Kfir Mystery
US denies permission granted, but Israel sells Kfirs used to bomb Tamils

Israeli made Kfir fighter jets are one of the more lethal weapons Sri Lanka uses in its war against the Tamils.

In recent months, there have been quite a few media reports that, in May this year, Sri Lanka acquired several new Kfirs. The US State Department, however, has denied the sale of Kfirs to Sri Lanka.

US Congresswoman Sue Kelly in a letter addressed to one of her constituents [June 6, 2000] said, “Officials there (the US State Department) have told me that while there have been reports in the press about the sale of Kfir jets to Sri Lanka, the State Department has not received any information that would support this rumor. Any such sale would require agency comment and, at the current time, the State Department has not been requested to review such a sale.”

Although these fighter planes are made in Israel, sale to a third country requires US government approval because GE, a US based company, makes the engines.

Press reports on Sri Lanka acquiring Kfirs this year have been numerous.

Hindustan Times [May 12, 2000], reported, “Highly-placed Government sources indicated that as many as seven Kfir ground attack fighters from Israel have landed in Colombo… These ground attack fighters will augment the existing fleet of six combat aircraft (5 Kfir C2 and 1 Kfir CT2) of the Sri Lankan air force…”

Fredericka Janz writing in Sri Lanka Sunday Times [June 11, 2000] said, “Defence Ministry sources revealed today that the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) in two weeks will receive four new MIG - 27s and four Kfir Jets with a capacity to carry 1000 kilogram bombs. The present air fleet has the capacity to carry only upto 500 kilograms of explosives. The planes will be flown in battle for the SLAF by mercenary pilots.”

Kfirs have been used extensively for several years in the war against the Tamils. On a number of occasions they have been used to bomb civilian targets.

In May this year, the France based agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported, “… five civilians, including two children, were killed last Friday when Kfir jets bombed the fishing village of Pallikuda... People who came with the casualties said there is no LTTE base near Pallikuda and the communications tower was approximately six miles (10 km) from where the bombs were dropped…” [Reuters; 15 May 2000]

Virakesari [Nov 4, 1999] reported,  “Six civilians were killed when Kfir bombers bombed Pandiyankulam yesterday evening and two of them were students…”

On Sep 14, 1999, the UNI reported, “The Israeli-made Kfir supersonic aircraft made a sudden, swift and unprovoked attack on the refugee population who gathered at the market place for morning shopping…” 22 Tamil civilians died in this incident.

The list of Kfirs bombing Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka is indeed very long. Kfirs are not made for counterinsurgency operations, and when used as bombers result in broad destruction, including civilian casualties. Indian Express [Nov 5, 1998] quoted former air force vice-marshal Harry Goonetilleke as saying “The Kfirs are mainly used for fighting in the air, but we have bought them to fight the LTTE, which does not have an air force... It’s like using a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito...’’

As to whether Israel sold Kfirs to Sri Lanka this year, and if it did, whether the US government approved the sale, is shrouded in mystery with the conflicting reports.

US military assistance to Sri Lanka, however, is public knowledge. US has admitted training Sri Lankan troops, but says that it is part of a military program called Joint Combined Exchange Training, or JCETs, whereby the US military participates in training exercises in a number of countries around the world.

Dana Priest writing in the Washington Post [July 12, 1998] contends that, in certain instances, the United States Army stretches the spirit of the law that provides for this program (Section 2011 of Title 10 of the U.S. code).

She wrote, “[the law] allows the military to send special operations forces on overseas exercises on the condition that the primary purpose is to train U.S. soldiers. Some exercises comply unambiguously with the letter of the law. But a review of scores of missions found that many more have been used routinely for broader aims…”

“… In Sri Lanka, U.S. military training is described in a fiscal 1999 report to Congress by the State Department as an effort to ‘train key military leaders in human rights principles and procedures.’ In fact, in ‘fid’ exercises the Green Berets and SEALS have trained the Sri Lankan army in long-range patrolling, tactical reconnaissance, rapid reaction air and sea attacks and maritime operations that are aimed at depriving Tamil rebels of easy access to supply bases in Tamil Nadu across the Palk Strait in India, according to Defense documents and interviews. At least 500 Sri Lankan and 115 U.S. troops were involved in the 1996 and 1997 exercises. More have taken place this year.”

According to this writer the US army sometimes acts independent of the US government’s wishes. She states that the US army has provided assistance under this program to a number of countries “unencumbered by public debate, effective civilian oversight or the consistent involvement of senior U.S. foreign affairs officials.”

Obviously this is a broader issue, not unique to Sri Lanka, that cries for attention of everyone involved or affected. The US citizens especially should be concerned about the US Army acting without effective oversight by the civilian government.

This apart, the US also provides some military hardware to Sri Lanka, which it describes as ‘non-lethal’. What is the extent of this assistance?

The Federation of American Scientists, which monitors the sale of military hardware to various countries (Arms Sales Monitoring Project: http://www.fas.org/asmp/index.html), states that the following are the only official sale of arms to Sri Lanka since 1994.


Date of Notice

Description of Equipment

Transfer Type


Sri Lanka


40mm grenade launcher ammunition, produced under license in Spain



Sri Lanka


Two Bell 412 utility helicopters


$9 million

Sri Lanka


Two Hughes AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder artillery and mortar locating radars


$22 million

Sri Lanka


300 M35A2 2 1/2 Ton Cargo Trucks



Sri Lanka


Three Hercules C-130E aircraft from Great Britain


$8.8 M

Source: Table

It is interesting that the Kfirs don’t show up on this list – not only the disputed sale this year, but any since 1994! If the US has never approved the sale of Kfirs to Sri Lanka, how did Sri Lanka come to possess all these Kfirs?

It is certain that there is some rational explanation for this inconsistency. The US government doesn’t need to engage in cloak and dagger exercises, or to break the law in the US, to help Sri Lanka. It already helps Sri Lanka with plenty of cash through the USAID, Asia Development Bank, IMF and the World Bank.

And, Mr. Thomas Pickering, the US Undersecretary of State, said on May 29, 2000, “the government of Sri Lanka, I understand, has access to the world arms market, so it is in a position itself to acquire what it believes it needs …”

Full Text of Letter from Rep. Sue Kelly (19th District, New York) Congress of the United States

June 6, 2000


Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns over the proposed sale of Kfir jets from Israel to Sri Lanka. It was good to hear from you.

After receiving your letter, I contacted the Department of State to ascertain the status of these proceedings. Officials there have told me that while there have been reports in the press about the sale of Kfir jets to Sri Lanka, the State Department has not received any information that would support this rumor. Any such sale would require agency comment and, at the current time, the State Department has not been requested to review such a sale. While the sale rumor may be untrue, I have been informed that the State Department is currently reviewing the approval of the sale of parts for aircraft already in the South Asian nation.

I have been told that the pending matter is undergoing careful scrutiny. Officials at the Department of State share my concern over reports that the Kfir jets have been used in bombings which have killed large numbers of innocent civilians. All requests for military sales are reviewed cautiously to ensure products will not be used in gross violations of human rights. As this matter continues to undergo review, I will keep an eye on it, keeping our mutual concerns in mind.

Once again, thank you for contacting me. Please do no hesitate to contact me again with any questions or concerns you may have.



Sue Kelly
Member of Congress


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Sangam Research (24 August 2000)