Transcript- Air Chief Marshal Roshan Gunatillake

Posted on September 8, 2010


08 September 2010

 Air Chief Marshal Roshan Gunatillake

C.R. de Silva: At the outset I must thank you for having come  over here despite your very busy schedule to help this Commission insofar as our work is concerned, and before I commence I wish to outline the general procedure which is adopted by the Commission.  You can make your representations either in public or in camera. The choice is yours. 

After you conclude your representations the Commissioners are entitled to ask you questions to clarify matters which arose in the course of your representations or any matter that is relevant to the terms of the Warrant and you can respond either in public or in camera. The choice is yours.  Nobody else can ask you questions. If the public is here they cannot ask you questions. It is only the Members of the Commission who are entitled to ask you any questions for the purpose of clarification. That is the general procedure adopted by the Commission. 

Do you want to give evidence in camera or in public?

Gunatillake: We have no reservations.

C.R. de Silva: I don’t think the public has come. Anyway if they come, they can be accommodated.

Gunatillake: Yes. 

Good afternoon. First of all let me thank you on behalf of the other two Service Chiefs also for inviting us here today to present our side of how we did this humanitarian operation. As you know we fought a very ruthless terrorist organization, the LTTE, classified “ruthless” not only by us but by very many foreign agencies as well. So being terrorists their modus operandi generally is to hide behind civilians and fight, and the LTTE was no exception. On various instances we came across this issue. So our task was much more difficult, because we encountered this civilian issue quite often and it was a big obstacle for the ground troops, because we found that the LTTE generally hid behind the public, the civilians, and tried to do their terror activities.

There are some exceptional situations in this; I must say that we were given specific orders by the Government, especially by H E the President, that there should not be any harm to the civilians while we are free to do our anti-terrorist operations. I think the other two Service Commanders will also attest to this. We were specifically ordered not to do any action that will harm civilians. So with the directive from the leadership of the country and with the correct guidance of the Secretary/Defence we were given a very strict framework to work on.

I must mention the No Fire Zones. I am just telling you things in general before I get into specific issues. There were No Fire Zones demarcated. There was one No Fire Zone demarcated and then subsequently when the terrorists took civilians hostages and went to a different location we did not ask the civilians to come back to the original No Fire Zone. But we demarcated that as the No Fire Zone. I am telling you this to tell you how much consideration went into the safety of our people, that is the Tamil people, at that time, who were held hostage by the LTTE. Then as the fighting progressed in the humanitarian operation at the very last stages His Excellency the President ordered me to stop air force operations. He said from this point on, you cannot conduct any air operations because it might be harmful to the civilians and then I think the Army was also ordered; not that I think, but I know that the Army was also ordered to stop using their heavy weapons and the Navy was also ordered to do so accordingly.

So at the last stage it was with small arms that the Army fought and they continuously came across this civilian issue and now we are at a situation where we are in the last phase, if you want to put it that way, we are in the process of rehabilitating the ex-combatants so that they will be in a position to move into society and be responsible citizens. So that burden is also on the Government, and the Army, Navy and the Air Force have special places where we give them vocational training and things like that so that they will be ready to face society. Actually we have the Commissioner General also here in case you want to question him on that issue. So with this overview, you may want the Army, Navy and Air Force to give specific presentations after which you may ask questions as you said.  You may want to start with the Army first?

C.R. de Silva: Since you started, you can start with the Air Force.

Gunatilaka: Okay. Actually, our consideration is mostly for the safety of civilians while doing air operations. There were lots of allegations leveled at us; that we were doing indiscriminate bombing, that we have bombed places where there were children and so on. But I would like to point out to this Commission how much of care we take, the procedure that we follow before we decide to take a target and while taking a target the safety measures that we follow. Initially we get a lot of intelligence, human intelligence as well as electronic intelligence and intelligence from our surveillance assets and also intelligence from the Directorate of Military Intelligence that has a vast amount of knowledge and information with regard to terrorist activity.

For example, say we get a terrorist training camp – if you want we have some slides also which we can show you later to convince you that what we say is exactly that- and once we get this picture with the details of the target and the area and things like that we send our UAV assets or the beechcraft and other surveillance assets and we get the Long Range Patrols of the Army also to check the accuracy and we get a very clear picture of what it is. In this endeavour we tried to find out whether there are schools, civilian habitations or places of worship or anything else that might get damaged if we take this target from the air. Once we are satisfied with all of this then we send these pictures to the attack squadrons that we detail to take the target and they study this and once we decide to take the target we match our weapons according to the target and we send our UAVs up to the sky and we give a live picture to the squadron that is going to do this while monitoring the target from Air Force Headquarters as well, because we have the technology to see the UAV pictures in our Ops. Room as well, and then they take the target and I must say that the Pilots have been very accurate. In every instance we have been hundred percent spot-on and we take the target. 

We have all these images; because we had these images we were able to ward off any allegations that were leveled against us. Once all the targets at Headquarters – the Director/Air Operations prepares these targets – they have to come to me and I personally check the targets again and I see whether there are any chances of collateral damage that can take place. Sometimes some of the targets -we know very well that there are certain terrorist leaders hiding here; there is a training camp there – but we had to stop, wait without taking those targets because there were civilian habitations close to these targets. So this is the targeting procedure that we have adopted.

Also going on to other things we managed to use our unmanned aerial vehicles in a very aggressive manner to spot the enemy movements and to give the Army, Navy and Air Force very valuable information so that they can attack the terrorists and not anything else. Sometimes we keep the UAVs airborne 24 hours a day. We send one and when that is going we send an aircraft and then we send another UAV. So morning, noon, and night we have been having these UAVs in the last phases of operation. That is why we were able to show the entire world how those civilians, those people, came running out of LTTE hands just before that final battle took place, the LTTE was sort of making allegations that the civilians were with them, but then the way that they came out – the rest is history.

Everybody knows – we managed to capture them on film and show the diplomatic community.  I think His Excellency the President also came and watched for himself these things. It gave us a very big advantage and then also we used our air assets to do casualty evacuations of those injured people who had come out of those areas injured due to LTTE fire, we brought them in and then all three services including the Air Force spent our own assets, our own funds to give lot of food to them when it was really required. These are the efforts that we made. I forgot to mention one other thing. Whilst these civilians were coming out there were one or two instances where the LTTE planted suicide bombers amidst these people who were coming out – they are a very ruthless terrorist group – and it actually killed some of the Army people and civilians, but still there were no excesses or anything like that. We were that disciplined. We did not react. We went on with the humanitarian operation. So as far as the Air Force is concerned this is what I have to say.

C.R. de Silva:You said there were some slides that you wanted to show?

Gunatillake: Yes. We can show you the procedure that we adopt to take a target.

C.R. de Silva: That will be very helpful.

(Power-point presentation)

Gunatillake: This film will show you our targeting procedure as well as the very clear images that we were able to get from the UAV. This is the type of targeting list that we get from the DMI giving the exact place of the target as well as a description of the target. You can see the targets being circled and given to the Air Force.

The film shows –

– The general location of the target when you take the map that the Pilot has to orientate himself with.

– With sources like the ground intelligence and other sources how we get more details of the target – the type of roof, the colour of the roof and then road going close to that.

– Some of the movements that you can see from the UAV.  It is very clear. 

– A terrorist movement going into that target area. You could see the terrorist vehicle moving into the target location. This is in the Puthukudiruppu West area. This is the target that was circled and you find terrorist movement here. For about a week we observed this target. 

– the building.  This is with the beechcraft. We reconfirmed the exact position of the target and   you can see the movement of LTTE also in this.

– How the pilot will see it before he dives to the target.

– A night recce that we did using our night cameras. Previously we had the UAV and beech both. This is the beech doing the night reconnaissance. This may not be very clear on the screen, but when we do the analysis we know exactly what is happening.

– The procedure we follow – DMI confirmation, revalidation, day recce, night recce. We match our weapons to the target and then my approval is obtained, the air crew is briefed and then engagement under observation of the UAV or any other surveillance asset that we decide to use. This is the actual target engagement (building shown). It is a hundred percent accurate hit. You can see the target before and after. Even the house a few yards away is not touched. I want to show the Commission how accurate we were and what pain we went into to analyze a target before we took it.

– Another footage as to how we attacked the LTTE artillery gun.

– An opportunity target; because we had the surveillance assets overhead 24hours a day.  Whenever the enemy moves we are able to spot them and either we take it or we tell the Army or the Navy.

– The gun exploding. (show in presentation). 

There are other slides of civilians being helped. I think when it comes to that we can show you those things. As far as targeting is concerned that is all that I have to say.

Chanmugam: Is it possible to give the dates?

Gunatillake: Yes. We can. Actually on the camera face itself you find the dates when the target was engaged. So probably we could give it to you in writing.

Palihakkara: When did you stop the Air Force?

Gunatillake: I cannot give you the exact date. I will give it to you. It was about two weeks before the 18th. When they moved into the second No Fire Zone His Excellency ordered us to stop the operations which we did. 

C.R. de Silva: Thank you.

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