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Jayanath COLOMBAGE: Counterterrorism and Deradicalization: Lessons Learnt from the Sri Lankan Experience
September 12,2019   By:
Counterterrorism and Deradicalization:
 
Lessons Learnt from the Sri Lankan Experience
 
Jayanath COLOMBAGE   
 
Sri Lanka
 
Abstract: Sri Lanka become the only country in the contemporary world to defeat terrorism by military means. This rare feat was achieved, having fought with the ‘most ruthless terrorist organization in the world’ (FBI, 2008) for nearly three decades. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launched a violent, bloody and asymmetric war against the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) in the early1980s. The main claim of the LTTE was ‘a separate State’, which was nearly two-thirds of the land mass for a mere 12 percent of the Tamil population. The LTTE began their violent campaign with a small group of combatants initially trained, armed and supported by India in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu. By 2006, the organization had developed to be the only militant Tamil organization with a standing conventional Army, de facto Navy and a mini-Air Force. The LTTE pioneered the suicide vest, suicide boat, suicide underwater saboteurs, female suicide bombers, and many other asymmetric tactics against the GOSL forces with great success. They also enjoyed the biggest, most effective and profitable international terrorist financing network and money laundering operations, which were conducted through many leading Western and South Eastern capitals. 
 
The LTTE was the only organization in the world that effectively used maritime operations as part of their grand strategy. The maritime wing of the LTTE - Sea Tigers, was most effective at sea and destroyed more than 50 naval and commercial vessels and craft causing a large number of casualties. They also operated more than 15 merchant ships and was engaged in large scale gun running and human smuggling using international sea routes and ports. By the year 2006, the LTTE controlled large areas of landmass and enjoyed a de facto administration. 2006 was a watershed year in the GOSL’s battle against LTTE terrorism. With a strong political leadership and a grand strategy, GOSL forces launched a simultaneous ground, air and sea offensive with a view to free the country from terrorism. This operation lasted just three years and the so called ‘Mighty LTTE’ was completely defeated militarily, and comprehensively with their leadership on ground decimated. On completion of the war on 19th May 2009, 12000 ex-combatants surrendered to the GOSL forces. Instead of subjecting them to legal procedures, the government decided to rehabilitate them and launched a very ambitious program combining civil-military efforts. Both the military defeat of the LTTE and rehabilitation of ex-combatants were complete successes with zero incidents of related violence as none of the rehabilitated combatants took up arms or engaged in any unlawful activity. 
 
Peace prevailed in the country for nearly ten years until the Islamic ideologists and extremists carried out a series of coordinated suicide bombings, known as ‘Easter Bombings”, targeting mainly Christians and foreigners. The Islamic State later claimed responsibility for these heinous attacks justifying it as revenge for loss of ground of their Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. These devastating attacks indicated a clear vulnerability and lack of national security readiness in the country only ten years after defeating a much more powerful and ruthless terrorist organization. Unlike the LTTE, the Islamic terrorism is more internationally motivated and radicalized. Furthermore, the suicide bombers were well educated, rich young men and women who had been inspired by the ideology of Wahhabism and IS propaganda. Post the ‘Easter Bombings’, emergency law was declared in the country and armed forces were called to action. The military armed with experience gained by fighting the LTTE rose to the occasion and arrested a large number of suspects, seized training locations, weapons, ammunition and explosives. 
 
Both these cases, the conflict with the LTTE and handling the post ‘Easter Bombings’ have provided a wealth of experience and lessons to be learnt in combating any form of terrorism. This paper will examine these lessons learnt.      
 
Key Words: Sri Lanka; Counter Terrorism; Deradicalization; Islamic Terrorism; Lessons learnt
 
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