Analysis: India to counter Tamil rebels

By KUSHAL JEENA, UPI Correspondent  |  Jan. 2, 2008 at 10:22 AM
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NEW DELHI, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Aimed at countering ground and air attacks by rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, India's armed forces say they will undertake joint military exercises in the southern peninsula early this year.

"The threat perception to India has increased, as LTTE insurgents have carried out coordinated ground and air attacks on the Sri Lankan armed forces," said a senior Defense Ministry official attached with the defense strategy and planning. "The armed forces have been asked to undertake a series of joint exercises early next year in the southern peninsula."

LTTE is fighting for a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east.

"The threats from across the borders with China and Pakistan had been the main focus of the armed forces ... so far. But with the LTTE carrying out a series of air attacks in the last nine months, it has become imperative to be prepared for the threat emanating to the country's security from its vast southern coastline and sea-borne intrusions," said Rajiv Sharma, a defense analyst.

This marks a shift in India's defense strategy, as it would be the first time defense strategists and planners would focus on threats from the southern peninsula. Since early 2007, Tamil rebels have launched air and ground attacks on Sri Lankan armed forces stationed in and around the Jaffna peninsula.

"The government is closely monitoring the situation in Jaffna," said Defense Minister A.K. Antony.

Armed forces have planned military exercises to cope with any attack in the southern peninsula, a senior Army official said.

The Indian foreign and defense establishments were surprised when the LTTE successfully carried out a bombing mission at night using two small planes covering around 400 kilometers of flying distance.

In the proposed joint exercises, which the government says are designed to ensure safety of the country's vital sea lanes, armed forces will engage frontline fighter aircrafts of the Indian air force, along with warships from the navy, coast guard and army formations dedicated to sea-borne assaults. Defense planners have also planned war games to deal with the threats of intrusions from air and sea lanes by terrorist groups and to deal with sea hijackings.

"The armed forces should have been carrying out such exercises long back as the LTTE is getting stronger day by day," said A.B. Mahapatra, director of the Center of Asian Strategic Studies, a think tank that deals with security-related issues in South Asia.

India, which has been accused of helping LTTE rebels in the past, said the joint exercises in the southern peninsula are not targeted to help Sri Lankan forces but to provide security cover to Indian sea and territory. India stopped intervening in Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict after former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed in a suicide bomb attack by Tamil rebels in 1991.

"The focus of the IAF in 2008 would be on the southern part of the country," said an Indian air force official. He said the southern area has so far been left out. In December, the IAF carried out a joint strike called Dakshin Prahar.

The Defense Ministry said the threat perception had heightened in the wake of LTTE rebels bombing a Sri Lankan army area close to Colombo airport. New Delhi is also worried for its nuclear power facilities at Kalapakkam in the southern state of Tamil Nadu because the single-engine propeller-driven aircraft that LTTE has in its possession has the capability to strike at India's nuclear facility.

Indian security and intelligence agencies have also cautioned the government, armed forces and military of a possible strike from Tamil rebels after hundreds of tons of explosives were recovered recently from a rebel boat off the Tamil Nadu coast.

The Indian navy and coast guard have carried out intensive patrols using hovercraft, surface ships and aircrafts.

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