Hiran Halangode on the SL Army’s Land Warfare Campaign in 2006-09

The SL Army’s Land Warfare Campaign in 2006-09: Debating the Lines of Strategic Emphasis FOUR: Retd Brig. Hiran Halangode’s Clarification


This is the definition of Counter Insurgency Strategy. A successful Counter Insurgency strategy encompasses the full range of measures taken by the state / government authority to safeguard the political life, economic growth, and to protect itself and its people from subversion and lawlessness.

This is a long duration strategy although certain actions can help in dealing with the violence and re-establishing the administrative system for an existing democracy to prevail. The bottom-line is the will and support of the people. The Insurgents will survive as long as they have POPULAR SUPPORT. The government through its military, has to use necessary force to prevent the Insurgent from gaining more support from the people to continue the violence and overthrow the existing system of governance or claim territory for its own method of governance.

Therefore, the military has to use the carrot and stick method of using minimum force to curb or control the violence and win the support of the people by winning their hearts and minds. This is more easily said than done because the military has to restore order, to protect property, to preserve existing forms and interests by force of arms which is primarily defensive and reactive.

The insurgent on the other hand is primarily a propagandist, an agitator, a disseminator of revolutionary idea, who uses the struggle itself, the actual conflict as an instrument of agitation. Primarily to gain popular support and achieve surprise.

Hence Propaganda, Public information and Psychological operations is a key factor for both sides to win the support of the Population. Especially the electronic and print media with a global reach.

More to follow[1]


To complete the Counter Insurgency strategy the state must have these key areas covered. Have a well-defined AIM for all operations with a probable timeline. To restore DEMOCRACY and bring back a normal peaceful way of life for its people. This means to establish necessary Security to enable Development and progress in all spheres of Life.

Maintain the RULE of LAW which should be equal to all parties concerned. This is very difficult because the Insurgent having a distinct advantage, would have already used violence and taken control of certain areas or created a climate of violence and made the Law and Order situation very unstable. They would use SUBVERSION, ESPIONAGE, GUERRILLA WARFARE, TERRORISM and limited CONVENTIONAL WARFARE methods of operations to achieve their objectives. The difficulty to identify the threat at the initial stages and the complex issues to search, arrest, detain and interrogate suspected insurgents is a serious drawback for the Security Forces. The present laws are inadequate for expeditious Counter Insurgency action which will delay and drag on operations to the advantage of the Insurgents [Time and Space is on his side]. Special legal enactments, speedy court trials, adequate punishments and rehabilitation are suggested which involves the state leadership, Judiciary, Prisons, Police and normal law enforcement authorities and the Armed Forces when mobilized. This too needs to be streamlined and Justice delivered without delay. Human Rights and laws controlling violence has to be reviewed and enforced to ensure the Counter Insurgency campaign can succeed.

Intelligence operations using all National Intelligence agencies under one central point of authority should be established. They must be accountable to the state and its people where abductions and illegal killings should be barred. People must have confidence to share information and support the state.

sound administrative system which addresses all needs of the people from food, water, electricity, fuel, medicine, transport, financial services, emergency services like fire and ambulance etc. This has to be coordinated at National / State level.

Public Information and Propaganda. This should be based on the truth and should reach the remote areas where the Insurgency is developing. Similarly the world audience includes the UN. world bodies, many countries, NGOs, I NGOs and Human Rights groups that could support the state effort or be an impediment to the campaign.

The Security Forces should be organized as a Joint Force and be employed with close coordination and support of each other. Their operations must be only directed at the identified Insurgents by the Intelligence organizations which needs to be very surgical in its conduct. Surprise and Secrecy are key to success. Winning the Hearts and Minds of the people is a very vital aspect that has to be included in the entire gamut of operations where every leader is held responsible and accountable for their actions from President to Corporal.

In short the Counter Insurgency strategy needs to provide Security/reestablish Security whilst encouraging development in the areas under contest. This in essence is the key to success. The State needs to address the concerns/grievances of the insurgents whilst re-establishing normalcy. A humongous TASK.

This complex and comprehensive strategy requires very good LEADERSHIP at all levels that are RESPONSIBLE and ACCOUNTABLE at all times. The Political leadership must TRUST the Security Forces and support and resource them adequately to achieve the long-term AIM of restoring Democracy and peace in the country.

I will next explain [Gen] FM Sarath Fonseka’s strategy to win the war/conflict.

Cheers, Hiran

     *****  ****


 Let us examine the situation in 2005 or early 2006 when the MR regime was elected and FM SF was appointed Army Commander. The LTTE had very successfully used the 2002 peace talks to gain access to the South and bring in large quantities of arms and ammunition by sea. Just see the armaments the LTTE possessed.

Dossier on LTTE Weapons | Military Technology | Projectile …


The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), were the pioneers of suicide bomb technology and had the most effective suicide capability in the world. They were indisputably the most efficient and brutal terrorist organization ever to utilize suicide terrorists for the advancement of its struggle to establish a separate state in Sri Lanka.

Dossier on LTTE Weapons …………. Uploaded by SJV on Aug 15, 2012

This was not for peaceful purposes but to achieve its sole objective of Eelam. A separate state for 12% Tamils living in the North and East, covering a land area of 33% and a coastal area of over 60%. They had committed over 5000 violations against less than 400 violations by the Security Forces during the peace talks over 3 years creating an atmosphere of distrust, and creating an image that the LTTE was a formidable Insurgent force that could be never defeated by the Sri Lankan military. In this backdrop and the lack of a coherent National Security Strategy Gen Sarath Fonseka had no option but to take the war to the LTTE. In short to be offensive and aggressive rather than be reactive and defensive.

This needed a drastic change in the thinking and execution of government strategy led by military operations which had to be backed by the political leadership. The TRUST and POLITICAL WILL of the MR government and the coordination of the overall war effort enabled Gen SF to deliver ahead of time. The government mainly through the Secretary Defence coordinated the other defence forces and government agencies to make a total effort to support the military offensive through recruitment drives, procurement of defence equipment, arms and ammunition etc., Intelligence gathering and the securing of cleared areas.

The government was forced to tackle the LTTE who declared war in Mavil Aru and prevented farmers from getting the much needed water for their survival and cultivation. It also helped to galvanize the rest of the country who had been through 25 years of terrorism and mayhem. Gen SF was forced to liberate the territory held or claimed to be of the LTTE especially in the Wanni.

Gen SF launched his offensive in the East starting with the Mavil aru area and coming South to Toppigala and the adjacent Batticaloa district. Whilst all these activities were going on the Army increased its strength from 30,000 combat troops to over 80,000 combat troops in less than 3 years. This is a phenomenal increase in fighting troops because the LTTE had over 35,000 cadres and in 2 decades established itself in the Wanni and virtually controlled it with its own independent organizations like the land, sea, and air tiger cadres, auxiliary forces, its police and judicial system, an effective tax and revenue collection system, TV and Radio broadcasts etc. Above all, it had over a 300,000 population who were terrorized and subjugated to the LTTE writ. Operating in such areas is very difficult and the Army’s surgical capability was very limited at the beginning of Eelam War IV. It lacked trained officers and soldiers, a comprehensive hearts and minds campaign through a concerted public information and psychological operations campaign and had only 1 Reserve Division of about 4000 troops [normally 6500-7500 in an Infantry Division] which was also deployed in the North. The existing structure led to a numbers game exercise where 5 Divisions and 3 Task Forces were used to completely destroy the LTTE structure of about 35,000 cadres and many other supporters locally and abroad.

LTTE’s berm defence system nullifying the SLA’s armoured might and advances …. SL Army corpses = https://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2008/dec/12/lankan-army-suffers-setbacks-9985.html

If the Army was going to be surgical it needed time and space which would have given Prabakaran another lease of life. Five attempts of Peace talks and numerous cessation of hostilities only led to more violence and carnage and a dim hope of peace. Given the above circumstances, SF did what was most appropriate although the end result shows a campaign of annihilation. One also must understand the way Prabakaran fought. He used all methods as explained earlie.r but didn’t realize that this time space and time was not on his side. He expected the Tamil Nadu election factor to bail him out once more. When operations commenced in the Wanni his hardcore cadres resisted as planned, but their overwhelming numbers and firepower tilted the scales in the favour of the government forces.

Prabakaran was not willing to listen to advice because in victory you fail to understand the difficulty of winning and maintaining a winning posture unlike in defeat where there are many lessons to be learnt. Prabakaran was never willing to compromise which Gen SF knew from the start of his campaign and decided to defeat him militarily which was given the total support and assurance by MR through his brother GR.

The Downside is this cry of killing innocent civilians and destruction to property in the North and East. However, we have had almost 10 years of relative peace instead of violence, death and destruction after May 2009 defeat of the LTTE which also needs to be taken into account. For surgical operations you require an increase in our Special Forces and Commando troops, new equipment like helicopters, close support aircraft, stealth equipment, increased training with lots of ammunition and the latest cutting-edge equipment [i.e. drone technology]. Specially night fighting capability. All this costs money and takes time which was not available to a third world democracy. Our failure to get our message across to the world through diplomacy and a dedicated public information campaign, remains one of our major drawbacks. We still have no coherent foreign policy and even today have not developed one in parliament which has had serious repercussions on our foreign  and domestic policy and governance.

      ****  ****


[1] Retd Brig Hiran Halangode is the son of the Trinitian, the late Brig John Halangode of the Gemunu Watch. Hiran followed his father’s footsteps and served in the SL Army; ending up as as Brigade Commander of the 12th Brigade and Air Mobile Brigade (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Halangode). Also note

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One response to “Hiran Halangode on the SL Army’s Land Warfare Campaign in 2006-09

  1. palitha Senanayake

    Good to realize you doing some justice to your acumen.

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