In Washington, DC tonight? Looking lend some support to those displaced by the Sri Lankan counterinsurgency campaign? By drinking beer? Click here.
One author in the Indian Defense Review has drawn lessons from Sri Lanka's campaign against the LTTE. They are a far cry from FM 3-24. But are they better? Or even an alternative we Americans and our allies could opt for?
SECOND FUNDAMENTAL: GO TO HELL
Following from the first, the second principle of Rajapaksa’s ‘how to fight a war and win it’ is telling the international community to “go to hell.” As the British and French foreign ministers, David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, found out during their visit. They were cold shouldered for suggesting that Sri Lanka should halt the war and negotiate with the LTTE. As Rajapaksa said during the post-interview chatter “we will finish off the LTTE, we will finish terrorism and not allow it to regroup in this country ever; every ceasefire has been used by the LTTE to consolidate, regroup and re-launch attacks, so no negotiations.” Eliminate and Annihilate – two key operational words that went with the “go to hell” principle of the ‘Rajapaksa Model’. After Colombo declared victory the Sri Lankan Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka used words used by Rajapaksa. That the SLA will not allow the LTTE to “regroup”.
FIFTH FUNDAMENTAL: NO CEASE-FIRE
Rajapaksa’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who consistently maintained that military operations would continue unhindered. “There will be no ceasefire,” was Gotabaya uncompromising message. The clear, unambiguous stand enabled other prominent personalities in the Rajapaksa cabinet to speak in a uniform voice. “Human rights violations during war operations and the humanitarian crisis that engulfs civilians caught in the cross fire have always been the trigger points to order a military pull-back,” asserted Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Human Rights and Disaster Management. “The LTTE would always play this card in the past. They would use the ceasefire to regroup and resume the war.”
President Rajapaksa was clear that he did not want to go down that route. That was the traditional way of fighting the LTTE – two steps forward, four steps back. The Rajapaksa brothers’ commitment to a military solution was cast in stone. And it was anchored in a deft political arrangement. But first it is important to reveal the idea behind the political arrangement. “It was to ensure that there would be no political intervention to pull away the military from its task of comprehensively and completely eliminating the LTTE,” says a senior official in the President’s Office. “Prabhakaran was aware of the political contradictions in Sri Lanka and so was confident that the SLA will not indulge in an adventurous, all guns blazing, a full onslaught against the LTTE.”
The well-traveled Bob Kaplan weighs in:
"Clearly, then, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps should be studying the Sri Lankan civil war for valuable lessons about how to win a counterinsurgency, right? Actually—no. In fact, there are no useful pointers to be gleaned from the Sri Lankan government’s victory. The war was won using techniques like the following, which the United States could and should never employ.
"The insurgents are using human shields? No problem. Just keep killing the innocent bystanders until you get to the fighters themselves. There is no comparison between the few civilians that have been killed by American Predator drones in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and the many that were killed by the Sri Lankan government. The Americans have carefully targeted select al-Qaeda members and, in the process, killed a few—at the most, dozens—of civilians among whom the fighters were surrounded. By contrast, the Sri Lankan military indiscriminately killed large numbers of civilians—as many as 20,000 in the final months of fighting, according to the United Nations...
"So is there any lesson here? Only a chilling one. The ruthlessness and brutality to which the Sri Lankan government was reduced in order to defeat the Tigers points up just how nasty and intractable the problem of insurgency is. The Sri Lankan government made no progress against the insurgents for nearly a quarter century, until they turned to extreme and unsavory methods. Could they have won without terrorizing the media and killing large numbers of civilians? Perhaps, but probably not without help from the Chinese, who, in addition to their military aid, gave the Sri Lankan government diplomatic cover at the UN Security Council."
As I sort through my pile of vacation emails, I found this op-ed that my colleague MZ passed along last week. I don't know much about Sri Lanka, but I remember some of our readers clamoring for more coverage of the end of the long-running war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers and its lessons for counterinsurgency.
A couple things strike me about this piece, though:
--Its key point, "Perhaps the most important lesson is the debunking of the widely held belief that terrorism cannot be quelled militarily...All too often, the greatest obstacle to military success is the starry-eyed interference by third parties insisting that only diplomacy and negotiation can bring a true end to terror-based conflicts," puts this piece squarely in the Edward Luttwak school of thought. Luttwak also derides the brand of population-centric counterinsurgency found in FM 3-24 as essentially too wimpy for the task at hand and prescribes the use of force without much regard for collateral damage as the only real way to victory. That's all well and good, but I don't think that this "Real Men Do Civilian Casualties" line offers (or should offer) a compelling lesson for Western strategists dealing with insurgencies today and in the future. I don't think emulating the approach of Romans, Germans, or Sri Lankans is really an option that is open to us.
--The LTTE seems to have been centrally directed by its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in a way that the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan are not. The Iraqi and Afghan insurgences appear to be more cellular in structure and not impacted very much by the killing of individual leaders (though maybe we just haven't gotten the guys high enough on the food chain yet). Perhaps one explanation for why the Sri Lankan approach worked was because they had one obvious head of the snake to cut off, while the different enemy factions in Iraq and Afghanistan are a bit more amorphous.
--The authors caveat themselves at the end after starting their column by lauding the sweeping Sri Lankan victory. They warn that the LTTE's overseas supporters may well resort to terrorism to carry on the Tigers' torch. So maybe this military triumph hasn't solved everything after all.
There is something disturbingly reassuring in watching real honest-to-goodness traditional propaganda. It gives you a false sense of superiority, in a sort of twisted way, to chuckle at some of the better examples of ham-fisted story twisting, either of the deliberate or the accidental sort.
The past masters of this, of course, were the Soviets. And for sheer amusement value almost nothing could surpass the antics of Baghdad Bob . So admittedly, in comparison to these masters, the efforts of the Ministry of Defense of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka are somewhat thin gruel. Still, it can be worth a chuckle to follow the twists and turns that propaganda may take.
Most recently the Washington Times, one of the most conservative papers in the US, has the curious distinction of publishing an op-ed in favor of a Socialist government which just won the conventional phase of a civil war with the heavy backing from Communist China (which came about after the US cut off military aid and advice back in 2007). That Monday Op-Ed is now highlighted, in turn, by the Socialist government, albeit with some confusion about the difference between the Washington Times and the Washington Post.
Here’s the front page of the Sri Lankan MoD.
Here is the MoD’s extracted synopsis of how the “Washington Post” (apparently some confusion there with the Times) supports the Sri Lankan way of war.
And here is the Washington Times original.
Strange bedfellows indeed.
On a more directly topical note, how many think that what was happening in Sri Lanka these past four years (out of more than 20 years of conflict) was an insurgency? How many understand it to have become a traditional conventional Civil War with some terrorism thrown in? And what is or should be the role of propaganda for either side? In the US we have laws about propaganda, mostly as a backlash to the First World War. But is there a legitimate role? When does "information" cross the line into "propaganda"?
But the Tigers' legacy remains intact. Their perfection of suicide bombings, their recruitment of women and children, their innovation in IEDs, have been emulated by other terrorist groups worldwide, from al-Qaeda to Hezbollah. Though they considered themselves superior to jihadi terrorists -- who regularly target civilians -- the Tigers opened the door to terrorism as a strategy of liberation and resistance to an unwanted government or occupying force. And they reached a standard of deadly efficiency envied by U.S. enemies and terrorists around the globe. ...
Over more than three decades, the LTTE perfected suicide terrorism by loading all sorts of vehicles with explosives: cars, boats and even bicycles. They devoted a unit especially to suicide bombing, recruited cadres of child soldiers known as "baby tigers" and launched a women's unit commanded by women. They attacked the government by air and by sea and used operatives who defied terrorist profiling. ...
The LTTE's improvised explosive devices (IEDs) set the industry standard. Using a combination of military-grade explosive packed with ball bearings that performed like buckshot, the belts were far more deadly and effective than anything used by jihadi terrorist groups or suicide bombers in the Middle East and elsewhere. When al-Qaeda made inquiries in 2001 into whether the group would share its advanced technology and IED blueprints, it was told in no uncertain terms, as my sources said, "No, we don't want to kill Americans." The leaders whom I interviewed in December 2002, all dead now, looked down on Islamic suicide bombers. "We don't go after kids in Pizza Hut," one high-ranking Tiger leader told me in a clear reference to Hamas's 2001 Sbarro attack in Jerusalem, which killed 15 civilians (including six children) and wounded 130. ...
To counter the Tigers, the government implemented a policy of targeted assassination and did it with amazing accuracy. And though they did kill off the entire LTTE leadership in the end, Sri Lanka would do well to keep in mind that in other parts of the world, killing the leadership simply radicalizes the next generation and does not resolve the conflict. [emphasis added]
The Sri Lankan government yesterday announced it was ending the use of air and artillery strikes in its war with the Tamil Tigers, after weeks of denying that it was using such tactics.
Under intense international pressure to end the fighting, the government claimed combat operations had reached their conclusion and it would now concentrate on rescuing civilians. However, there was no sign of an end to the fighting, which has claimed the lives of at least 6,000 civilians in the last three months.
The statement appeared to contradict previous claims by the military that it had not been using heavy weapons.
With the government on the cusp of victory in its 25-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Manik Farm “welfare camp” is designed to mark the next phase in the conflict – the war for the hearts and minds of the Tamil people, for whom the rebels have for decades claimed to be the sole representatives.
Outlawed in the west and India as a terrorist organisation, the LTTE once occupied most of north and eastern Sri Lanka in its quest for an independent Tamil homeland free from the domination of Sri Lanka’s ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority.
But since a ceasefire broke down in 2006, the rebels have gradually been driven into an 87 sq km pocket, in an area known as “the Wanni” in the island’s remote north-east. The cadres have herded with them into the pocket up to 250,000 civilians, according to estimates from aid agencies.
With the Tigers believed to be making their last stand, the fate of these trapped civilians has become a matter of international concern – nowhere more so than in India, the regional power which has its own large population of Tamils.
*The Financial Times is rapidly becomming my favorite newspaper, by the way. Not that you care.