Taming the LTTE: Counterinsurgency Insights from Sri Lanka

  • Commander Mark O’Connell

For 26 years Sri Lanka was embroiled in a brutal civil war to control much of its countryside. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), waged an insurgency against the government’s forces, the majority Sinhalese Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF). LTTE attacked the SLAF with ferocity and ingenuity unmatched by any other terrorist organization. The LTTE were labeled “among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world” by the FBI; they revolutionized suicide attacks with the invention of the suicide belt, were the first terrorist organization to employ the use of chemical weapons, and the first to employ a cyber-attack against a state. In the early 2000’s the LTTE included a navy, air force, suicide wing, and an international funding organization that raised millions for the cause, while controlling almost a quarter of the Sri Lankan countryside. And yet in a little over four years, the LTTE was wiped off the map. This paper examines the conflict, its root causes, and the strategies used in order to garner insights.