Lessons from Sri Lanka: Brutality Can Help Win Small Wars


Categorie: COIN, David Axe |



Sri Lanka’s victorious offensive against the rebel Tamil Tigers this spring is a model of “hybrid” warfare, where states must contend with high-tech insurgent enemies. Small Wars Journal culled the major lessons of the war from an Indian journal. Defeating hybrid enemies requires:

• Unwavering political will
• Disregard for international opinion distracting from the goal
• No negotiations with the forces of terror
• Unidirectional floor of conflict information
• Absence of political intervention to pull away from complete defeat of the [enemy]
• Complete operational freedom for the security forces — let the best men do the task
• Accent on young commanders
• Keep[ing] your neighbors in the loop

“Most Western readers will find the lack of concern for civilian casualties in this strategy disconcerting,” Niel Smith writes:

A respected colleague argued that the more violent approach to [counter-insurgency] might ultimately be more humanitarian. He suggested population-centric COIN, while humanistic, takes longer, with uncertain probabilities of success, and often in the end creates more casualties among the population through inept execution than a ruthless enemy-focused campaign.

(Photo: via Now Public)


12 Responses to “Lessons from Sri Lanka: Brutality Can Help Win Small Wars”

  1. Steve says:

    So Sri Lanka has been stable for how long now, 3 months?

    Mission accomplished!!!

    This is so far beyond comparing apples to oranges that I don’t know where to start. Was Sri Lanka occupying a foreign country? Let’s have someone else take it from here…

  2. General Sherman would get this. And we haven’t had much trouble out of the Confederacy lately.

  3. Yeah Right says:

    Let me paraphrase:

    Dictate don’t mediate
    No mercy
    No human rights
    Conspire with the neighbors
    Get soldiers who are easy to brainwash

    What a stupid armchair philosophy. Where are you from, Wasilla???

  4. WarLord says:

    “Sadly” these options are not open to the US, we are the good guys. You know democracy, constitution, civilian control of military, regard for human rights, humane treatment of prisoners, etc Oh I know we don’t always do this but when we fail to show the world our “lady Liberty” behavior even in battle we regret it and it always extends our conflicts and creates problems at home

  5. infocyde says:

    ++ on the General Sherman comment. War shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, but when it is, it should be all or nothing. All these half wars or McWars where we fight with one hand tied behind our backs are doomed to failure. We beet the Nazi’s and the Japanese by being ruthless.

  6. infocyde You’re right. Now we have these endless wars with the UN always looking over our shoulder. No side can win and victory is almost taboo. The Lankans finally took charge of their problems, and now peace reigns.

  7. [...] It’s such a relatively minor threat, no one would argue this, but anti-piracy often takes firm, even brutal measures to suppress, or it grows into something far worse. Today I read the following on Sri Lankan lessons dealing with terror, that apply here as well. David Axe reveals to us how Brutality Can Help Win Small Wars: [...]

  8. Larry says:

    I think the West’s invasion Iraq and Afghanistan was a mistake but I do agree with Neil. Could we have defeated Hitler and Tojo with no civilian casualties? Maybe. It might have taken another 20 years though. If you think about it all Taliban deaths are civilian deaths. The Taliban are just a disparate group of civilians taking up arms.

  9. Terry Smith says:

    Right out of The Art of War – the Prince has to let the General do his job with no interference.

  10. [...] A controversial article on how Sri-Lanka won the first “hybrid war” including a bullet point list of rules to follow for putting down insurgencies, all of which fly in the face of conventional western Counter Insurgency doctrine advocated (quite rightly IMO) by the likes of David Kilcullen. [...]

  11. lanka man says:

    This is to answer the first question.

    It has been one year.

    No suiside bombings.
    No children being forced to fight

    I can go to Jaffna.
    I can go to Trinco.
    I can Go to Kilinochhi and Mulaitivu.
    People are more free.

    So a hell of a lot of success. Can only get better.

    No one can break up this country now.

  12. lanka man says:

    Mike Burleson, You are so right.

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