The Sri Lankan Civil War: A Personal Reminiscence

By: COL Sylvester Perera, Sri Lankan Army


As a member of the Sri Lankan armed forces, I have served since 1992 in various capacities that dealt with the planning and execution of counterterrorist operations against the ruthless insurgent organization known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The effort to eliminate the terrorists completely from Sri Lankan soil through military strategy and political and national will superseded all other national priorities and was ultimately successful. In this article, I discuss my operational experience in different stages of the conflict with the LTTE, the progress the armed forces achieved over time, and our success adapting small-group tactics to overcome LTTE strongholds and defenses. Finally, I describe my experience in the post-conflict period and offer recommendations for how to achieve sustainable peace in Sri Lanka.

Historical Origins of the Conflict

Sri Lanka's geostrategic situation is a prime factor in the country's ethnic divisions. The northern tip of the island is only a few miles from the Indian coastal state of Tamil Nadu, which is home to more than 50 million primarily Hindu ethnic Tamils (see map 1). The territorial dispute between the majority Sinhalese population and the Tamils goes back more than 2,000 years, to a time when a Tamil king from the Indian mainland is said to have invaded Ceylon (the name of the island before it became a republic in 1972), and his descendants continued to struggle with the Buddhist Sinhala kings for territory. Tamils, however, do not believe that they are a migrant community and view the north and east of Sri Lanka as their ancestral homeland of Eelam. This is their core issue, similar in some ways to that of the Palestinians in Israel.

Like India, Ceylon was occupied by the British Empire until 1948. Under colonial rule, Tamils played a large role in the civil service and business communities, but when independence came, they did not want to be ruled by the majority Sinhalese, whose policies they felt were discriminatory. Over the ensuing years, Sri Lanka's leaders and political parties failed to effectively address these issues, including the growing separatist movement. The armed insurgency that arose in the country's north in the 1970s was the culmination of these failures.

Map 1: Greater Tamil Nadu

The LTTE was formed in 1976 by Velupillai Prabhakaran, who envisioned not only a separate Tamil state that would encompass the historically Tamil northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka, but also a greater Eelam ("Precious Land") aligned with the state of Tamil Nadu in India. The so-called First Eelam War began in 1983 when the killing of Sinhalese government soldiers in an LTTE ambush led to violent anti-Tamil riots. The Second Eelam War began in 1990 after Indian peacekeeping forces pulled out, and the violence between Tamil guerrillas and government forces escalated once again. Although the armed Tamil insurgency has been put down for now, the seeds of separatism, rooted in this historical perspective, will continue to sprout.

Anti-Terrorist Operations against the LTTE in Sri Lanka (1992–1996)

On 3 November 1990, I joined the Sri Lankan Army as an officer cadet and underwent training at the General Sir John Kotelawala Defense University in Colombo and the Sri Lankan Military Academy in Diyatalawa. On 14 December 1992, after successfully completing my military training, I was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant attached to a regiment of the 6th Infantry Battalion, called the Gemunu Watch. In 1993, I completed a degree in defense studies at the Kotelawala Defense University and subsequently joined my battalion in the eastern part of the country, where we conducted limited operations against the LTTE in the area.

Around that time, following the withdrawal of the Indian Army's peacekeeping force and with massive support from the Tamil diaspora, the LTTE insurgency had reached a stage of open combat. Our battalion's aim, therefore, was to destroy the LTTE cadres who were operating from the nearby jungles and thus clear the threat they posed to our main camp and the nearby Sinhala and Muslim villages. Our warfare strategy was conventional, and we remained focused on one objective at a time. Because of this, our enemy always had the information advantage. While we were on the offensive, the LTTE were able to either withdraw or cut off our troops and inflict heavy casualties by throwing the collective strength of their local forces at us. Accordingly, we were able to achieve only very limited success in these early stages. The experiences I describe in the following sections illustrate just how resourceful and tenacious the LTTE were in fighting for their independence, and what the Sri Lankan armed forces had to undertake and learn in order to defeat them. (See appendix A for a list of these engagements and their dates and locations.)

The Reinforcement of Pooneryn Camp

The Pooneryn military sector is in the northwest of Sri Lanka, separated by Kalmunai lagoon from the city of Jaffna to the north. A route connecting Jaffna with the south used to run up through Pooneryn. The Elephant Pass causeway, the other main route between the north and south, lies about 12 miles east of Pooneryn. The Pooneryn military sector was established to seal off the Tamils' Jaffna peninsula stronghold and pave the way for an assault on Jaffna from Pooneryn itself. Nagathivanthurai Naval Base, to the northeast of the Pooneryn sector, was monitoring civilian and LTTE movements on the lagoon. The area south of Pooneryn was under LTTE control.

On 11 November 1993, at 0020 hours, the LTTE launched a massive attack on the Pooneryn Army Camp. On this particular day, I was serving as a platoon commander in the Gemunu Watch, which was conducting search-and-clear operations in the eastern jungles. About four hours after the attack began, we were heli-lifted to Palaly Air Base, situated in the northern part of Jaffna, to try to reinforce the besieged Pooneryn Camp (see maps 2 and 3). The air force's Bell 212, Bell 412, and MI-17 helicopters from Palaly attempted to insert our first platoon by air but were forced to withdraw under heavy LTTE fire. Simultaneously, at about 1500, after seven hours of sailing, a group of commandos made an attempt to land off Kalmunai (the western tip of Pooneryn). Heavy LTTE fire did not allow these reinforcements to gain a foothold on the beach, while the accompanying naval vessels were unable to get close enough to the shore to give effective covering fire because of the shallow water. Ultimately, all our attempts to insert forces failed due to heavy resistance.

Map 2: Jaffna, showing Pooneryn, Palaly, and Kalmunai

On the following day, 12 November, the air force launched air strikes against the LTTE forces, but our efforts to land any aircraft near the Pooneryn base failed again due to continuous attacks by the Tigers. By this time, some of the surviving soldiers from the army camp had managed to make contact with us by radio. They told us that their group of about 550 men had moved down the southwest coast of Pooneryn and therefore could be reached more easily than the main army camp. In the evening, our pilots dropped supplies, including food, medicine, and batteries, to the besieged men. Finally, on 13 November, our team of commandos, supported by infantry, made a successful beach landing southwest of Pooneryn. Simultaneously, our pilots accomplished their assigned task and safely reached the soldiers' location. As a platoon commander, I landed with the battalion a few miles away from the main base in Pooneryn as reinforcement. As we moved in, we evacuated wounded soldiers and rushed them to a helicopter landing area that we had cleared. We were able to clear the area with enough heavy fire to enable the naval troops and helicopters to land. In response to our successful landing and advance, the LTTE forces started to withdraw from Pooneryn. On 14 November, the fourth day after the initial attack, we consolidated our control of the entire camp.


Map 3: The Pooneryn Operation

During the First and Second Eelam Wars (beginning in 1983 and 1990, respectively), the LTTE stayed on the offensive, and the government had to react to their innovations.1 Pooneryn is a vast area guarded jointly by the army and navy. When the Pooneryn base was attacked in the incident I described above, the full strength of the camp was 1,500 soldiers, while the total strength of the LTTE cadres at that time was understood to be over 5,000. The LTTE's guerrilla tactics—including infiltrating through the forward line of troops, attacking from the rear, and wearing a uniform similar enough to allow them to mingle with the regular army soldiers—contributed greatly to their successes. The LTTE also concentrated all their resources against security forces in their major offensive operations. They managed to overrun many military bases, inflicting heavy losses and damage, just as they had in their attacks in Pooneryn.

Operation Riviresa: The Liberation of Jaffna

Map 4: Operations Riviresa and Thunder Strike

Operation Riviresa was the largest operation ever launched by the Sri Lankan security forces; its objective was to take Jaffna from the LTTE. During a brief cessation of hostilities following national elections and a change of government in 1994, the LTTE was able to regroup, restock, and train sufficient cadres to enhance its offensive capability. This raised concerns within the government, and our worst fears were realized in late April 1995, when the LTTE downed two military aircraft using surface-to-air missiles and repeatedly attacked naval craft, thus severely hindering the army's movements into and out of the Jaffna Peninsula. At this point, the Sri Lankan government decided that offensive action to regain the peninsula was imperative. Accordingly, our battalion trained for three months on Kayts Island, situated to the west of Jaffna, focusing on the skills for fighting in built-up areas. Because there were no civilian inhabitants on the island, we did our training with live fire. After completing this training, in July 1995 we were transported to Kankesanthurai Harbor, on the northern coast of Jaffna, by naval mechanized landing craft. Our reserve strike division launched a preliminary operation (called Thunder Strike) to capture the town of Achchuveli, approximately 16 kilometers north of the city of Jaffna (see maps 4 and 5). This was a highly successful operation in which the LTTE suffered heavy casualties. Its outcome largely supported Operation Riviresa by boosting troop morale and reinforcing Palaly Air Base.

Map 5: Operation Riviresa

On 1 October 1995, just before Operation Riviresa began, our battalion launched an offensive to expand the Palaly forward defensive line along the Kankesanthurai–Jaffna road. We took Mallakam town, which is 10 kilometers from the town of Jaffna, by surprise, and were able to destroy a large number of terrorists during the LTTE's foiled counterattacks. Subsequently, on 17 October, we shifted our battalion to the Point Pedro–Jaffna road (the easternmost approach of Operation Riviresa) and started our advance from Achchuveli town along with the western approach along the Palaly–Jaffna road (see map 5).

For the first time in the history of Sri Lanka, the armed forces launched an offensive operation involving three divisions. Our two infantry divisions launched the operation along a narrow front on converging axes using conventional tactics. We were vulnerable to LTTE indirect fire, but the concentration of force, which was applied at the right time and place, helped to outnumber the LTTE and subsequently demoralized them. Unprecedented concentrated fire from artillery, mortars, and tanks, combined with air and continuous ground assaults, broke the will and cohesion of the LTTE forces. On 2 December, we entered Jaffna city but found it abandoned—it looked like a ghost town. The LTTE had taken everything before their withdrawal, and the inhabitants had fled. In the aftermath of the operation, we resettled the 600,000 civilians who had camped on the west side of Jaffna Peninsula during the operation. This operation was a turning point for the LTTE as a guerrilla force, and the point at which the mindset of the Tamil population began to turn away from supporting the LTTE, who were moving toward a losing endgame.


Operation Sath Jaya: The Liberation of Kilinochchi

Map 6: Operation to take Kilinochchi: Major routes

About seven months later, on 18 July 1996, having experienced a battlefield defeat at Mullaitivu (the main town of Mullaitivu District, situated on the northeastern coast of the Northern Province), Minister of Defence General Anuruddha Ratwatte ordered Operation Sath Jaya to be launched on 26 July. The goal was to liberate the LTTE stronghold of Kilinochchi (the main town in Sri Lanka's north, located 100 kilometers southeast of Jaffna) and rebuild the reputation of the government after that demoralizing defeat. Our earlier victory during Operation Riviresa gave our forces the experience they needed to plan for the liberation of Kilinochchi. At the beginning of the operation, I was the second in command of Bravo Company. Our battalion started the march into LTTE territory from Paranthan toward the east as a deception and met with strong enemy resistance. Only about five kilometers in, the LTTE intercepted our troops and launched a heavy attack. On the following morning, as the troops again attempted to move in the same direction, the LTTE staged another counterattack. We suffered heavy casualties, including two platoon commanders and many senior noncommissioned officers.

After two days of intense fighting on the eastern flank, Special Forces opened another approach from west to east on our western flank. Subsequently, my battalion withdrew from the eastern feint and made our real move on the western front. On 26 September, when our battalion tried to break out toward Kilinochchi from the new approach, the LTTE launched a spoiling attack with heavy artillery and mortar fire support. We lost 168 soldiers, including some officers. Tragically, my company commander died in my lap as the result of a gunshot wound to his chest. Nevertheless, we managed to kill all of the LTTE cadres who took part in the spoiling attack. The commanding officer appointed me to take over as company commander and ordered me to continue our operation to capture Kilinochchi town, which we achieved against heavy resistance on 30 September 1996.

Map 7: Operation to take Kilinochchi: Force array

Operation Unceasing Waves II

On 27 September 1998, on my first day back with the battalion after attending overseas training with the Indian armed forces, the LTTE launched a successful attack against my battalion's defenses in Kilinochchi, 10 miles south of Elephant Pass (see maps 6 and 7). I was the commander of Bravo Company, 6th Battalion, Gemunu Watch, for an operation codenamed "Unceasing Waves II." Our battalion was holding a defensive line facing southward toward the LTTE stronghold. At around 0100 hours, our defenses began to receive small arms fire, along with a heavy barrage of artillery fire. During this attack, the LTTE also started shelling the tactical headquarters of the brigade and battalions. The guerrillas penetrated our defenses from the flanks and started firing from our front and rear with massive fire support. After we had spent many hours of fighting off their ceaseless assaults, the LTTE managed to cut our forces off from the rear and surround our defenses. They fired rocket-propelled grenades at the tanks, armored personnel carriers, ambulances, and other vehicles that were involved in reinforcement and the evacuation of casualties. Our battalion nevertheless remained intact, and we effectively repulsed all the waves of assaults, but at the cost of heavy casualties.

After two days of fighting, at 1700 hours we received orders to withdraw from the defensive line toward Elephant Pass, but we were still completely surrounded by the LTTE. We eventually managed to conduct a tactical withdrawal in contact. By that time, I had lost one of my platoon commanders and many soldiers. The LTTE subsequently took control of the town of Kilinochchi and a five-mile stretch of the A9, the Jaffna–Kandy road, which remained in their hands until the army liberated the area in 2009. Conversely, on the same day that the LTTE captured Kilinochchi, security forces took the city of Mankulam, the main township south of Kilinochchi.

Strength and Leadership Problems for the Sri Lankan Forces

A major issue for military leaders and planners during this time was a lack of adequate forces. Army personnel were not equipped and trained adequately to conduct offensive operations, and the army had an acute shortage of the troops it needed to conduct operations and hold ground, problems that were evident from the beginning of the conflict. Unfortunately, successive governments did not address these deficiencies, and there were numerous incidents at Kokavil, Mulathive, Elephant Pass, and Mandathive where our forces failed to counter LTTE attacks. During the initial period of the Second Eelam War, in 1990, Sri Lanka's armed forces were in a defensive posture except for domination patrols to destroy or capture enemy soldiers and equipment; destroy installations, facilities, and key points; and harass enemy forces. These patrols also provided security for larger units as needed. The navy and air force took a supportive role by providing logistical support to the army where it did not have land access to its bases and camps.


Operation Riviresa was one of the major operations conducted by Sri Lanka's armed forces against the LTTE, and it was both well-planned and well-coordinated. The primary objective of the operation was the capture and liberation of the town of Jaffna and the rest of the Jaffna peninsula. By contrast, during Operation Sath Jaya to capture the LTTE stronghold of Kilinochchi, the country's political leadership overrode the advice of military commanders and drove the army to stretch its forces beyond the practical limits of defense. Political leaders were wrongly convinced that the LTTE would collapse after the recapture of Jaffna city.

Operation Riviresa had us advancing along two road axes, which enabled us to protect our flanks throughout the offensive and prevent any counterattack by the LTTE. During Operation Sath Jaya, however, a shortage of troops left our southern flank mostly open to the LTTE's counterattacks. We marched into the LTTE stronghold of Kilinochchi on a single axis and sustained heavy casualties from LTTE artillery and mortar fire, in addition to their counterattacks and spoiling attacks. The broad front and width of Operation Riviresa provided enough maneuverability for our troops and armor, while by comparison, Operation Sath Jaya's narrow front restricted the maneuverability of the assaulting troops and armor. Furthermore, because we focused our operation on a single objective, the LTTE were able to throw their entire strength at us, delay the operation, and inflict heavy casualties. During both operations, we observed that our relief system to rotate soldiers into and out of the front lines did not function well, which meant that soldiers were exhausted from remaining continuously on the battlefront. New recruits and soldiers who were not trained prior to the operation accounted for most of our casualties.

During the initial stages of the Eelam Wars, our manpower shortages meant that we were unable to maintain security even in areas where the war did not reach. When the LTTE began losing battles in the northern and eastern regions that had been under their control, they began to carry out periodic attacks on economic, political, and social targets in the south. The LTTE's most lethal weapon was suicide bombings, for which we had no answer.

From these experiences, I came to understand that the success of operations depends primarily on sound intelligence, which depends in turn on the structure and function of the intelligence agencies. In the fight against the LTTE, there were many government agencies and departments with various structures and functions dedicated to conducting strategic planning for operations. They functioned in isolation, however, which made it difficult for them to integrate their work and also slowed the dissemination of information and intelligence. To complicate things further, the various branches of the intelligence agencies and the people working within them tended to compete with one another rather than cooperate. In most cases, these agencies were unable to provide clear situational pictures developed from the available intelligence, but rather were inclined to provide just some information collected from a few sources. LTTE strategies, tactics, motives, and intentions shifted constantly, depending on the local and international situations, but the information provided by the intelligence services throughout the conflict was almost entirely inaccurate, which meant that the military lost the initiative.

In one instance, the military did receive an accurate intelligence picture, and the subsequent operation was successful. In 1995, the LTTE attacked the Weli Oya area, in the northeastern part of the Sri Lankan mainland, but thanks to good information, the Sri Lankan Army was able to cut off and ambush the insurgent fighters, who lost over 300 cadres killed or injured. This was the first time the LTTE had lost such large numbers. Other than this one event, however, the intelligence provided to the military lacked answers to the vital questions of when, where, what, and how—the most fundamental aspects of a useful intelligence picture. As a result, our operations either were ineffective or became nightmares of shock and surprise for our troops.

Because the intelligence agencies entirely failed to understand the importance of good intelligence and how it could be exploited in warfare, the LTTE took advantage of the situation to conduct a large number of successful surprise attacks on high-value targets. LTTE terrorists assassinated several political and military leaders, including, in 1993, President Ranasinghe Premadasa. This situation ultimately led to misunderstanding and a loss of credibility between the intelligence agencies and the ground troops.

Another area in which the LTTE had an advantage was in using public relations to build support for their fighters and their cause. The army did not have any experience handling either public relations or the media, so we did not inform the public about our successes or failures or do anything to counter LTTE propaganda. The LTTE were therefore very effective at winning sympathy and financial support from the Tamil diaspora and others around the world.

The Fourth Eelam War (July 2006–May 2009)

After I graduated from the Army Command and Staff College in 2006, I was posted as brigade major to the 214th Infantry Brigade in Vavuniya, one of the major districts in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.2 At this time, LTTE leader Prabhakaran had boycotted all attempts at peace made by the new government, and after a long ceasefire (2002–2006), fighting began again. My brigade's mission was to conduct an operation along two approaches from the east and the west to liberate the LTTE stronghold in a region called the Wanni (see maps 8 and 9). The situation had become critical after several attacks on military convoys in my brigade's area of operations. My commander ordered me to provide an effective plan to deploy troops on two major roads from Vavuniya to the west coast. The goal was to stop clashes in which Tigers were inflicting heavy casualties on the brigade and killing a number of civilians.

Map 8: The Wanni Operation, 2006

I did a thorough study of the brigade's area of responsibility and the many incidents that had occurred there, such as Claymore ambushes and suicide attacks on military convoys and civilian buses on the southern roads that lead toward the west coast. These roads were supposed to be protected by the military in conjunction with specially trained police, but I found that there was no proper coordination, understanding, or confidence between police and military personnel. After discussing the matter with the brigade commander, I organized a training team with a few officers and Other Rank (non-commissioned) instructors and prepared a syllabus for a police refresher military training course. I planned the training to focus mainly on field craft, tactics, map reading, and weapons training, along with lectures on leadership, motivation, and team-building. The training was completed within two months as planned, under my close supervision and control. The police officers who went through the course started respecting the military more, because we had trained them in the skills they needed. Subsequently, we deployed police troops very effectively along the main roads, while the military conducted offensive operations against Tiger forces in the jungle. This training and cooperation allowed us to greatly reduce the overall threat and the number of incidents that occurred.

Changing Strategy

Map 9: Wanni District, 2006

After efforts to negotiate a settlement with the LTTE during the fifth round of peace negotiations failed, in July 2006 the army started an all-out assault against the LTTE with the blessings of the new government.3 The LTTE itself shifted to an open offensive posture using semi-conventional tactics, such as establishing camps and bases and holding defensive lines. As the insurgents became more visible militarily, we realized that there should be a shift in our own strategy, away from the conventional warfare we had been practicing in the previous Eelam Wars toward an insurgent-centric approach that aimed to isolate and destroy the LTTE. During Operations Riviresa and Sath Jaya, we concentrated more on capturing ground, a strategy that did not have much impact on the LTTE organization itself. Now all military efforts would be directed according to this unconventional strategy, which was completely new to our experience.

Thus, in mid-2006, using all the resources available, we began major—and what turned out to be final—offensives against the LTTE in a bid to end the three-decade–long conflict. Unlike previous phases of the war, this time the entire army enjoyed complete operational freedom to launch the offensive, using the best men to do the tasks. We adapted the unconventional tactics of small-group operations in broad fronts along all three approaches from the south. The privilege of exercising mission command and initiative went to junior leaders, including Other Rankers. I should mention here that the small-group operations conducted by special infantry operations training (SIOT) platoons were commendable. These SIOT platoons carried out special operations in the immediate vicinity (within four to five kilometers) against strong LTTE defenses that were preventing the security forces' advance. We never limited small-group operations to the elite forces but committed the SIOT platoons extensively. In the meantime, we used the rest of the battalion manpower to find, fix, and destroy the insurgents and hold the ground thus captured. These operations were very successful.

Subsequently, in August 2008, I was selected to hold a staff officer appointment at the United Nations Missions Force Headquarters in Haiti and left Sri Lanka to take up this new post.

Elements of Our Victory against the LTTE (2007–2009)

Our army finally achieved victory in 2009, after liberating the Eastern and Northern Provinces and giving freedom to the Tamil people who had been under the thumb of the LTTE. When we analyzed and compared the earlier and later stages of the conflict, what stood out was the change in military training. Since independence in 1948, army training in Sri Lanka had consisted of traditional maneuver training based on British doctrine, with the addition of some improvised training that would suit the Sri Lankan environment. During the ceasefire of 2002 to 2006, the army conducted SIOT training to address LTTE fighting strategies. SIOT operations took away the freedom of movement that the LTTE elements had enjoyed over the decades of insurgency, bringing the battlefronts within four to five kilometers of LTTE camps. Simultaneously, Special Forces and commandos began to operate in the rear areas of LTTE territory. In the course of my studies, I learned that during World War I, the German army adopted a similar formation that they called "stormtroop" units.4 These units gave lower-ranking officers the opportunity to form small, agile groups equipped with a wide variety of combat weapons and specialties. Furthermore, the NCOs were involved in the decision-making process and were entrusted with real responsibilities. This improvisation paved the way for the introduction of "Blitzkrieg" at a higher level in World War II and brought success to the Germans in their major offensives.

Map 10: Capture of the LTTE Stronghold of Kiinochchi, 2008-09<span class=" div="" href="#5" id="5_up" name="5_up" style="font-size:0.91em;" title="click here for more info

In the final operation to defeat the Tigers, our professional military leadership and guidance, clear military aims, political leadership, and national will came together, shaping our military strength to meet our need. All three components of the Sri Lankan military's fighting power—conceptual, moral, and physical—had gone through rapid changes to prepare the forces to fight decisively against the LTTE. As for our military strategy, Operation Riviresa was the first time we used a "multi-thrust line" approach rather than fighting on a single front. The LTTE had never seen this maneuver before, and as a result, they had to dissipate their combat power to confront each line, weakening their overall combat cohesiveness and combat synergy. The small-group concepts adapted by our forces were a very effective innovation.

During the final phase of operations conducted against the LTTE, we maintained constant momentum and the impetus of the offensive by both securing the land we captured from the LTTE and relentlessly carrying out offensives. Due to the paucity of troops, this strategy could not be adopted in earlier offensives, and accomplishing it was another significant factor that contributed to victory. In addition, our navy destroyed 10 LTTE ships (seaborne warehouses) in blue waters and completely cut off the supply route of the LTTE. This turned out to be a pivotal point in the campaign, which, along with the liberation of Jaffna in 1995, aided the Sri Lankan Army's operations on land to bring the majority of Tamils under government control and led to final victory. Without the stronghold of Jaffna, the LTTE could not mobilize the Tamil majority against the government of Sri Lanka as they did in the 1987 Vadamarachchi Operation in eastern Jaffna, when the government had to stop fighting due to pressure from the Indian government.

Ruins of Governor's Bungalow, Jaffna, destroyed in 1980s civil war

The Post-Conflict Situation

After completing my assignment to the UN mission in Haiti, I returned to Sri Lanka immediately after the victory over the LTTE. I was appointed commanding officer of the 8th Battalion of the Gemunu Watch (Infantry). My duties were in the war-affected areas, assisting with rehabilitation, resettlement, and reconciliation programs in a post-conflict environment. I worked extensively in civil-military coordination alongside governmental and nongovernmental local and international agencies engaged in development. My duties were sometimes a terrible challenge, because most of the people, victims of the protracted war, were very poor and frustrated. I realized that defeating an insurgency does not bring the conflict to a conclusive end. I had to put all my efforts into managing a post-conflict society for peace building, within a framework called disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration. Despite all our work, however, it seems that Sri Lanka is still facing these challenges: pro-LTTE elements continue to make strong attempts to propagate the Tamil separatist ideology and discredit the Sri Lankan government's efforts to bring sustainable peace.

To meet these post-war challenges, the Sri Lankan government should double the strength of its intelligence community. I do not, however, see the need to maintain military bases all over the country to stop the reemergence of another separatist movement. Looking back, I believe that "Black July" in 1983, the day on which Sri Lanka had the worst riot in its history, was a turning point for the LTTE, because it gave the separatists a fine opportunity to build support for their movement. Until then, none of these groups, including the LTTE, could muster more than 20 sympathizers at a time. In other words, the Tamil insurgency that waged a 30-year struggle for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka had an accidental birth. A sound intelligence system would have helped us defeat that movement before it grew large enough to be dangerous, and it is what will allow us to launch an operation at any given time to defeat any future threat.

At the strategic level, we need a central intelligence organization. There is no proper mechanism or body to coordinate the work and exchange of personnel between the various intelligence branches. We need to build a common security and intelligence database, conduct joint training and joint operations, and share technology, expertise, and experience that will enable us to embrace new technological concepts. Further, friendly foreign nations could have a role in this organization to coordinate intelligence. At the operational level, we should design a research and development unit that caters to local intelligence requirements as they evolve to counter the separatist ideology. At the tactical level, we need to institute periodic and extensive training and awareness programs to impart the skills that will allow individuals to identify resistance networks while they are still at an early stage.

Now it is time to forget the bitter past and leave behind the war mentality. We defeated the LTTE in an effort to find a lasting solution to the problem of violent insurgency. If we try to live in the past, then in the years to come, all our sacrifices will have been in vain. The government must take all precautions to avoid the blunders that were made in 1983. We need to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil community and address their core issues. To lessen the mistrust among communities, we must think as Sri Lankans at all levels.

Appendix A: Timeline of My Participation in Operations against the LTTE

Srl No











General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University/Sri Lanka Military Academy






Platoon commander

6 Battalion the Gemunu Watch

Trincomalee, Pooneryn, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Killinochchi





Company commander

6 Battalion the Gemunu Watch

Jaffna, Kilinochchi

Elephant Pass






52 Division/Overall Operations Command






Staff officer/instructor

General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University/Sri Lanka Military Academy






Operations and training officer

6 Battalion the Gemunu Watch






Brigade major

214 Brigade






Directing staff/ adjutant

Sri Lanka Military Academy






Staff officer, UN MSN Haiti

United Nations Stabilization Mission






Staff officer I (Posting/Promotions)

Military Secretary's Branch, Army Headquarters






Commanding officer

8 Battalion the Gemunu Watch






Directing staff

Defence Services Command and Staff College Sapugaskanda





About the Author(s):

COL Sylvester Perera serves in the Sri Lankan army.

  1. For a timeline of the Sri Lankan civil war, see "Sri Lanka Profile—Timeline," BBC, updated 9 January 2015: back up
  2. In 1999, I was selected to be the aide-de-camp to the general officer commanding, 52nd Division, and later to the overall operations commander, Colombo. Subsequently in 2002, with the rank of captain, I served as staff officer 3 in the training wing of the Kotelawala Defence University in Colombo. I returned in 2004 as a major to the 6th Battalion of the Gemunu Watch, which was deployed in the east, and served as the operations and training officer. The following year, I was selected to follow the Army Command and Staff College course. go back up
  3. The LTTE had cut the water supply to a part of the Eastern Province, and at this point the army launched a full-scale attack to retake the sluice gates and secure the water supply. go back up
  4. Bruce I. Gudmundsson, Stormtroop Tactics: Innovation in the German Army, 1914–1918 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1989). go back up
  5. This map depicts an important part of the final campaign to defeat the LTTE insurgency. The blue arrows indicate the advance of Sri Lankan military forces along multiple lines of thrust. The place names and dates indicate when and where the SRA captured LTTE-occupied areas.go back up
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