Military exercises in south may be aimed at containing terrorism

Military exercises in south may be aimed at containing terrorism

Bangalore: India will hold military exercises in its southern peninsula next year, a move defence analysts said is aimed at controlling terrorists such as Tamil Tiger fighters operating from neighbouring Sri Lanka.

The military plans to extend exercises to the far south, Mahesh Upasani, a spokesman for the Indian Air Force, said in New Delhi. Aircraft, naval vessels and troops ended manoeuvres last week near Thiruvananthapuram and Hyderabad, the ministry of defence said in a statement.

“The navy is spreading its wings by going to the southern part of the country," Bharat Karnad, a defence analyst at the Centre for Policy Research, said. “One of the aims of the military exercise could well be dealing with the menace posed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)."

India and Sri Lanka have increased naval patrols in the Palk Strait between the countries to combat LTTE, which is fighting for a separate state in areas of Sri Lanka it controls. The Indian Navy said LTTE changed its arms smuggling operations in response, state-run broadcaster Doordarshan reported on 26 November.

An estimated 60,000 Sri Lankans are in camps in Tamil Nadu that lies about a two-hour boat ride across the waters, the United Nations says.

French-made Mirage-2000s, Russian-built Su-30s, Mi-8 helicopters and unmanned aircraft were involved in last week’s exercise, the ministry said in the statement. Fighter jets simulated “friendly and hostile forces" over long aerial ranges and air-to-air refuelling units were used.

The navy and coastguard provided rescue ships and the army deployed troops and manned a communications network. Satellite images provided analysis of the simulated attacks on targets, the ministry said. The exercise was aimed at protecting sea lanes and air space, Upasani said.

Next year’s training will be “the first time that such a peninsula-based exercise of a tri-service nature is undertaken by the army, air force and navy in the southern states," said Dipankar Banerjee, director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

LTTE has an estimated 12,000 fighters in its land forces and a 4,000-member naval unit known as the Sea Tigers. It unveiled an air wing when light aircraft bombed areas near Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, in March and April. “One worrying factor is the aerial capability of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam," Banerjee said. “It poses certain challenges to the Indian coast."

The conflict between the Sri Lankan navy and rebels is also on the rise, Banerjee said.

“Concerns have widened in recent years," he said. “This exercise is a response to the changing situation."

LTTE is moving operations to Kerala from Tamil Nadu, Doordarshan cited vice- admiral Sunil Damle, who heads India’s Southern Naval Command, as saying last month. The Indian Navy in February began round-the-clock patrolling of its waters off Tamil Nadu and coastguard vessels are monitoring the International Maritime Border.

Thirteen nations, including Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, are participating in a military gathering in January in Port Blair, naval spokesman Neeraj Sinha said from New Delhi.