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
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)
A: 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
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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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
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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: ‘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
Q: But, recently, there was a hue and cry by the LTTE, over civilians
being targeted in Kiranchi. What are your observations?
A: 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
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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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
LTTE’s international shipping network’s 2IC,
Singaporean Ilankoowan nabbed in the lap of luxury
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
On Monday (25), a police team from Mutwal, swooped down on a super
luxury lodge in Wolfendhal Street and arrested a Muttusamy Ilankoowan
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.