Military Matters

Sri Lanka Air Force 57th Anniversary falls today                                                                                                         

                    Out of the blues                           

Up, up and away… a force to be reckoned with in its own right

Air Force Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke on Friday was interviewed by The Nation at the SLAF headquarters, on the 18-month-old war

Following are excerpts:
By Keith Noyahr
Q: Eighteen months into the war, how would you assess the contribution of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), which celebrates its 57th anniversary on Sunday (02)
As I told you in a previous interview, teamwork is the main thing. We cannot do this thing by individual effort. Every success, we share as a team. When faced with difficulties also, we tackle them as a team. So, I think, teamwork brings much success and that is why we can consider the SLAF to be doing very well.

Added to that, I could confidently say that the pilots, the technical people, the air traffic controllers, medical staff and even the personnel guarding the air bases, are all very committed to ensure that the SLAF performs its primary and other associated tasks well.

Support to the Army and the Navy, is provided to their satisfaction, while also conducting are own bombing campaigns, searching out terrorist hideouts, targeting their fighting capability, ammunition dumps, fuel dumps, Sea Tiger facilities, training facilities, vehicles, artillery gun positions. When these are targeted accurately, their fighting capability is reduced, their morale declines, affording all those forcibly conscripted people an opportunity to escape the terrorist outfit.

Q: You mentioned reducing the Tigers’ fighting capability, but somehow, they have been able to withstand the onslaughts in the Wanni and the northern fronts all this while. How do you account for that? Do you think they have enough assets to be destroyed?
They are now confined to a small land mass. Earlier, they were spread over vast areas in the east. So, when they have been flushed out and confined to a small land mass, they will try and defend it as much as possible. We are taking it very slowly; not in a hurry to go forward. As and when the opportunity arises, we will strike. You don’t see the heroic roles played by the soldiers in the jungles; it is a very difficult environment they are fighting in. You cannot hurry them. They work according to a plan and are progressing slowly but, surely.

Q: The LTTE has been losing many assets. But, when it comes to their artillery guns, why is it that they are difficult to take? Is it because they are towed away to safer locations after firing?
From the SLAF point of view, the long range artillery guns are fired from a long way off. You got to be mindful of the artillery guns, as they keep firing, when trying to move forward. But, that would not stop us from going forward. Whenever we see artillery locations or, whenever the Military Intelligence gives us locations, we take them on.

Q: What is your assessment of the number of artillery guns they may have at the moment?
I don’t think it is right for me to comment on that; I think, the Army Commander would be in a better position to make that assessment. But, the fact is they have some heavy weapons.

Q: Besides taking on their assets and reducing their numbers, midway, the SLAF was ordered to fly low and take on Tiger leaders in their bunkers, using bunker busters. What was the purpose?
Well, when you isolate the leadership from their cadres, the efficiency of that organization drops drastically, due to lack of command and control. We are targeting their leadership to keep them down, not allowing freedom of movement. They must be moving in the particular areas they have, but, for sure, they must be under much pressure now.

Q: You mentioned that they are confined to a small area, but the Wanni is a large expanse of land. Even in the past, when they were uprooted from the east, they withdrew to the Wanni jungles. As a guerilla organization, don’t you think they can use the jungle terrain to prolong the war, as they are doing?
They will try those tactics but, what you see is, essentially, an Army that is on the offensive. So, it is only a matter of time, before the Army clears them from their hideouts. They can hide and do things in the jungle, as long as it is not cleared. But, when it is cleared, the advantage is lost.

Q: I understand that the LTTE camps are being moved into civilian enclaves, to make the Tigers less vulnerable to air strikes. What is your take on that?
Being terrorists, they could resort to such actions because they really don’t care very much for the civilians, but would definitely do so for their own survival, as that is how a terrorist’s mind works. They are very selfish. But, as responsible organisations, we in the tri-services exercise much restraint and caution, because we cannot harm civilians. But, when they approach civilians, we get to know of it, since civilians provide us with information of the Tigers’ whereabouts.

Q: Some diplomats have observed in private, that the purpose of declaring war, officially, was to engage in carpet bombing and indiscriminate artillery and MBRL fire, to speed up the process. What is your take on that?
‘Eelam War IV’ has been on for one-and-a-half years. Have we ever resorted to carpet bombing? These are not strategies we would resort to. It is not necessary, since we are provided with accurate information on terrorist locations. We don’t waste our resources on causing damage to civilian installations.

Q: But, recently, there was a hue and cry by the LTTE, over civilians being targeted in Kiranchi. What are your observations?
Kiranchi is one of their main camps. We have taken on the Kiranchi camp twice or thrice, so they keep shifting locations in that place. This time, when we took that target, we know we caused massive damage to their boats, their infrastructure, and some terrorists were also there.
My position is that we attacked one of their camps and caused severe damage to their shipments.

Q: Moving on to the new roles the SLAF would play, with pitched battles ahead in the Mannar region and Weli Oya? Would we see the Mi 24s in full swing?
We have been using the Mi 24 and jets according to their specific roles. Even recently we used the Mi 24s.

Q: What is the level of cooperation between the three armed forces?
At the moment, there is excellent cooperation and coordination between the Army, Navy and Air Force, otherwise you can’t do these things-- activities in the sea, activities on the ground and activities in the air. Coordination and cooperation is the key. It is not only the Army, Navy and Air Force, the Police and the STF also play an important role, not to mention the Civil Defence Force that has been involved in a lot of detections.

Q: On procurement, will you be taking delivery of more Mig 27s?
No, we received four more, so, there is no additional requirement for the present. One day, we will have to replace these aircraft, for which the Mig 29s are under consideration.

Q: What about replacements, following the Anuradhapura debacle?
Of course, we will need more assets and we are functioning as if it did not happen. There have been certain losses which we declared and we are in the process of doing certain things. But our strike potential is untouched. We suffered a little in the training area, but the surveillance may be a minor setback.

Q: The SLAF marks its 57th anniversary. What has been its contribution down the line?
All the commanders played their roles. They did what they could in their time and met all the challenges. It was a result of all their actions and our actions now, that, from a ceremonial outfit, we have become a fully operational one. We have much work in the future, too. While thanking the past commanders, the future commanders will have work to do with the changing scenarios.


Ilanko runs aground in Colombo

LTTE’s international shipping network’s 2IC, Singaporean Ilankoowan nabbed in the lap of luxury

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was awaiting an important visitor on Monday, February 25. It was none other than UN Assistant Secretary General Angela Kane, and the last thing the President wanted was any major human rights violations, while she was around.

However, orders were not given to stall all cordon-and-search operations within the city or, even if it was, it didn’t trickle down to all the police stations.

On Monday (25), a police team from Mutwal, swooped down on a super luxury lodge in Wolfendhal Street and arrested a Muttusamy Ilankoowan alias ‘Samy’.

Ilango or, Ilanko, as he is also known, was the second-in-command of the LTTE international shipping network.
In fact, Ilanko, a Singaporean national, had, reportedly, arrived in Sri Lanka, with the intention of filing a case against the Sri Lankan government, to claim compensation for the destruction of one of his ships.

Inquiries revealed that Ilanko owned the MV “Irish Mona”, which was plundered by the LTTE on August 29, 2007, while on a voyage to Jaffna, transporting 136 civilians. Two Dvora fast attack craft of the Sri Lanka Navy were destroyed during the confrontation.

It is in question whether the government in power at the time, had ever known that the ship belonged to an LTTE agent. Ilanko is now suspected by sleuths, of claiming compensation for the unserviceable ship, after setting up the background to destroy two Dvora craft.

Sleuths believe that Ilanko fled to Sri Lanka, when the Singaporean authorities were after him for training LTTE divers in Singapore. They believe that he returned to Sri Lanka under the pretext of claiming compensation for the ship.

The government version is that some of his ships, carrying weapons, were destroyed by the security forces, during the war. Ilanko is learnt to have hired passenger ships to successive Sri Lankan governments, to ferry people to the north and even slain UNP MP T. Maheswaran had a few such ships hired to this administration.

Not knowing that a prize catch was in custody, a senior police officer was trying to get Ilanko released, and have the police officer who arrested him, transferred. A top Military Intelligence officer had to then intervene and explain to the senior police officer that Ilanko was wanted in connection with a number of LTTE activities and was fairly influential within the terrorist organization.

Ilanko was handed over to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), according to a senior defence official, who tried to get information about the arrested suspect, but was politely told that any information in the media could hamper investigations, as other LTTE operatives would go into hiding. This is absurd, as the information, already on several government websites, would suffice to alert LTTE operatives.

Sleuths feel that the arrest of Ilanko could lead to further arrests and vital information of the LTTE’s international operations.
But, one government website, www.news.lk, posted a story that gave an unusual twist to it. Ilanko, according to this story, was believed to have confessed that he was responsible for abducting businessmen and extorting funds for the terrorist outfit, besides running arms shipments and drug smuggling.

The twist looks absurd, as the Defence ministry website had castigated a TV station for misleading the people with a report it aired, saying, Ilanko was abducted by men who came in a white van, when he was actually arrested.

It seems a bit absurd that a Singaporean national of his stature within the LTTE, would arrive in the country to mastermind a spate of abductions of Tamil businessmen. The same www.news.lk, story, in the same breath, says, he was a pilot Singapore Air Force for some time. The website went to absurd lengths to state that Ilanko had confessed that he met the leader of the LTTE suicide bombers training group in Singapore and was convinced that he should help the LTTE.

If he, as claimed, was coming to claim compensation from the government, for the destruction of one of his vessels, would he admit that he was a committed LTTEer?
He had, of course, told police that he had traveled to Jaffna, Vavunia and Batticaloa, before being arrested in Colombo.

While the Defence ministry website, www.defence.lk, went the extra mile to prove pictorially that Ilanko was highly connected to the top brass of the LTTE, with whom he has posed for photographs, the organisation has decided to remain mum on the arrest. Even the usually pro-active pro-LTTE Tamilnet had thought it fit not to report the news item or, even give it the usual twist.
However, the official TELO website reported on these lines: “The abducted Singapore national is Mr. N. Ilanko.

The Defence website has pictures of Ilanko with LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, slain Political Wing Leader S.P. Thamilselvan, LTTE Sea Tiger chief self styled Col. Soosai and a host of others.

Fifty-seven-year-old Ilanko joined the LTTE a year after the riots, it is claimed, and received Sea Tiger training in Kilinochchi and further training in South India. However, he fled to Singapore, when he was being tracked down by the Indian authorities. Ilanko, who received Singaporean citizenship, was appointed head of the LTTE naval division, after Captain David was taken into custody in Tamil Nadu in 1994, in connection with the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

Interestingly, another LTTE activist, G. Ilanko, a British passport holder, was arrested in Chennai, back in January 2007, in connection with a massive credit card racket, where he had in his possession 28 ATM cards. He had illegally withdrawn over Indian Rs 3 million from ATMs and sent it to the UK.

The Ilanko, who was arrested on Monday, was a billionaire, who owned three ships, even before he was appointed as second-in-command of the LTTE’s International Shipping Network under Kumaran Padmanathan alias KP, who himself was arrested in September last year in Thailand.

KP was later released owing to pressure from corrupt Thai military officers, who have been in the LTTE payroll for a while. Whenever senior LTTE officers are arrested, they are soon released on huge bribes running into millions of Bahts.
Another of KP’s deputies, Thavarajah, however, was arrested in Indonesia.

Ten years after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in May 2001, spread its dragnet to Malaysia, to track down KP, the absconding kingpin in the assassination case, and his associates.

The investigating agency approached its counterpart in Malaysia, seeking cooperation in the investigations by recording statements, seizing statements of bank accounts of the suspects and other documents. It also wanted KP nabbed, if he was still hiding anywhere in Malaysia. For this, an official communication was sent to the Malaysian Government, but KP remains a fugitive.

KP had, in the 80s, set up a shipping company in Kuala Lumpur, in the name of Vikram Holdings Private Limited, to transport material to the LTTE, through ships from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Thailand, USA and France.

Much of KP’s work fell on Thavarajah, his deputy, who also briefly went underground, following a major US, FBI breakthrough that netted 13 suspected Tigers in a sting operation in August 2006.

The following month, more arrests- mainly of foreigners- were made in connection with exporting arms to the LTTE. Again Thavarajah’s name did not surface. As all was quiet and his name did not come up, he dropped his guard.

On January 4, 2007, he undertook an important trip to Malaysia, to resume his all-important duties. The LTTE badly needed arms, ammunition and accessories for a critical phase in a decisive Eelam War.

Thavarajah who had traveled extensively to Indonesia, Malaysia, the US, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Afghanistan and Vietnam, had 12 passports of different countries on his person, at the time of his arrest in Jakarta. He had been purchasing military ware from these countries and sending them across to Sri Lanka. The Indonesian Anti-Terrorist Unit was responsible for the arrest.

At the time of Ilanko’s arrest in Colombo, he was staying at a lodge belonging to a Subramanium. Inquiries revealed that Ilanko had kept company with a senior police officer and an opposition politician who shielded him.
One of the major setbacks for the LTTE, during Eelam War IV, has been the arrests of several high ranking international operatives involved in fundraising, arms procurement and shipments.