Thursday, 24 July 2014

Total Destruction of the Tamil Tigers - Paul Moorcraft

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in The Australian Army Journal. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the Journal. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact the AAJ: Website for the Journal is:

Title: Total Destruction of the Tamil Tigers
Author: Paul Moorcraft
ISBN: 978-1-78159-153-6
Pages: 184
Photos/Maps: 48 B/W//4
Publisher: Pen and Sword Publishing 

            Dr Moorcraft has written a very enlightening book about a war that received, relatively speaking, little to no coverage in the West; nor has it been the subject of much post war attention. The conflict between the minority Tamils of northern Sri Lanka and the majority Sinhalese lasted twenty six years from 1983 until 2009. A mixture of asymmetric and conventional fighting, it was unique in that the funding for the rebels came primarily from the Tamil diaspora and that they were able to build a force that included structured and disciplined air, sea and land elements. It is also unique in that the Tamils had, for a majority of the time, the upper hand in the conflict, only to be utterly crushed by the Government after a final, incredibly violent, three year campaign known as Eelam War IV (between 2006-2009).  

            Moorcraft’s book provides in depth historical analysis of the causes and execution of the wars over the entire period of the conflict.  Particular attention is paid to the development and expansion of the war from both the Tamil and Government perspective. This is important because it provides context to the reader and goes a long way towards understanding the success of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and the struggles of the Government. Additionally, Moorcraft discusses the key international players and the impact of the international environment on the struggle; in this case, the main external influencer was India.  

            This is interesting as the traditional players, the United States, UK and Russia, had very little influence on the activities in Sri Lanka. While the Sinhalese government paid lip service to their suggestions, they knew very well that they had to pay attention to the suggestions of India, the local superpower. What Moorcraft does very well is to identify and analyze the impact that Indian intervention had on the ongoing conflict and the complexity of that relationship (with both sides). He also expands upon the convoluted role that the Indian peacekeeping force played in their efforts to influence the final outcome and the lessons learned by the Tamils (and the Indians) from that interaction.  

Additionally, the development of capacity at each doctrinal level (tactical, operational and strategic) for the two sides is investigated and outlined. This aspect is quite fascinating as the Tigers represented a unique non-traditional force that became more effective due to its flexibility and adaptability as well as being under the sole direction of an acknowledged military genius (their leader Prabhakaran).  The Sri Lanken forces, hamstrung by changing governments, a concerted effort to keep their own forces weak and a lack of cooperation between the elements, struggled until, they too were able to finally coordinate and focus their efforts in the final war of 2006-2009; ultimately achieving total victory. The Tigers, despite early and protracted successes, were unable and unwilling to transfer their military success into an effective negotiating and political settlement. Combined with a series of strategic blunders such as the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi and the use of ‘mafia’ style techniques to ensure funding from the diaspora, the Tigers managed to provide their adversaries common cause and to isolate themselves internationally. 

Moorcraft’s work provides many lessons for the professional military officer and amateur enthusiast alike. These include: 

a.       The challenges of conducting a combination of conventional and asymmetric warfare simultaneously;

b.      The strengths and weaknesses of domestic and autocratic government in conducting long term operations;

c.       The impact of the international community on outcomes (ie the 9/11 attack);

d.      Small unit conventional and special forces tactics; and

e.       The requirement to maintain vision and goal of operations and the critical necessity of understanding when to focus on political vice military methods. 

Overall, an excellent read; engaging and entertaining. The production quality of the book is very high and the text easy to read. Moorcraft has provided an in depth bibliography with copious footnotes. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and strongly recommend it to those looking to expand their knowledge of operations in the Far East.

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