Sri Lanka, a small South Asian island nation located in the Indian Ocean, has been politically and economically destabilized due to an ethnic conflict that lasted over three decades. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the “Tamil Tigers”, a secessionist-cum-terrorist organization, fought against the Sri Lankan government to establish a separate homeland for Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. This organization acted as a “trendsetter” for the rest of the terrorist groups around the world. Many other organizations including Al Qaeda, Taliban and now ISIS have used LTTE’s tactics as a template for terrorism. In May 2009, the Sri Lankan security forces militarily obliterated the LTTE.
Thus, I would like share here the major causes that led to the defeat of this terrorist organization, which is rare among the global war on terrorism. This outline is divided into four sections. The first part briefly examines the way LTTE became a threat to the regional and global security; the second part examines the causes of internal conflict within the LTTE during
2002-2008, ceasefire; the third section deals with the international intelligence agencies sharing information with each other following 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States; and the final section concludes this outline with broader reflections.
Threat to the regional and global security
As a terrorist organization that possessed an army, navy, and rudimentary air force the LTTE was an example for other terrorist groups, and therefore, it became a threat not only to the domestic stability of Sri Lanka but also the security of the regional and global system as a whole. This led the international community to support the Sri Lankan government in its war against terrorism, which ended in the eventual annihilation of LTTE.
Internal conflict within the LTTE during ceasefire
The defection of LTTE’s top commander Karuna with two thirds of the organization’s manpower created a split within the LTTE, and this militarily weakened the organization. The Sri Lankan military intelligence exploited this situation and enlisted Karuna and his cadres in the Sri Lankan army as a paramilitary group, thereby making their fight against terrorism easy.
International intelligence sharing after the 9/11 terrorist attacks
Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the United States, the international community came together and began to share intelligence on terrorist organizations to dismantle their operations throughout the world. This essentially crippled the LTTE’s maritime logistics support on which their survival depended on.
As such, the LTTE’s threat to the global security was obliterated due to the infighting within the organization and the international collaboration in combating terrorism.
Does this latest military defeat of a terrorist organization make us ponder the improbable? Can we learn anything from the Sri Lankan experience to deal with ISIS? Can we apply a similar counterinsurgency or counterterrorism model that Sri Lankan military used against LTTE?