Sri Lanka rebel suicide squad, planes hit air base

Oct 22, 2007 (AFP) - An elite Tamil Tiger suicide squad backed by light aircraft on Monday attacked a key Sri Lankan military base in an unprecedented ground and air assault, killing at least five soldiers. The rebels said 21 members of their "Black Tiger" unit and two light aircraft struck the Anuradhapura air base north of the capital Colombo under cover of darkness.

Five servicemen were killed and 22 others wounded, air force spokesman Ajanth Silva said.

Three aircraft were also damaged, while four other airmen died when their Bell-212 helicopter gunship crashed due to a "technical problem" while racing to the area to fend off the attackers.

"The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) infiltrated the air base and also dropped about two bombs.

Two Mi-24 helicopter gunships and a K-8 trainer aircraft were damaged," Silva told reporters in Colombo.

He said the bodies of 20 Tamil Tiger rebels were also recovered after the attack at the base, situated around 210 kilometres (130 miles) north of the capital.

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The attack comes after a string of setbacks for the rebels, who earlier this year were ejected from their last stronghold in the east of the country.

The government also clai

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