The Fall of the Tamil Tigers - Counter Terrorism gone right

Sri Lanka has slapped it's critics in the face and proven that a military strategy can bring about the defeat of a terrorist organisation. This is not some egotistic, over patriotic remark.

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We have heard military experts claim that the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) cannot be defeated militarily. Some of those who carried that view were Indian generals who suffered at the hands of the Tigers when India sent troops to Sri Lanka in 1987. They are now quickly going back on their earlier remarks, only to now claim that a military victory is possible, but for long lasting peace a political solution is a must.

Hear hear! Thank you for stating the obvious. That has always been the strategy of the Sri Lankan government.

Every official statement made by the Sri Lankans in regards to it's path to peace has always confirmed that a military solution alone cannot squash the LTTE.

Mahinda Rajapakse
“I am firmly committed to a just and enduring political solution” to the Tamil question in Sri Lanka and “am clear that there are no military solutions to political questions.”
An example is the eastern province. The eastern province of Sri Lanka was under Tiger control. It was taken using military might. But once the military operations were complete, the administration and the governance was handed over to a former LTTE leader who shunned violence and took on politics. More importantly he was a Tamil.

Karuna Amman
One of Prabharakan's senior lieutenants defected in 2004 in what he says was frustration over his leader's intransigence. Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, who commanded LTTE combatants in the east, says he gave up on the struggle when Prabhakaran told his negotiators to reject an offer of federalism. "I told him, 'This is a good time to stop this. A federal situation is a very powerful solution,' " says Mr. Muralitharan, who is now a government minister in Colombo.
The Sri Lankan government will pursue a similar option for the northern province. One of the two men called to identify the body of Vellupillai Prabhakaran was Karuna Amman and Daya Master. The latter was a senior member of the Tamil Tigers up until he surrendered to the government forces. His surrender suggested that he has had enough of war.

Prabhakaran's continued defiance showed he had nothing but more war and revenge in mind. Daya Master could well be given a position of authority in the North.

Meet Daya Master - and be surprised. Impish. It's the only way to describe him really.

Wearing a Koh Samui, Thailand, T-shirt, he has a cheeky, boyish grin, and chuckles constantly. His laughter - infectious, full of fun - is extraordinary.

Extraordinary and surprising, because this really is not what you'd expect of a representative of one of the world's most ruthless rebel movements, the Tamil Tigers.

Good Morning Sri Lanka. A Soldier stands guard in the Wanni area (Photo:

To understand the significance of the military victory one must first try and grasp the fact that the LTTE was not a small rebel movement fighting against a huge sophisticated army.

The LTTE armoury exceeded $40 million USD. Two years ago it's collective wealth and cash at hand was widely acknowledge to be over $900 Million USD.

The Tigers had in their possession a fleet of freight liners for international arms smuggling. It had a full fledged naval force terrorising the coast of Sri Lanka causing headaches to both the Indian Navy and the Sri Lankan.

Their ground force exceeded 40,000 battled hardened cadres and thousands of civilians who received weapons training. The Suicide squad of the Tigers (Black Tigers) exploited the minds of impoverished women to blow themselves up for the 'cause'.

The LTTE was also the first armed insurgency cum terrorist organisation with an Air Wing.

The Tigers' intelligence wing had even infiltrated the Sri Lankan Army. There is a common understanding amongst Sri Lankans that politicians too had received large sums of money to make decisions in favour of the LTTE.

The Tigers had control of Sri Lanka, a firm grip on the country. But not it's people.

Despite the high cost of living and other day to day hardships, the people of Sri Lanka united to vote for Rajapakse's goal towards complete eradication of the terrorist group and rebuilding from ground up thereafter. Rarely does a government have the backing of it's people when it comes to war.

With that kind of firm faith placed in him, Rajapakse placed similar faith in his armed forces. Military spending in the '09 budget was $1.7 billion, 5% of GDP & 20% of the government's budget. Politicians were not allowed to meddle with military decision making.

To keep the masses from over reacting and to prevent fuelling the Tigers' propaganda flame, all military casualty figures were kept from the public eye. The Bush administration has drawn stark criticism to the move in the US. The American public was disheartened that their government did not give them the chance to honour the dead. In Sri Lanka people understood the move because they understood the power of the Tigers' propaganda wing.

The Sri Lankans drew up a battle plan which involved dismantling the LTTE's funding sources, researching LTTE's deep sea arms smuggling channels, and then taking out their freight liners.

Karuna Amman's defection led to the LTTE losing the eastern province, with it went a valuable recruiting base and an important coast line.

The Sri Lankan army's recruitment drive and beefing up the man power was significant in maintaining law and order in areas captured from the Tigers. This essentially meant the LTTE couldn't retreat and come back to carry out guerrilla style hit and run attacks in these areas.

The LRRP or the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (aka DPU- Deep Penetration Unit) did something the military had never done before. The unit was essentially the Sri Lankan's version of the US Army Rangers.

The LRRP Rangers were air dropped deep into enemy territory, into thick jungle terrain, where they spent weeks at a time gathering Intel on Tiger bases, the movement of their leaders and the positions of their anti-aircraft guns and artillery guns.

The Defence Ministry even highlighted a rescue mission carried out to rescue a squad of LRRP rangers who had been detected. See video below:

The coordinates of bases hidden from aerial view -- in thick jungle terrain -- was revealed to the Sri Lankan Air Force by the LRRP Rangers. The Tigers' camps and weapons dumps were taken out by precision air attacks. Senior weapons experts and experienced fighters were assassinated by the LRRP. The LRRP was taking on the Tigers deep inside their own territory. This added to the already existent paranoia amongst the Tigers. They did not know when and where they would be hit.

The LRRP (a.k.a DPU) lost one of it's rangers in June 2006. Tamilnet - the Tigers' official website - was quick to expose the unit's existence.

The LTTE's reaction to the LRRP assassinations was retaliatory attacks on civilians. Railway stations were attacked by suicide bombers which claimed large scale civilian lives.

That prompted the government to do the unthinkable. In 24 hours all Tamils living the Greater Colombo Area were required to report to their local police stations in order to be 'registered'. The defence secretary saw it as the end justify the means - he cared not for fundamental rights. The supreme court intervened by which time Gothabaya Rajapakse had managed to identify the innocent Tamils from the members of the LTTE. Anyone who didn't register or could not provide a valid reason for not registering, was a suspect.

The move paid off. It reduced the number of suicide bombings in Colombo drastically. There hasn't been a single suicide bombing in Colombo even as the Tigers faced defeat. There have been no political assassinations in recent times.

An untold story, however, is the work done by the Sri Lanka Air Force's newly acquired UAVs. Unlike ever before the Sri Lankans had an eye in the sky that the Tigers could not hide from. The UAVs worked over time, spying on the Tigers' every move.

The combination of the above factors and Prabhakaran's ego led to the complete demise of the world's most dangerous terrorist group. But you would argue that the above strategies have been tried before with little or no success.

That's where the moderate Tamils of Sri Lanka come into the picture. Within a population of 20 million there are 12% Tamils. Most live outside of LTTE territory. Tamils in the Armed Forces played a crucial role in providing military intelligence. Their names will never be known but their efforts wont go unnoticed.

After the 2005 Tsunami Prabhakaran used much of the Tsunami aid and donations to build his army. He failed to help his people which led to the loss of support from his own people.

All this meant that the LTTE had not only the Sri Lankan Army to be wary of. The self proclaimed protectors of the Tamils had enemies from within and spies in their own territory.


The LTTE was defeated not with the use of just military might. The Tamils themselves played a huge role in defeating the once invincible Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam.

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Anonymous said...

Milliband et al?

Anonymous said...

Brilliant piece.

Narmadi said...

Your articles are superb.
This is one of the very best.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article.

Ulrich said...

enjoy very much - thanks from Germany.

juan said...

Very informative indeed

Niel said...


Enjoyed your post on my SWJ blog. I think your conclusion is right. I am working a paper rejecting the "ruthless" thesis - i.e. that the tactics were responsible for the defeat. I agree with you that loss of external support/financing and internal fracturing caused the collapse. Thanks for your insights.

Are you aware of any published works (book/journal articles) along the lines (besides blog comment) you outline above?

Niel Smith

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