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Evolution of Sri Lanka’s Counter Insurgency Strategy 2002-2009

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  • March 04, 2011
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch, SM, VSM (Retd)
    Discussants: Shri N Manoharan & Shri M R Narayan Swamy

    Hemantha Dayaratne’s paper focuses on the Sri Lanka’s counterinsurgency campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In his view, the military strategy adopted by the Sri Lankan army offers an example for other countries facing similar internal challenges. He discusses the fragile peace process started in 2002 and critically analyses the role played by Norway in facilitating the process. Dayaratne argues that Norwegian facilitation could not achieve the desired result because: i) of Norway’s inability to inspire the confidence of Sri Lankan Government and its efforts to equate the government with a terrorist organization (LTTE); ii) lack of sincerity on the part of the LTTE, which used the ceasefire to strengthen itself; iii) differences between then prime minister Ranil Wickramsinghe and then president Chandrika Kumaratunga. Moreover, Norway was partial towards the LTTE which made the latter even more inflexible. Thus, the peace process did not succeed.

    After Rajapakse’s election as president, the LTTE launched several attacks, which forced the government to undertake military action. For its part, the Sri Lankan government took advantage of the division within LTTE (Karuna’s defection) and through an innovative strategy pushed the LTTE into a small area created by the army called the “no fire zone”. This strategy helped defeat the LTTE. The US war on terror post 9/11 also provided an opportune moment for all out military action against the terrorist group, LTTE. Dayaratne also states that in this operation preventive measures were taken by the Sri Lankan government to guard against civilian casualties and human rights abuses. He concludes that the failure of the Norwegian Peace Process, the use of military force and the overall strategy of the Sri Lankan government was entirely judicious and led to a successful campaign

    The major points of discussion and suggestions to the author were:

    1. Excellent account of the COIN strategy applied by the military and of the Norwegian Peace Process, but could have been more detailed in terms of providing an insider’s view of the whole process that led to the dismantling of the LTTE.
    2. Though mainly expressing author’s personal experience , the paper could have attempted to establish links between the actual evolution of Sri Lanka’s military and COIN Strategy and diplomatic aspects of the process.
    3. Norway has been singularly blamed for the failure of the peace process without taking into account intrinsic factors like LTTE’s arrogance in the political sphere, India’s role in neutralizing LTTE camps, and the fracture in LTTE’s top echelons.
    4. One important detail that is missing in the paper is LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s role in the defeat of the outfit, committing blunders like killing of Indian Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi which led to India’s non-intervention
    5. The role of navy and air force both of which had a major contribution in the operations have been overlooked.
    6. Disparity of information regarding human rights abuses is evident in the paper.
    7. COIN campaign can be said to have been successful only if the root causes have been addressed, which the paper does not mention.
    8. Not viable to use as a lesson / example of successful COIN strategy for other battlefields like Kashmir, Afghanistan, etc. as these cannot be isolated like Sri Lanka.

    Report prepared by Anwesha Ray Chaudhuri, Research Assistant, IDSA