Estimates of the Death Toll among the Fighting Forces of the LTTE and Government of Sri Lanka

Michael Roberts

49c-Balraj with fellow fighters on a Main Battle Tank seized by the Tigers in IththaavilCol Balraj and Tiger fighters after the capture of a battle tank during the encirclement of Elephant Pass in April 2000…. SEE


1a = 21,051 from 27 Nov. 1982 [Shankar] – 6 June 2008 ………………………………………………of which 4,535 or 21.5 % were female.[1]

1b = ??? 13,000 as a guess for rest of the period June 2008-end 2009… ……………………………………………………….making a total of ………….34,000 perhaps?

2 = 22,247 cadres (with 11,812 identified by name during Eelam War IV alone[2]

3 = thereby suggesting that the total Liberation Tiger losses for the whole period 1982-2009 could even add up to 40,000 (being 22,000 for E-War IV and roughly 18,000 in the three previous phases of war)

4 = 40-45,000? – if one accepts the claim by General Sarath Fonseka in October 2009 which alleged that during Eelam War IV the LTTE lost 22,000 to SL Army action and 2000 to the work of other security agencies, making circa 24,000 killed; and then add this figure to the computations for LTTE dead in the three previous phases of war relayed in Wikipedia and other sources. Fonseka has been casual and approximate in the numbers reeled out on various occasions; but the word for word interview extracted by De Silva-Ranasinghe provides many insights into Eelam War IV and why the Liberation Tigers were defeated. It is essential reading for any study of this encounter. See Sergei De Silva-Ranasinghe, “Sri Lanka’s Experience in Counter-Insurgency Warfare,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, Oct. 2009, Vol. 35/8, pp. 40-46.

51a-panditharLTTE inventions of weaponry — the pandithar

73a-EMBANKMENT FOXHOLE defensive modalities of booby-trapped bund and ditch utilised extensively by the  LTTE during the retreat in 2008 and 2009 — but also central to their frontlines throughout 73b-bund-water at SINNA PARANTHAN

99b- TIGER DEAD-20090405_04_pp1 99a-Puthukkudiyirippu07

Tiger bodies — these two Pics from Ministry of Defence, after the Sl Army captured the little town of PTK


1a = 23,790 ….. from 1981 to 2009 [3]

1b = 6,261 …. during Eelam War IV[4]

2. Another estimate  

                                                 Dead       +          MIA                       =         TOTAL

E-WAR I                                  933      +               05                        =                938

E-WAR II:                             3539    +                605                        =           4,144 

E-WAR 3:                              9448    +               2718                         =        12,166

E-WAR 4:                              5740    +                 103                          =        5,843

= 23,091

Thus the declarations for KIA and MIA together from different sources during Eelam War IV range from 6261 to 5843 to 5725[5] to 5415.[6] This need not occasion surprise or doubt because some figures may have excluded the MIA or been confined to the Sri Lankan Army. We have a rough approximation of 5400-to-6261 dead or missing in action. That is adequate as a comparative ball-park figure.

For the Sri Lankan Army one aspect of Eelam War IV was a striking reversal of the fate they suffered during Eelam War III (and an indication of the contrasting skills of their officer corps in these two phases). This was in the ratio of MIA to KIA – that is “Missing in Action” set beside “Killed in Action”.[7] In one count the following figures were discovered:

E-War III:   9,448 dead … 2,718 MIA = total of 12,166 plus 12,398 wounded

E-War IV:   5,740 dead …     103 MIA = total of 5,843

THUS in the course of Eelam War III from 1995-2001 the proportion of MIA to KIA was a staggering 22.9 per cent whereas in Eelam War IV  it was only 1.7 per cent.  As a comparative measure, note that in World War Two the US armed forces recorded “78,750 missing in action ….. [amounting to] over 19 per cent of the total 405,399 killed in the conflict;” while the ratio during the Korean War was “ just a mite “over 15 per cent of the total killed in the conflict.”

65b-Toppigala 11 DN 66--THOPIGALA CAPTURED Battle to capture Toppigala in the Eastern Province mid 2007

[1] See /sri_lanka_eelam_war_IV_imminent_end.html

[2] See LLRC 2011: section 3.30 – note that the government figures re the named LTTE personnel would have come from intercepted radio transmissions.

[3] Figures provided by Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, interview with Sydney Morning Herald, 22 May 2009, AND Lankan_ Civil_War.

 [4] Same as fn. 9 in Roberts: “BBC Blind”. The wounded during Eelam War IV are said to have added up to 28,189.

 [5] LLRC 2011: section 3.30.

 [6] IDAG 2013 citing SL army sources.

[7] Note that in normal circumstances “deserters” will not be part of these figures because they occur for the e most part when soldiers go home on leave. That is they do not report back for duty and abscond.


Filed under accountability, atrocities, authoritarian regimes, environmental degradation, gordon weiss, historical interpretation, liberation tigers of tamil eelam, life stories, LTTE, military expenditure, military strategy, power politics, prabhakaran, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil Tiger fighters, truth as casualty of war, UN reports, world events & processes

19 responses to “Estimates of the Death Toll among the Fighting Forces of the LTTE and Government of Sri Lanka

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