The Realities of
the Military Situation in Sri Lanka
22 January 1997
The Theatre of Engagement...
1. The theatre of engagement is the Northeast
Province of Sri Lanka which is about 7,300 sq. miles in extent. It
is 32% larger than Northern Ireland which is 5,500 sq. miles.
2. In the Northeast province the long littoral is flat and
populated. South of the Jaffna peninsula, the area to the rear of
the littoral is heavily wooded, undulating, ill roaded and thinly
populated. The latter area which comprises roughly two-thirds of the
total area is ideal for guerrilla forces and presents serious
difficulties for the motorized forces of a conventional army.
3. The occupation of the urban centres of the littoral by the
state’s troops drives the guerrillas into the interior which affords
safe havens from which surprise incursions could be, and are being,
mounted with relative ease. The expulsion of the guerrillas from the
interior and the physical occupation of the interior by the state’s
troops to prevent the return of the guerrillas thereto would require
very large forces of government troops, amounting to many multiples
of their present total.
4. In the flatter and more open terrain of Northern Ireland it has
not been possible in 28 years of fighting for the British forces to
eliminate or subdue the 300 guerrillas of the IRA.
5. The size and physical topography of the theatre of engagement in
Sri Lanka excludes the possibility of the elimination of the
guerrilla forces of the LTTE. The President has said as much in her
The ratio of troops to guerrillas...
6. Unlike wars between conventional forces, wars
between a conventional force and a guerrilla force require very high
ratios of troops to guerrillas. This is because of the widespread
deployment and lack of concentration of guerrilla forces as well as
because of their mobility.
7. A ratio of 100 highly-trained, well-supplied and well-supported
conventional troops to 1 guerrilla in Northern Ireland has proved
unavailing in defeating or even weakening the guerrillas of the IRA.
The conflict there is now well into its 29th year.
8. In Sri Lanka the ratio of troops to guerrillas is, at best, 10 to
1 - a ratio hopelessly inadequate for this type of capability of
occasional bursts of conventional warfare and a naval capability,
the ratio of troops to guerrillas needs to be considerably greater
than 100 to 1 for adequate performance.
The size and capability of the guerrilla force...
9. The Provisional IRA (its proper title) is known
to comprise no more than 300 men and women, all highly trained
explosives experts. In addition to explosives it is capable of
sporadic guerilla attacks in conjunction with the use of explosives.
It does not possess a conventional warfare capability nor a naval
capability. It does not occupy any land in Northern Ireland in
defiance of the state.
10. The LTTE is estimated to be over 30-times the size of the IRA.
In addition to its original guerrilla warfare capability, it is now
also capable of occasional bouts of conventional warfare and it has
a substantial naval capability. It currently occupies 65% of the
land area of the north-east province. As a military adversary the
LTTE is an incomparably more formidable foe than the IRA.
The nature of the guerrilla forces...
11. Guerrilla forces are unpaid volunteers. They are
self-motivated to a high degree of sacrifice and effort. After
enrollment they are readily motivated to high operational standards
and requirements. Tamil society has generated thousands of such
volunteers for nearly 20 years now.
In the same period Sinhala society has not generated a single man or
woman willing to fight without pay as a volunteer prepared to
sacrifice his/her life for his/her cause.
12. Modern conventional warfare is an extremely
expensive activity - by far the most expensive activity a modern
state can undertake. When a conventional force fields high ratios of
conventional (paid) troops against guerrilla forces, the expense is
13. In Northern Ireland, the British forces outnumber the IRA 100 to
1 and the British government spends on that effort alone £ 3.25
billion per year. The Sri Lanka Rupee equivalent of this sum is
Rs.308 billion per year. That high expenditure is on a conflict
force of 300 men and women.
14. In Sri Lanka the LTTE is over 30-times the numerical strength of
the IRA and the theatre of engagement is both larger and far more
difficult than in Northern Ireland. For a comparable performance
against the LTTE, with the needed higher ratio of troops to
guerrillas, the financial commitment should be 30 times that in
Northern Ireland plus half as much again to compensate for the
larger and more difficult terrain i.e. 308 x 30 = 9,240 + 4,620 =
13,860 billion rupees per year.
15. It is reliably estimated that the cost of this type of warfare
in Northern Ireland is six times that in the northeast province of
Sri Lanka. When this cost differential is applied to the
above-mentioned figure the sum needed in Sri Lanka would be Rs.
13,860 billion divided by 6 = Rs. 2,310 billion per year.
16. The current provision is Rs. 48 billion per year for a 10 to 1
ratio of troops to guerrillas. Even for this low ratio of troops to
guerrillas a barely adequate provision must be Rs. 2,310 billion
divided by10 = Rs. 231 billion per year not Rs. 48 billion.
17. At this point it ought to be mentioned that the comparison with
Northern Ireland is a comparison with an effort that has not yielded
success - an effort that is still on-going after 28 years.
18. The cost of waging war with a conventional army against a
guerrilla force on its home ground is hopelessly beyond the
financial capability of a very poor country such as Sri Lanka.
The guerrilla's resilience...
19. The financial requirements of guerrilla forces
are much less than those of the state because their numbers are a
small fraction of the conventional forces ranged against them.
20. Their military needs are supplied largely by the state - not
directly but indirectly by way of losses during ambushes and the
occasional set-piece conventional encounter in which the guerrillas
benefit by the element of surprise.
21. The 30-year long war of Eritrean Independence was fought by the
Eritrean guerrillas almost entirely with weapons and ammunition
captured from the Ethiopian state’s forces. In Sri Lanka the LTTE’s
principal source of weapons is the Sri Lanka army with its numerous
camps dotted throughout the littoral of the north-east province.
22. The LTTE also receives external financial resources generated by
the Tamil diaspora. Most of it goes into its naval and missile
systems and the rest for conventional arms.
23. The empirical evidence from all other theatres of similar
conflict is clear and it is that as wars of this type drag on
interminably the Guerrillas get stronger despite military setbacks.
They can replenish both their troops and their weaponry at
relatively little expense and they gain in confidence and capability
with the passage of time. The assumption that a long war weakens
guerrilla forces is the opposite of reality. It is the reverse that
takes place especially against so weak an adversary as the Sri Lanka
forces. Events have demonstrated this vividly in Sri Lanka.
The 'forced to compromise' syndrome...
24. In an ever-widening circle of concerned
observers of the military situation the unhappy awareness is
beginning to be dawn that it is beyond the capability of the Sri
Lankan State to exterminate the LTTE militarily. They then go on to
draw the facile conclusion that the LTTE can be so weakened by the
state’s military pressure that it will be forced to compromise on
its demand for a separate state and to accept a settlement within
the single all-island state. Recent statements of some LTTE
spokesmen, but not Mr. Prabhakaran, have lent some credence to this
25. A state, regardless of its constitutional form, must by
definition possess the monopoly of armed force within it. There can
be no compromise on that single factor, whatever other compromises
there may be. If the LTTE is to accept a settlement within the
single all-island state, its forces must disappear as an independent
entity, either by being disbanded or by being absorbed into the Sri
Lankan state forces. That one or other of these two scenarios is
realistically feasible is what proponents of the "Forced to
Compromise" syndrome imagine.
26. That the LTTE which has been un-vanquished by the state’s forces
despite their best efforts, will obligingly disappear and live under
its armed adversary is a flight of fancy which can take place only
when one is un-moored from reason. It shows the desperate straits to
which rational thinking has been reduced among those who hold this
27. The absurdity of such a chimera is demonstrated by the universal
experience that as guerrilla wars of national secession drag on and
the guerrillas suffer one military reverse after another, they
rebound stronger than ever before - not weaker. That is the
paradoxical reality with which those who entertain the "Forced to
Compromise" hallucination need to come to terms.
So, where do we go from here?
27. The answer to this question is clear. We must go
where others much more powerful than ourselves have gone before us
in the quest for peace. And that is a peace treaty with an armed and
undefeated adversary who continues in possession of his arms and
territory. There is no gainsaying that this amounts to secession
from the state under attack. That was the way to peace in Palestine,
Ethiopia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Philippines and in the Russian
Federation in respect of Chechnya.
29. It means long and patient negotiations, with international help,
to devise the strategies and institutions that will ensure peace and
good-neighborly relations between the two new, adjacent, states of
the comity of nations - two new states that accept and implement the
emerging international standards of conduct within and between their
30. The horror story of everlasting war on the island is not a
divinely ordained curse on both Sinhala and Tamil nations living
thereon. It is a self-inflicted disaster from which we must escape
once and for all time.