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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > What is really wrong with the counter insurgency methods?

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

 

What is really wrong with the counter insurgency methods?

13  December 2000

"..Sri Lanka is easily the only country in the world to fight its insurgency with the undivided support of the international community, the backing of all the important nations across the global political spectrum. It is the most advantageous external environment that any country may have ever had in fighting an insurgency. And yet something is obviously going wrong. There are three reasons that may be attributed to the apparent failure of western counter insurgency - CI - methods in Sri Lanka... Firstly, the LTTE has developed over the years a fairly sophisticated counter-counter insurgency system. Secondly, it has consistently focused its resources on building a conventional force and on preserving the minimum required territory to sustain such a force. And thirdly it never lets itself be inveigled or coerced into the political space that is so necessary for diluting and mystifying the basic cause fuelling the insurgency..."


Western counter insurgency methods have succeeded in putting down or effectively containing the armed struggles for social emancipation or for carving out separate states in the majority of the countries which adopted them under the tutelage of the Americans and the British. This is a fact that more often than not is buried by the third world's persistent fascination with the success stories of Vietnam and Cuba. The American and British governments have spent vast resources to study and constantly improve on their common and specific counter insurgency methods unlike the Cubans or the Vietnamese whose cash strapped economies would brook no such luxuries.

The Sri Lankan security forces have had the singular fortune of availing themselves of the vast resources of western counter insurgency methods and doctrine. They have also been singularly fortunate in having to fight an internationally isolated enemy.

Sri Lanka is easily the only country in the world to fight its insurgency with the undivided support of the international community, the backing of all the important nations across the global political spectrum. It is the most advantageous external environment that any country may have ever had in fighting an insurgency.

And yet something is obviously going wrong. There are three reasons that may be attributed to the apparent failure of western counter insurgency - CI - methods in Sri Lanka. (It would be countered that nothing is wrong with western CI but with the people who are not doing it right. This, upon closer scrutiny, would be found untenable because less literate armies have succeeded in quelling insurgencies in less favourable circumstances) Firstly, the LTTE has developed over the years a fairly sophisticated counter-counter insurgency system. Secondly, it has consistently focused its resources on building a conventional force and on preserving the minimum required territory to sustain such a force. And thirdly it never lets itself be inveigled or coerced into the political space that is so necessary for diluting and mystifying the basic cause fuelling the insurgency.

The recent discovery of an alleged LTTE mole in Batticaloa would help one get his bearings right about the current state of counter insurgency operations in Sri Lanka. 'Rangan' was one of the most trusted ex-militant operatives working with the army in the east. He was a regular participant in deep penetration ops by the army Special Forces inside LTTE controlled areas west of Batticaloa and was considered a solid intelligence asset.

'Rangan' was particularly useful because he was the chairman of the Vavunathivu Pradehshiya Sabha, the administrative area of which lies in the LTTE dominated western hinterland of Batticaloa. He belonged to the Manikkamdasan faction of the PLOTE and recently joined the Razeek group which now functions under the overall direction of Mr.Varatharaja Perumal. Two weeks ago Rangan was uncovered as an important LTTE mole by sleuths from Colombo who had stumbled upon the information from a suspect arrested in the city.

The problem is that he had had free access to all the army's positions in the area and knew most parts of the military intelligence network in the district. Some accomplices were arrested and a cache of weapons in the high security zone by the Batticaloa air force base was found. The killing of Razeek by an LTTE suicide bomber in Batticaloa town was a big blow to the army's counter insurgency ops in the east. Rangan's arrest has further dented the army's CI apparatus in the region.

The Tigers have very shrewdly used such moles as double-edged weapons. On the one hand, moles provide valuable information and help the LTTE find new contacts in the army's broader intelligence network; while on the other, even if they are eventually uncovered, their arrest and interrogation drive the wedge further into the uneasy relationship between ex-Tamil militants and the intelligence establishment. An ex-Tamil militant leader said that he wonders whether the LTTE is doing this systematically - to establish apparently 'innocent' political contact and then deliberately getting the contact to squeal about it. The conflicting approaches of the various arms of the defence establishment in their dealings with the ex-militants working with them have compounded the situation further.

The arrest and detention of the current EROS leader, Sudha Master, is a case in point. Sudha Master was a singular asset to the 'system' in Colombo and as such was a long tested contact. Earlier this year he was taken in by the Crime Detention Bureau and detained with common criminals for a week before he was released due to the intervention of a military officer who is one of the few in the intelligence establishment who has a sensible grasp of ex-Tamil militant affairs.

"This is the reward I got in the end for everything," lamented he later. The story of what befell a person of his 'stature' is not an edifying one for the army's other Tamil contacts to say the least. Rangan's arrest is another instance in a steady trend in the north and east.

The LTTE's aim, obviously, is to stymie and subvert the army's intelligence system. The TELO was one of the best resources the army has had in developing its local counter insurgency resources in the north and east. Now the group is black listed by the army for allegedly having close links with the Tigers and for taking up their cause as the only legitimate politcal course for the Tamil people. The EPRLF and the EROS have floundered - the former crumbled and imploded due to factional squabbles and the latter was absorbed by the Tigers, the remnant is neither fish nor fowl. One of the basic principles of counter insurgency is to have many para-military and vigilante groups drawn from the target population for intelligence gathering, psy-ops and most importantly for creating an alternative political space and for helping the state to reduce its military presence and hence expenditure.

But in the Eelam war para-military groups are being turned by the Tigers into another insidious front for the army's growing counter insurgency burden.

The British army has encountered this problem in Ireland. But its dimensions here are such that Western CI methods seem to be of little relevance.
 

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