo and Katunayake. Responding to The Island queries, he said that Chinese F7 interceptors had failed to shoot down LTTE aircraft approaching Colombo as they were flying extremely low.

The first F7 had been launched from Katunayake at 8. 50 p. m. ten minutes after the Indian installed radar station at Vavuniya detected the approaching aircraft at 8. 40 p.m, he said.

Immediately after the two Tiger aircraft had taken off from Puththukudirippu East, the army on the eastern flank knew the so-called Thamileelam Air Force would mount its last attack. The 12 GR (Gajaba Regiment) troops of the 58 Division commanded by Brigadier Shavindra Silva had heard the roar of aircraft engines. After having briefed an SLAF officer attached to the 58 Division of the impending attack, the army on the eastern flank went on the alert. The troops of the Task Force IV commanded by Colonel Nishantha Wanniarachchi, too, had heard the sound of the aircraft engines. The initial detection had been made at 8.35 pm.

"No sooner had they started the engines than we knew what was coming," a senior officer based in the Vanni told The Island. He asserted that the aircraft would have taken off from a part of the Paranthan-Mullaitivu road under Tiger control.

After taking off, the aircraft had flown over Olumadu, Wilpattu and Mannar before taking a coastal route to Colombo.

Nanayakkara said that the approaching aircraft had been subsequently detected by radar stations at Palavi and Mirigama before they reached Katunayake.

Minister Rambukwella, too, acknowledged the difficulty in shooting down slow moving low flying aircraft.

Nanayakkra said that both aircraft were brought down by anti-aircraft fire. The aircraft approaching Katunayake, home to SLAF’s precious jet squadrons responsible for causing massive losses on the LTTE, was shot down by 32 land based air defence wing. The Black Tiger who was at the controls had crash landed his aircraft after being hit probably by a 12.7 mm round, he said, asserting that this may have prevented the attacker from detonating the aircraft. "We recovered about 210 kgs of C4 plastic explosives from the aircraft. There were ten slabs of explosives each weighing 16 kgs and a 50 kg bomb," he said. Responding to queries, he said that the aircraft which veered off its intended target (SLAF headquarters) and hit the Inland Revenue headquarters, too, would have carried an equal load of explosives.

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