Sri Lanka: Assessment of the End-Game



Much has already been written concerning the dramatic climax of three decades of war in Sri Lanka (see map).  Still, much remains to be assessed.  This is imperative, for the conflict, one of the most complex in recent history, provides a window into the heart of 21st century “new war.”[1]

The insurgency of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) privileged terrorism as a method of action yet ultimately fielded land, air, and sea regular forces, rounded out by powerful special operations and information capabilities. LTTE grew in capacity until it was capable of forcing the government to agree to a February 2002 ceasefire and the de facto existence of a Tamil state, or Tamil Eelam. It was this victory of sorts that produced a host of unforeseen consequences and led to the July 2006 resumption of hostilities that resulted in May 2009 total victory in the field for Colombo.

What makes the case particularly salient for examination is that it actually contains a number of distinct conflicts, generally labelled: Eelam I (1983-87), Eelam II (1990-1995), Eelam III (1995-2002), and Eelam IV (2006-2009).  These dates are negotiable given realities on the ground. The gap between Eelam I and II saw the interlude of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), which clashed bitterly with LTTE; while the gap between Eelam III and IV saw the effective rule of the Tamil Eelam in areas of the north and east.  This was accompanied by an uneasy ceasefire.  In fact, each of the Eelam conflicts involved periods of negotiation and cessation of hostilities, though all were problematic in implementation and intent (certainly upon the part of LTTE).  All involved foreign participation.  Further complicating the picture, the IPKF years saw Sri Lanka fully committed to suppression of JVP II, the second upsurge of the original Maoist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna uprising (JVP, People’s Liberation Front), which had erupted and been crushed in 1971 (i.e., JVP I).  In aggregate, casualty figures are subject to considerable disagreement but cannot be less than 120,000 dead.[2]

Having grown from a veritable band of angry young men to an impressive guerrilla group, then to a full-fledged army, the self-proclaimed flag-bearer of Tamil nationalism found itself caught in the same position as the South in the 1861-65 American Civil War: outmobilized and outfought. 

Regardless, the end of Eelam, when it came, was as spectacular as all other facets of LTTE’s three decades in existence.  Having grown from a veritable band of angry young men to an impressive guerrilla group, then to a full-fledged army, the self-proclaimed flag-bearer of Tamil nationalism found itself caught in the same position as the South in the 1861-65 American Civil War: outmobilized and outfought.  Its sometime foreign supporters, notably neighbouring India, had deserted it, and even a pronounced global shift of attitude with respect to what was acceptable in warfighting could not turn outrage to tangible pressure upon Colombo before the Tiger end came.  A force that at one point was thought to field as many as 35,000 combatants, found its manoeuvre-space squeezed by the inexorable advance of government columns using innovative, punishing tactics.  A last stand on a narrow stretch of northeastern beach saw total decimation, with considerable collateral damage among population forced to accompany LTTE as human shields.

LTTE itself admitted defeat on 17 May 2009, with its major figures overwhelmingly killed in action, to include the near-legendary leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who had emerged in the late 1970s as the group’s head and ruthlessly held the position throughout the conflict. Ironically, the book has not yet been closed, as a shift in the political winds caused any number of governments, led by European states and the United States, to turn on their former Sri Lankan partner and join cause-oriented groups in seeking sanction through international humanitarian and human rights law for what they charged was callous (and illegal) indifference to civilian casualties in the final period of struggle.  An outraged Sri Lanka became estranged from those democratic nations with which it had the most in common and reoriented its foreign policy to new regional forces, notably China.  Even the January 2015 upset win of an opposition coalition headed by a former ruling party intimate, Maithripala Sirisena, is unlikely to result in a shift fully in the direction desired by those who seek, in a sense, to mandate that war be something other than what it is, barbarous and cruel.

In LTTE Victory, Seeds of Defeat

The intractability of the conflict with LTTE was occasioned by the reality that the struggle, which was framed in the language of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, was more accurately a clash of contending nationalisms, with an increasingly beleaguered element of the national elite seeking to champion the fluid boundaries which saw communities mix and intermarry. The situation was further complicated by the reality that, while language and community were at the core of each national conception, the Sinhalese essence was defined by a Buddhism that was also a central element about which resistance to colonialism had rallied.  In contrast, Tamils had not only generally embraced the opportunities afforded by colonialism but were divided into the two communities discussed earlier, the indigenous Sri Lanka Tamils (further differentiated by region) and the Indian Tamils.  Ideologically, whereas the Sinhalese increasingly used political Buddhism as a tool for mobilization, the Eelammovement was informed either by the secular ideology of Marxism[3] or by the raw emotions of communalism, but a communalism that rejected the traditional structures of Tamil society (whether pertaining to caste or gender).[4]

It was changes in the international arena that dealt a wild-card.  The increased concern of the world with terrorism, already a factor in the new millennium but central after the “9-11” terrorist attacks in the U.S., caused additional Western countries to proscribe LTTE and move against its fundraising activities on their soil. LTTE was already banned in the United States and India (where it had been proscribed in 1992) when Britain announced its listing on 28 February 2001.  This was an important step, since the Tamil diaspora in the United Kingdom ranked second in size only to that of Malaysia.[5]Canada finally moved on 14 April 2006,[6] and the next month, the entire European Union followed with its own common position of proscription.

LTTE used the restrictions on Sri Lankan security forces to move aggressively into Tamil areas from which it had hitherto been denied and to eliminate rival Tamil politicians.  Throughout Tamil-populated areas, Tamil-language psychological operations continued to denounce the state.

Amidst these events, shortly after “9-11,” for reasons that remain unclear in the absence of evidence, LTTE in February 2002 suddenly offered to negotiate with the new UNP government.  Colombo accepted the offer, and an uneasy truce commenced.  The cessation of hostilities was a very mixed bag.[7]  LTTE used the restrictions on Sri Lankan security forces to move aggressively into Tamil areas from which it had hitherto been denied and to eliminate rival Tamil politicians.  Throughout Tamil-populated areas, Tamil-language psychological operations continued to denounce the state.  When, in October 2003, LTTE issued a proposal, Interim Self-Governing Authority(ISGA), which would have pushed beyond de facto realities to make it the de jure power in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, there was strong reaction in the increasingly restive, Sinhalese majority southern heartland of the island.[8]  President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, of the doctrinally socialist Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), watched uneasily and then asserted her power, in early November 2003, while her doctrinally free market rival, United National Party (UNP) leader and Prime Minister,Ranil Wickremasinghe, was in Washington meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush.  Claiming that the UNP approach was threatening the “the sovereignty of the state of Sri Lanka, its territorial integrity, and the security of the nation,” she ousted the three UNP cabinet ministers most closely associated with the talks, dismissed Parliament, and ordered the army into Colombo’s streets.

LTTE waited, but in the April 2004 parliamentary elections that were held as a consequence of talks between the dueling Sinhalese parties, SLFP unexpectedly swept back into power at the head of a United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).  The Tigers withdrew from negotiations but did not renew active hostilities, for they were preoccupied with what had once seemed unthinkable, a split within the movement.  Long chafing under the domination of LTTE by Northern Tamils, Eastern cadre under the leadership of longtime LTTE cadre Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (more commonly known as Colonel Karuna Amman) had revolted in March.  Though they were crushed in intense fighting followed by a wholesale vetting and purge of Eastern cadre and combatants,[9] the fracture remained permanent, with alienated Eastern Tamils, represented by Karuna’s Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP or Tamil Peoples Liberation Tigers), increasingly making common cause with the government.  This was to prove a key development in the events that followed.

As events on the ground served to strain the cessation of hostilities, contingency entered the picture with the devastating 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which left more than 35,000 dead.  Tamil areas were hit particularly hard.  International aid poured in, but the issue of how it was to be distributed stripped the last fig leaf from the unstated understandings that had given LTTE its Eelam.  When it demanded that aid be channelled through its own counter-state bureaucracy, with the original Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal taking on all the trappings of statehood, the strained ceasefire effectively collapsed.[10]

The “cease-fire” served as the ideal cover for the elimination of all the group saw as standing in its way. For LTTE remained committed to Eelam, whatever the verbiage connected with the peace process, and behaved as such.

Progressive deterioration of the situation followed, though LTTE was careful not to move too aggressively.  The “cease-fire” served as the ideal cover for the elimination of all the group saw as standing in its way. This included even the Sri Lankan foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, an ethnic Tamil, assassinated in August 2005; Sarath Ambepitiya, the judge who had sentenced Prabhakaran to two hundred years in jail in absentia for the 1996 bombing of Colombo; and literally hundreds of Tamil politicians and activists (including the misidentified) opposed to LTTE. For LTTE remained committed to Eelam, whatever the verbiage connected with the peace process, and behaved as such.  In his annual 27 November speech, delivered on LTTE Heroes Day, “President and Prime Minister of Eelam” (as he was billed by Tamil media) Prabhakaran warned that LTTE intended to renew hostilities if the government made no tangible moves towards “peace.”[11]

In what was seen at the time as but a tactical error yet one that ultimately proved fatal, LTTE ordered a boycott of a presidential election hastily held in November 2005 after a Supreme Court decision ruled that Chandrika’s presidential term had run its course.  Hardline SLFP Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa eked out a narrow victory against the UNP’s Ranil Wickremasinghe on some 73 percent turnout. Wickremasinghe would by all historical accounts have been the better option for LTTE’s plans, as its continued ceasefire violations dwarfed in number those of the government and steadily steeled the new Rajapaksa administration for what was to come.   A number of prominent LTTE suicide attacks, which included an effort to kill the army head, LTG Sarath Fonseka and a successful targeting of the army number three, pushed the situation beyond redemption.  Last gasp efforts by Norway, the lead facilitator of the attempted settlement, came to naught.[12]  As fighting became more general, suicide attacks hit even targets in the deep south, such as Galle. By August 2006, Sri Lanka was again at war, Eelam IV.

Back to the Future

What followed was unlike what had gone before. Often touted as a victory for “counterinsurgency,” the crushing of LTTE could be deemed such only in the sense that any civil war must by definition begin with an act of rebellion.  What ended LTTE’s three decades of struggle was an operational clash of arms not unlike the American Civil War in ferocity albeit quite distinct in its tactics and parochial features.  It is not these, though, that make the case so worthy of study.  Instead, what occurred was operationally a signal illustration of military adaptation executed in concert with national mobilization even as LTTE proved unable to do likewise.  Examined more strategically and theoretically, the vanquishing of LTTE as an illicit power structure[13] and the post-war conflict it unleashed serve to illustrate the profound changes that globalization has brought about in everything from the manner in which insurgency is waged to what is permissible in response.

The basis for renewed combat obviously lay in national mobilization, accomplished in the first instance as a consequence of a veritable declaration of Buddhist holy war by the powerful Sangha; in the second instance, by the Rajapaksa government, marshalling the financial support and determination necessary to rearm and re-equip an expanded military.

Precisely what occurred operationally is easier to describe than to explain, for even at eight years’ remove, considerable disagreement continues as to just who initiated key aspects of the reform and was responsible for a series of astute combat decisions.  The basis for renewed combat obviously lay in national mobilization, accomplished in the first instance as a consequence of a veritable declaration of Buddhist holy war by the powerful Sangha; in the second instance, by the Rajapaksa government, with Mahinda as president and his army veteran brother, Gotabhaya (also rendered Gotabaya), as Defence Secretary, marshalling the financial support and determination necessary to rearm and re-equip an expanded military.[14]

In the field, General (following promotion) Fonseka insisted upon a free hand that allowed him to field the finest galaxy of combat leadership that had surfaced until that time.  Innovative deployment of entire battalions as squad and even fire-team (i.e., “brick”) sized units schooled in light infantry (i.e., commando) tactics and able to call in supporting fires served to dramatically multiply the defensive demands for an LTTE now reduced to struggling to defend its pseudo nation-state.  Its governance, though innovative in some respects, had remained grounded in coercion, which made problematic the willingness of the populace to mobilize in defense of Eelam.  Indeed, one of the most contradictory aspects of the entire conflict was that throughout, best evidence demonstrated, a substantial proportion of Tamils, as well as nearly the entire Indian Tamil and Tamil-speaking Muslim populations, remained within government-controlled areas.[15]

First steps to seal off the battle-space and strangle LTTE’s supply lines came with a successful high seas campaign that hunted down and destroyed LTTE’s ocean-going merchant navy.  Simultaneously, the development of coastal high speed craft and tactics succeeded in neutralizing LTTE’s hitherto formidable swarm of maritime suicide craft.  The air force, though faced even in the final phase of the struggle with LTTE suicide efforts to attack Colombo, used overhead imagery and ground patrol coordination of targeting to eliminate the threat air arm.

On the ground, the progression followed was that laid out as early as 1985-86 military planning documents.  Seizure of the Eastern Province by July 2007, with help of the defecting Eastern Tamil elements of the TMVP (perhaps a majority of the most effective combatants), allowed converging columns to draw an ever tighter noose around LTTE forces trapped in the northeast coastal area – even as the first provincial elections were held to foster legitimacy for political reincorporation.[16] Mannar District, in the west, fell by August 2008, with the forces then able to move east.  Other units cleared Jaffna Peninsula and pushed south. The LTTE administrative centre of Kilinochchi was abandoned and fell to the government in early January 2009.  By early 2009, the remaining LTTE forces, with perhaps 30,000 civilian hostages as human shields, were trapped in the coastal area of the Nanthi Kadal Lagoon, north of Mullaitivu.  There, five divisions, a force conventionally put at some 50,000, crushed them by mid-May 2009.  In all aspects save the innovative tactics used by the Sri Lankan infantry,[17] the conflict had been major combat, featuring everything from heavy artillery to rocket launchers to extensive minefields and suicide attacks.[18]

When Colombo refused to heed calls from advocacy groups and certain Western governments, among them the United States and Britain, to allow some form of humanitarian intervention, advocacy gave way to outright opposition and siding with the defeated insurgents. 

This final point highlights that the end-game, coming as they did at the end of three decades of ever more brutal conflict that progressively brutalized all facets of Sri Lankan life,[19] most resembled the island battles of World War II’s Pacific Theatre with the very real caveat that, like Okinawa, Sri Lanka was heavily populated.  It was this reality that increasingly galvanized human rights advocacy groups, which became shriller as the climax rose to a crescendo.  When Colombo refused to heed calls from advocacy groups and certain Western governments, among them the United States and Britain, to allow some form of humanitarian intervention, advocacy gave way to outright opposition and siding with the defeated insurgents. This posture has continued in many respects to the present,[20] though the recent change of power has altered in some ways the shrill tone of state critique.

It is in this sense that the Sri Lankan case transcends the mere “facts on the ground.”  The tangible conflict, horrific as it was, nevertheless was fought by a democracy that maintained throughout the rule of law (albeit with very sharp elbows).  That major combat places the rule of law under severe strain is a reality that should be readily recognized, particularly given the trajectory of American warfighting since Sherman’s “March to the Sea” during the Civil War.  There appear to be no credible sources that claim Sherman gratuitously inflicted harm upon the innocent; but there are few sources that do not recognize his intense determination to embrace the very horror of war for the purpose of bringing it to a conclusion, a stance that delivered victory to democratic order, however flawed it might be.  This was the position in which Sri Lanka found itself.  The war simply had to end if the country was to survive.

 End Notes

[1]A much-expanded version of this article is to appear as a chapter, co-authored with T.P.S. (“Tippy”) Brar, in Michelle Hughes and Michael Miklaucic, eds., Impunity: Countering Illicit Power in War and Transition (Washington, DC: NDU Press, 2016).

[2]This estimate, if accurate for the Eelam conflict as a whole, is surely off the mark when the JVP insurgencies are included.  One source, in fact, has noted that various sources put the number killed in JVP II alone at between 20,000 and 60,000, with 40,000 being the most commonly cited figure.  See Tom H.J. Hill, “The Deception of Victory: The JVP in Sri Lanka and the Long-Term Dynamics of Rebel Reintegration,” International Peacekeeping 20, no. 3 (June 2013), 357-74.

[3]It remains noteworthy that Marxist-Leninist ideology, as the prism through which societal realities (especially state violence) were interpreted by the Eelam leadership, is simply absent from all major treatments of the conflict.  This is curious given the extent to which the various groups in their formative years, to include LTTE, embraced Marxist-Leninism for both vocabulary and analytical constructs, a conclusion I base upon fieldwork, to include interviews with group leadership figures and members (both combatants and prisoners), as well as examination of ample documentation.  See e.g. the mimeographed publication by LTTE’s eventual number two, Anton S. Balasingham, On the Tamil National Question (London: Polytechnic of the South Bank, 1978), which derives its content completely from the standard Marxist figures, especially Lenin (as did all such analyses, regardless of group); on this point, compare with the contents of Michael Löwy, “Marxists and the National Question,” New Left Review I/96 (March-April 1976), 81-100.  Just where the tension between ideologically driven leadership and grievance-produced manpower would have led for the Eelam movement as a whole was a hypothetical never put to the test, since LTTE, even as it established its dominance, increasingly embraced communalism.  The academic result is that any treatment of the classic query – “who joins, who stays, who leaves?” – is a dynamic affair dependent upon point of temporal entry and consideration of the group concerned.

[4]Discussed at length and in some detail in Marks, “People’s War in Sri Lanka: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency,” Issues & Studies 22, no. 8 (August 1986), 63-100.

[5]When considering the role of the Tamil diaspora on the conflict, a distinction must be made between imperial legacy communities, such as the Tamils of Malaysia, who migrated or were recruited pursuant to the servicing of the British empire, and more recent migrants produced at least in part by the war in Sri Lanka itself.  Though I have found no work that disaggregates these categories, available literature makes clear that large, active support communities for LTTE existed in Britain, the U.S., South Africa, and Canada, with the latter perhaps the leading source of funding.

[6]Canada was slower to proscribe LTTE front organizations (as was the case with the U.S.).  The important fundraising body, World Tamil Movement (WTM), for example, was not banned until June 2008. In all cases, such proscription was vehemently opposed.  Insight into the worldview of those diaspora members who championed LTTE as the authentic representative of the Tamil people may be explored in ØivindFuglerud, Life on the Outside: The Tamil Diaspora and Long Distance Nationalism (London: Pluto Press, 1999).

[7] One of the best treatments of this periodis G.H. Peiris, Twilight of the Tigers: Peace Efforts and Power Struggles in Sri Lanka (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[8] Full text available from BBC:  (accessed 20April 2016).  For greater discussion, see Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, “Sri Lanka: Interim Self-Governing Authority – a Critical Assessment,” Economic and Political Weekly 38, no. 48 (29 November-5 December 2003), 5038-40; available at: (accessed 20April 2016); and Gamini Keerawella, The LTTE Proposals for an interim Self-Governing Authority and Future of the Peace Process in Sri Lanka, Discussion Paper No. 3 (Chiba, Japan: Institute of Developing Economies, May 2004); available at:  (accessed 20April 2016).

[9] Details may be found in D.B.S. Jeyaraj, “Tiger vs Tiger Tenth Anniversary of Revolt Led by Eastern LTTE Leader “Col” Karuna,” Daily Mirror, 12 April 2014; available at: (accessed 20April 2016), as well as the relevant section of Ajit Kumar Singh, “Endgame in Sri Lanka,” Faultlines 20 (2011), 131-70.

[10]For discussion, see Zachariah Mampilly, “A Marriage of Inconvenience: Tsunami Aid and the Unraveling of the LTTE and the GoSL’s Complex Dependency,” Civil Wars 11, no. 3 (September 2009), 302-20 and Alan Keenan, “Building the Conflict Back Better: The Politics of Tsunami Relief and Reconstruction in Sri Lanka,” in Dennis B. McGilvray and Michele R. Gamburd, eds., Tsunami Recovery in Sri Lanka: Ethnic and Regional Dimensions (NY: Routledge, 2010), 17-39; for context and comparison, Malathi de Alwis and Eva-Lotta Hedman, eds., Tsunami in a Time of War: Aid, Activism & Reconstruction in Sri Lanka & Aceh (Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies [ICES], 2009).

[11]For detailed assessment of the annual speech methodology and content, see Kasun Ubayasiri, “An Illusive Leader’s Annual Speech,”, 2006; available at: (accessed 20April 2016).

[12] Norway’s role in the peace process became increasingly controversial as LTTE continued to up the ante in its provocations.  Whatever may be said about Colombo’s conduct, it did not begin to approach the wholesale violations of the Tigers, particularly since the profile of LTTE actions was dominated by assassinations. That Norway and other international actors could not bring themselves to vigorously counter LTTE atrocities led in the end to a loss of legitimacy for the mediators. For consideration, see Gunnar Søbø, Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen, and Hilde Selbervik, Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009 (Oslo: NORAD, September 2011); available at: 20 April 2016); Kristine Höglund and Isak Svensson, “Mediating Between Tigers and Lions: Norwegian Peace Diplomacy in Sri Lanka’s Civil War,” Ch.7 in Karin Aggestam and Annika Björkdahl, eds., War and Peace in Transition: Changing Roles of External Actors (Lund, Sweden: Nordic Academic Press, 2009), 147-69; Kristine Höglund and Isak Svensson, “Fallacies of the Peace Ownership Approach: Exploring Norwegian Mediation in Sri Lanka,” Ch.3 in Kristian Stokke and Jayadeva Uyangoda, eds., Liberal Peace in Question: Politics of State and Market reform in Sri Lanka (London: Anthem Press, 2011), 63-75; and Hannes Siebert with Chanya Charles, “Sri Lanka: When Negotiations Fail — Talks for the Sake of Talks; War for the Sake of Peace,” in Michael Lund and Steve McDonald, eds., Across the Lines of Conflict: Facilitating Cooperation to Build Peace (NY: Columbia University Press, 2015), pp 193-228.  For context, see Maria Groeneveld-Savisaar and Siniša Vukovic´, “Terror, Muscle, and Negotiation: Failure of Multiparty Mediation in Sri Lanka,” Ch.4 in I. William Zartman and Guy Olivier Faure, eds., Engaging Extremists: Trade-Offs, Timing, and Diplomacy (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2011), 105-35.

[13]A growing literature considers “illicit [power] networks,” that is, networks of illegal activity that have been empowered by the realities of globalization.   For a comprehensive discussion of the concept, see Michael Miklaucic and Jacqueline Brewer, eds., Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization(Washington, DC: NDU Press, 2013); available at: (accessed 20 April 2016).

[14] Considerable insight into the working of the Rajapaksa approach can be gained through C.A. Chandraprema, Gōta’s War: The Crushing of Tamil Tiger Terrorism in Sri Lanka (self-published, 2012; ninth printing, October 2013).  For a discussion of mobilization of manpower (Sri Lanka never had to resort to a draft), see Michele Ruth Gamburd, “The Economics of Enlisting: A Village View of Armed Service,” Ch.7 in Winslow and Woost, op.cit,, 151-67; for an effort to discern the integral role martial mobilization came to play economically in a developing economy, see Rajesh Venugopal, “Sri Lanka: Military Fiscalism and the Politics of Market Reform at a Time of Civil War,” Ch.3 in Aparna Sundar and Nandini Sundar, eds., Civil Wars in South Asia: State, Sovereignty, Development (New Delhi: Sage, 2014), 69-95.

[15]Fieldwork, to include road-counts (vehicular, individuals) and examination of the relevant logs kept at major government checkpoints ringing LTTE-held areas, consistently revealed flight away from Tamil Eelam and towards government-held areas, thus towards areas of relative safety.  Efforts to do longitudinal studies on such IDP (internally displaced persons) populations achieved varying degrees of success.  A solid effort, conducted before the time under discussion, may be found at H.L. Seneviratne and Maria Stavropoulou, “Sri Lanka’s Vicious Circle of Displacement,” Ch.9 in Roberta Cohen and Francis M. Deng, eds., The Forsaken People: Case Studies of the Internally Displaced (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998), 359-98.

[16] Registered as a political party affiliated with the ruling coalition, TMVP emerged dominant in the March 2008 elections for local councils and the provincial elections themselves in May. A split between Karuna and his deputy Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan resulted in the latter becoming the first elected chief minister of Eastern Province.  Karuna later became a deputy minister in the government and vice president of the ruling SLFP. For context and discussion, see Cathrine Brun and Nicholas Van Hear, “Shifting Between the Local and Transnational: Space, Power and Politics in War-torn Sri Lanka,” Ch.10 in Stig Madeson, Kenneth Bo Nielson, and Uwe Skoda, eds., Trysts With Democracy: Political Practice in South Asia (London: Anthem Press, 2011), 239-60.

[17]For details, consult Ivan Welch, “Infantry Innovations in Insurgencies: Sri Lanka’s Experience,” Infantry (May-June 2013), 28-31; see also “General Sarath Fonseka Reveals Untold Story of Eelam War IV,” Daily FT, 10 March 2015; available at: 20April 2016).  Also useful is Paul Clarke, “Sri Lanka and the Destruction of the Tamil Tigers,” in Lawrence E. Cline and Paul Shemella, eds., The Future of Counterinsurgency (Denver, CO: Praeger, 2015).

[18] For details, see especially K.M. de Silva, Sri Lanka and the Defeat of the LTTE (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2012); Paul Moorcraft, Total Destruction: The Rare Victory of Sri Lanka’s Long War (Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen & Sword, 2012); Ashok Mehta, Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict: How Eelam War IV Was Won, Manekshaw Paper No. 22 (New Delhi: Centre for Land Warfare Studies [CLAWS], 2010); Kumar Rupesinghe, “Sri Lanka: Tackling the LTTE,” in Moeed Yusuf, ed., Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in South Asia (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2014), 249-78; and Ahmed S. Hashim, When Counterinsurgency Wins: Sri Lanka’s Defeat of the Tamil Tigers(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).Also useful are: Neil DeVotta, “The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Lost Quest for Separatism in Sri Lanka,” Asian Survey 49, no. 6 (November/December 2009), 1021-51 and Syed Rifaat Hussain, “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE): Failed Quest for a ‘Homeland’,” in Klejda Mulaj, ed., Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics (London: Hurts, 2010), 381-412.

[19]Though I do not agree with all particulars therein, an insightful treatment of this topic is S.E. Selvadurai and M.L.R. Smith, “Black Tigers, Bronze Lotus: The Evolution and Dynamics of Sri Lanka’s Strategies of Dirty War,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 36, no. 7 (2013), 547-72; for the concept of “dirty war” used to frame the discussion, see M.L.R. Smith and Sophie Roberts, “War in the Gray: Exploring the Concept of Dirty War,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 31, no. 5 (2008), 377-398.  See also Purnaka L. de Silva, “Combat Modes, Mimesis and the Cultivation of Hatred: Revenge/Counter-Revenge Killings in Sri Lanka,” in GüntherSchlee, ed., Imagined Differences: Hatred and the Construction of Identity (Münster, Germany: Lit Verlag, 2002), 215-39.

[20]See e.g. the demand by Tamil advocacy groups, in April 2016, for Gotabhaya’s arrest during a claimed visit to the U.S.; Admin [sic], “Obama Administration Urged to Arrest Gotabaya Rajapakse,” Colombo Gazette, 20 April 2016; available at: (accessed 20 April 2016).

(Dr. Thomas A. Marks, a member of the advisory board of MISS, is Head of Department, War and Conflict Studies (WACS) at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA) of the National Defence University (NDU) in Washington, DC.  He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Sri Lanka and published numerous works on the conflict. The occasional paper is published under Mantraya’s Mapping Terror and Insurgent Networks project. All Mantraya publications are peer-reviewed.)