Sri Lanka blackout on Air Force losses
[TamilNet, Monday, 26 March 2007, 22:24 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s President held an emergency meeting of the country’s security leadership Monday as the government imposed a total blackout on the Liberation Tigers' bombing raid on Katunayake, the island’s main airbase in the early hours. Whilst the government says only two helicopter gunships were slightly damaged, airmen coming off duty told reporters in Colombo that several SLAF jet bombers were put out of action by fierce fires which broke out in the hangars struck by the LTTE aircraft. Up to 40% of the SLAF’s strike capability has been knocked out, they said.
Residents near the airbase which shares a runway with the island’s sole international airport said security had been greatly increased in the area.
During the day Monday journalists were kept away from the airbase by heavily armed air force troops who searched surrounding areas with dogs.
Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) officials who attempted to visit the Air Force base Monday to initiate inquiries into the attack were refused access to the site by top Air Force officials, an SLMM spokesman told the Daily Mirror.
SLMM spokesman Thorfinur Omarsson said the monitors however managed to visit the injured at the Negombo hospital and would make another attempt to visit the air base Tuesday stressing it was important that access is granted for the monitors to rule on the incident.
Meanwhile, only two propeller-driven Pucara ground attack aircraft and a seaplane took off from Katunayake all day Monday.
A significant section of the SLAF’s jet bomber fleet, including several Israeli-made Kfirs are based at Katunayake.
At least six Kfirs were housed in the hangers bombed by two LTTE aircraft in the early hours Monday.
The LTTE bombs had triggered fires and secondary explosions in the hangars, airmen who came off duty Monday told reporters.
The Sri Lankan government has played down the attack saying only two bombs dropped by the LTTE aircraft exploded.
But several press reports in the early hours quoted residents being woken by at least four loud blasts followed by gunfire.
Tourists in the international terminal speaking to international agencies also reported a series of loud explosions amid gunfire.
In an analysis comment for rediff.com, B. Raman, a former counter-terrorism chief of India’s intelligence service, RAW, said that the LTTE airstrike had damaged or destroyed several aircraft.
“Two helicopters, reportedly given by Pakistan, were badly damaged. There was also some damage to the Israeli aircraft of the Sri Lankan Air Force,” he wrote.
The bombing raid by two LTTE aircraft coincided with a Gala musical function being held by Sri Pagnananda Maha Vidyalaya school, located 2 km west of the airport.
Students were lighting firecrackers at the event, which was being attended by several airmen, when the bombs had struck the airbase.
Indiscriminate firing by panicked security personnel in the wake of the explosions had led to a number of friendly fire incidents, with casualties, airmen also said.