July 02, 2009

More on Sri Lankan Counterinsurgency

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."