When Counterinsurgency Wins: Sri Lanka's Defeat of the Tamil Tigers

When Counterinsurgency Wins: Sri Lanka's Defeat of the Tamil Tigers

When Counterinsurgency Wins: Sri Lanka's Defeat of the Tamil Tigers

When Counterinsurgency Wins: Sri Lanka's Defeat of the Tamil Tigers


For twenty-six years, civil war tore Sri Lanka apart. Despite numerous peace talks, cease-fires, and external military and diplomatic pressure, war raged on between the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sinhala-dominated Sri Lankan government. Then, in 2009, the Sri Lankan military defeated the insurgents. The win was unequivocal, but the terms of victory were not. The first successful counterinsurgency campaign of the twenty-first century left the world with many questions. How did Sri Lanka ultimately win this seemingly intractable war? Will other nations facing insurgencies be able to adopt Sri Lanka's methods without encountering accusations of human rights violations?

Ahmed S. Hashim--who teaches national security strategy and helped craft the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq--investigates those questions in the first book to analyze the final stage of the Sri Lankan civil war. When Counterinsurgency Wins traces the development of the counterinsurgency campaign in Sri Lanka from the early stages of the war to the later adaptations of the Sri Lankan government, leading up to the final campaign. The campaign itself is analyzed in terms of military strategy but is also given political and historical context--critical to comprehending the conditions that give rise to insurgent violence.

The tactics of the Tamil Tigers have been emulated by militant groups in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Whether or not the Sri Lankan counterinsurgency campaign can or should be emulated in kind, the comprehensive, insightful coverage of When Counterinsurgency Wins holds vital lessons for strategists and students of security and defense.


“A few hours ago our troops recovered the body of the world’s most ruthless terrorist.” Thus came the announcement by General Sarath Fonseka, commander of the Sri Lankan army (SLA), on May 19, 2009, heralding the death of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, founder and leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. vp, as Prabhakaran was known, along with his family and much of the senior leadership of the movement, had been killed at or near Karayanmullivaikal, a village on a thin strip of coastal land sandwiched between the Nandi Kadal lagoon to the east and the Indian Ocean to the west. This was not far from Puthukkudiyiruppu village, VP’s traditional headquarters and an area that had witnessed intense and bloody fighting between the sla and the once formidable Liberation Tigers during the final phases of the war in April and May 2009.

The circumstances of VP’s death and those of his family and the top leadership of the movement in the space of twenty-four hours remain unclear. Were they shot in the heat of battle? Were they killed as they tried to surrender? Were they executed after they surrendered as a result of orders from above? the facts remain classified by the government, but numerous speculative theories have made the rounds. Nonetheless, the decapitation of almost the entire leadership of a movement remains without precedent in the struggle between a government and an irregular entity. It is quite possible that the top government political and military leadership decided to prevent the escape of the Liberation Tigers (LTTE) leadership. If vp and his closest subordinates had escaped, they might have rallied the struggle from overseas. Capturing them alive would have presented Sri Lankan authorities with considerable headaches and calls for release to move overseas or for a free and fair trial that might have gained the movement more traction.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or ltte, were crushed and annihilated, marking a signal and unprecedented victory for the government’s counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign. This was reflected in the speech Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa gave on May 19, 2009, in which he . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.