Attrition: Keeping The Rebels Down

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July 28, 2009: Sri Lanka ended a two decade long civil war three months ago, and the Sri Lankan armed forces are seeking to make the most of the hard won victory, and the lessons learned. The primary lesson is that, eventually, you may have to fight against a determined domestic enemy. After many defeats and several attempts at making peace with the Tamil (LTTE) rebels, the government finally decided to crush the enemy in a major military campaign. So, for the last few years, the nation spent about 29 percent of GDP a year on the military, and the army was ordered to crush the foe any way they could.

It was twenty-six years ago that the LTTE (the main Tamil separatist organization) began attacking government forces. In the 1990s, the LTTE inflicted several major defeats on the army, including driving out an Indian peacekeeping force, and killing 1,200 Indian troops. LTTE suicide bombers killed a Sri Lankan prime minister, and a former Indian prime minister.

By 2002, the LTTE had taken control of 16,000 square kilometers (23 percent of the island nation of Sri Lanka), and signed a ceasefire with the government. Tamils comprised 13 percent of the 20 million people living on the island, and wanted to establish their own nation in the territory the LTTE controlled in the north and along the east coast. Non-Tamils were driven out of that LTTE territory. Negotiations with the government failed because hard line LTTE leaders insisted on partition of the island. The government, and many moderate LTTE leaders were willing to allow greater autonomy, but not a separate state. This led, in 2004, to a split in the LTTE, with the east coast faction making a deal with the government. Troops moved into the east coast to put down the few hard line LTTE fighters that remained there. Continued negotiations with the LTTE proved fruitless, as the hardliners still insisted on partition. Thus the war resumed in 2006, and in 34 months of fighting, the LTTE was pushed back until their remnants were trapped on a few kilometers of beach in the northeast. During the last few months of fighting, the army killed 22,000 LTTE fighters were killed, and another 10,000 captured or arrested. Some 4,000 soldiers were killed, and 20,000 wounded. There were never more than 100,000 troops involved fighting the LTTE, so the army suffered high casualties.

So far this year, the army has gained 22,130 recruits, and plans to add another 50,000. This will bring the force to 250,000. But the defense budget will be cut considerably (to less than ten percent of GDP) and the troops will spend most of their time helping with the reconstruction of the north, and ensuring that the remnants of the LTTE to not reform and resume the fighting (most likely as part of a terror campaign).

There are still 300,000 Tamils in refugee camps up north. These are people driven out of their towns and villages by the last few months of fighting. Many of them were forced to accompany the LTTE as it retreated, and many LTTE members are believed hiding among these refugees.

 


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