Premier Manmohan Singh s government is unlikely to give up its role in Sri Lanka despite the recent media revelation of the presence of Indian personnel at the Vavuniya SLAF base which was targeted by the LTTE on September 9.
A section of the Tamilnadu political groups has urged the coalition to immediately recall personnel after the Colombo press reported the hospitalization of two Indians wounded in the LTTE s suicide assault on the base by 11 Black Tigers, half of them women.
For New Delhi, it was not solely a political issue. It is an essential part of its policy to prevent the Chinese from setting up state-of-the art 3D radar stations which would provide information of the altitude at which an approaching aircraft is flying in addition to distance and direction data provided by the Indian installed 2D radar.
India stepped in after the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga s government ordered Chinese radar to meet the emerging LTTE air threat. Although the plan was mooted during then Air Marshal Donald Perera s tenure as the commander, a radar network became a reality under Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke s leadership.
At the height of last week s battle, the SLAF had moved the wounded Indians overland under heavy escort to an army position located between Vavuniya and Medawachchiya.
`We deployed two BTR armoured personnel carriers to transport them there,` a senior official who had been involved in coordinating the counter-attack told The Sunday Island yesterday. From there, they had been evacuated by air along with seven SLA and six SLAF personnel wounded in the attack.
With the deployment of 2D Indra Radar System, New Delhi had committed Indian assistance to the SLAF s fledging air defence network, authoritative sources said.
Although the radar installed at Vauniya was able to provide only distance and direction of an approaching aircraft, it had played a critically important role in the timely detection of the two approaching enemy aircraft enabling sending a Chinese built F7 interceptor to down one of the retreating aircraft.
The Sunday Island learns that contrary to initial government claims of the forces comfortably thwarting the assault, the LTTE almost succeeded in destroying the radar station.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official revealed that some of the hit squad had secured a position less than 100 metres away from the radar before SLAF ground personnel killed them.
Of the 11-member group, eight died at the hands of the SLAF personnel who fought courageously. `May be they were about 75 metres away,` he said adding that direct attacks had failed due to protective measures taken by the SLAF. The SLA killed the remaining three.
The SLAF has received the first indication of the attack when a brief fire fight broke out in the adjacent SLA complex at about 3. 05 a. m. `Within minutes, the assault group reached the perimeter of SLAF line where a fierce gun and grenade battle broke out between the defenders and the assault group,` the official.
Once they had failed to breach the first line of SLAF defence, they had called artillery support to neutralize the SLAF position and also target the radar. Altogether, 34 rounds of artillery had fallen on the SLAF facility but fortunately none close enough to disable the radar.
The SLAF pointed out that unlike the earlier assault on the Anuradhapura air base last October, the LTTE had thrown a highly trained commando group, two aircraft and artillery targeting the radar. Had they succeeded, it would have extended the zone of their operations, another official said.
On the advice of Vavuniya SLAF base, jets launched from Katunayake had been advised not to engage the approaching LTTE aircraft as they could be hit by artillery fired by the LTTE or weapons fired by the defenders.
The SLAF had launched two Chinese interceptors and a Russian MiG 27 somewhere between them with a spokesman explaining that the heavy volume of anti-aircraft fire directed from Vavuniya and Madukanda had prevented the LTTE aircraft from even flying over the air base.
Of the four bombs dropped from the air, only one exploded, SLAF said, adding that the unexploded bombs were subsequently found on the SLA base.
An interceptor blew up one of the LTTE aircraft with air to air heat seeking missile south of Mullaitivu at 3.55 a.m.
The SLAF also launched a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) to locate an LTTE artillery position north of Omanthai paving the way for the army to successfully engage the target.
It has now emerged that the LTTE assault team could have blasted the radar station on its own had the SLAF resistance collapsed on the perimeter. The SLAF insisted that the radar facility was 100 per cent operational.
Had they knocked off the facility, so-called Tamil Eelam Air Force would have launched a follow-up attack, the SLAF said, expressing confidence of meeting the LTTE threat.
Sri Lanka installed a Chinese 3D radar facility in the Western Province to enhance security measures then in place to thwart an LTTE air attack on the city. This was done last year after the LTTE penetrated Colombo s air defenses.
At least a section of the establishment believes that the Chinese radar should have been set up in the northern region to help detect an approaching aircraft immediately after take off from the LTTE-held territory.
Meanwhile, navy headquarters spokesperson, Commander D. K. P. Dassanayake yesterday dismissed Indian analyst B. Raman s claim that that a website run by SLN Intelligence has reported slight damages to the radar.
`This is rubbish,` he told The Sunday Island. Dassanayake said that Raman s claim that this website was run by the SLN Intelligence was nothing but a figment of his imagination. Pre-retirement, the former RAW operative was a senior official holding the position of Additional Secretary of the Cabinet Secretariat.
Responding to our queries, Dissanayake said that there was only one website operated by the navy and that did not even refer to the September 9 incident.
Sri Lankan officials also criticized Raman over his recent claim that Iran has been funding Sri Lanka s procurement of armaments from China, Pakistan, India and Israel.