Colombo, Oct 22 (UNI) At least five Sri Lankan Air Force personnel were killed and two MI-24 helicopters damaged in a pre-dawn attack by Tamil Tiger rebels on an air base at the North-Central Anuradhapura district, the military said.
Death toll of the pre-dawn attack rose to five and 18 more were wounded, according to latest claim by the Air Force.
Police has declared a local curfew in Anuradhapura and adjoining Mihintale towns to assist the troops engaged in post-dawn clearing operation.
''First a group of LTTE cadres have infiltrated the Anuradhapura SLAF Base and launched the initial attack around 3.20 am. A few minutes later at least two LTTE light aircrafts carried out an air attack on the base, destroying two MI-24 helicopters,'' Military Spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara told UNI over the phone.
''The LTTE aircraft believed to have come from the northern Vavuniya direction and dropped at least two bombs on the Air Force base before escaping from the scene,'' he said.
The military spokesman also said that another Bell-212 helicopter which was coming from the Vavuniya Sri Lankan Air Force base aiming to engage the LTTE cadres attacking the Air Force base was force-landed at Mihintale due to technical failure and prevailing bad weather.
''This could have also been damaged because it was forced landed at Mihintale, located a few kilometres north of Anuradhapura,'' Brig Nanayakkara said, adding that the armed forces and the police are conducting a massive joint operation to bring the situation under control.
Meanwhile, LTTE military spokesman Irasiah Ilanthirayan has confirmed the attack.
''This is the first time the Tigers have combined both air and ground attack in a raid,'' the rebel spokesman was quoted by pro-LTTE Tamilnet.com website as saying.
Another pro-LTTE Tamil language website, puthinam.com reported that at least six Sri Lankan Air Force ground attack supersonic jets have carried out air raids in the rebel-held Wanni region around 5.30 am.
Anuradhapura is an ancient sacred Buddhist city attracting thousands of local and foreign tourists right throughout the year.
This is the fifth time that the LTTE light wing aircraft have carried out air attack this year. The last attack was carried out on April 28 here, targeting an oil and gas supply stations.
Subsequent to the LTTE's April air strike, the government said it has acquired anti-aircraft systems and guns and vowed to destroy the LTTE air force completely.