FACTBOX:Facts about Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger air wing

Wed Oct 29, 2008 4:12pm IST

(For a related story click on [nCOL410661])

Oct 29 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger air wing struck again and escaped an air force dragnet, in what analysts on Wednesday said was proof the rebels are not out of the war despite a punishing offensive against them in the nation's north. The raids on a Colombo power station and a northern military camp late on Tuesday are the eighth and ninth carried out by the "Air Tigers", known in the Tamil language as Vaanpuligal, since they shocked the world with their first attack in March 2007.

Here are some facts about the Air Tigers:

* Security experts say the ramshackle force of propeller-driven single-engine planes flown by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) may be the only combat air fleet operated by an insurgent group or any group on U.S. and E.U. terrorism lists. The LTTE is on both.

* The Air Tigers debuted in March 2007 when a single aircraft dropped homemade bombs on a barracks in an air force base next to the international airport in Colombo, killing three airmen and wounding 16.

* On Sept. 9 this year, a rebel aircraft bombed a major military base in Vavuniya, just south of the frontlines, in conjunction with a ground attack by "Black Tiger" suicide fighters that killed at least 25 in total.

* After the Sept. 9 attack, the air force afterward said it had shot the aircraft down, which the rebels denied. No evidence has been made public by either side.

* Five other attacks include: an April 2007 attack that inflicted minor damage Colombo oil storage facilities; another April 2007 attack on an airbase in northern Jaffna that killed six soldiers in combination with artillery fire; an October 2007 attack on an airbase in Anuradhapura in north-central Sri Lanka that killed nine and wounded 20; an April 2008 run at a military forward operations base in Welioya that damaged nothing; and an Aug. 26 attack on the navy base at the eastern port of Trincomalee that wounded 10 sailors.

* The air force's inability to stop previous attacks has been a source of frustration and embarrassment, but the military has said it can deal with the threat.

* Before the Sept. 9 attack, Sri Lanka's military had said the Tigers were flying three single-engine Zlin-143 light aircraft, believed smuggled onto the Indian Ocean island nation in pieces and reassembled. Military analysts had estimated the original fleet to have been as many as five, but no one but the Tigers can say with certainty, and they have not done so.

* The Zlin-143 has a small profile that makes it easy to fly at a low level to avoid radar detection. Since the military has put up anti-aircraft radar and stepped up combat air patrols, the rebels have usually kept their flights short. That has given them chances to strike and land in camouflaged jungle hideouts before infinitely superior air force jets intercept them. (Compiled by Bryson Hull; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani; Colombo Newsroom)

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