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Sri Lankan separatists take fight to the air

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For the second time in two days, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launched a brazen attack on the Sri Lankan Army. The latest came after a suicide bomber killed seven by driving an explosives-laden tractor into an Army camp early Tuesday morning in Batticaloa district in eastern Sri Lanka.

But while the Tigers have launched several such assaults by land and sea, it was Monday's raid by two crude aircraft on a military base just outside Colombo that has left Sri Lankan military analysts worried.

For the first time in more than two decades of fighting, the separatist Tamil Tigers have launched an aerial attack, confirming that its military now includes a small air force, called the Tamileelam Air Force (TAF) or "Vaanpuliga."

These capabilities make the Tigers the first guerrilla group with the potential to carry out attacks by land, sea, and air, says N. Manoharan, a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) in New Delhi.

"This has added a new dimension" to the conflict, says Iqbal Athas, a columnist from Sri Lanka's Sunday Times. "The aerial capability of the Tigers has increased the threat perception for the Sri Lankan Army, which already has to deal with their formidable squad of suicide bombers and their sophisticated naval wing."

What worries Sri Lankan military analysts is the audacity with which two low-flying aircraft flew close to the nation's capital from an air base nearly 250 miles away and returned safely – all while avoiding radar detection and Sri Lankan Army antiaircraft missiles. The attack killed three Sri Lankan soldiers and injured 16.

Facts are disputed after air attack

While the Sri Lankan government maintains that only two helicopter gun-ships were slightly damaged in the raid, the Tigers say on their website,Tamilnet.com, that several Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) jet bombers, including the prized Israeli-made Kfir jets, were "put out of action" after being bombed by their aircraft.

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