Combating Terrorism in Irregular Forces: Lessons from Algeria and Sri Lanka Clark



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Combating Terrorism in Irregular Forces: Lessons from Algeria and Sri Lanka Clark


Contents

The Million Dollar Question………………………………………………………………………2
The Possible Solution……………………………………………………………………………..2
Definitions…………………………………………………………………………………………3
Terrorism………………………………………………………………………………….4



Counter-terrorism…………………………………………………………………………4



Hard Power………………………………………………………………………………..5



Soft Power…………………………………………………………………………………6
Counter-insurgency………………………………………………………………………..6
Research Methodology……………………………………………………………………………7
Literature Review………………………………………………………………………………….9
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE)

Background………………………………………………………………………………12
Terrorist Activity…………………………………………………………………………13
Government Action………………………………………………………………………16
Lessons Learned…………………………………………………………………………19

Front de Libération Nationale (FLN)

Background………………………………………………………………………………21
Terrorist Activity…………………………………………………………………………22
Government Action………………………………………………………………………26
Lessons Learned…………………………………………………………………………31
Policy Implications, Lessons, and Recommendations…………………………………………..32
Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………….34
Bibliography……………………………………………………………………………………..35

The Million Dollar Question

Today, decision makers are faced with difficulty in addressing irregular forces. These irregular forces may be anything from an organized terrorist organization to a rebel insurgency to a violent non-state actor. The U.S. military has dealt with unconventional warfare often in the past two decades in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In all three theatres, our military was faced with irregular forces. In Afghanistan and Iraq, these forces utilized terrorism in an attempt to achieve political goals. Should the military be used to end such threats to national security?



The Possible Solution

The purpose of this project is to examine the utility of a strategy of counter-terrorism (CT) in achieving a nation’s foreign policy objectives by examining how counter-terror was used in the Algerian War by the French military against the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) and in Sri Lanka against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE). In Algiers, the French failed and the FLN prevailed. In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers admitted defeat in 2009. The focus of this thesis will be to draw out underlying themes in both historical case studies, determine which objectives were met and which objectives failed. These lessons will be applied back to contemporary debate on whether or not counter-terrorism is a viable option for a state to exercise foreign policy and how policy may need to change to deal with future threats.

While CT hard power may be sufficient to check an immediate national security threat, the following case studies suggest that military action is insufficient to resolve the underlying causes upon which insurgent movements and terrorist organizations are based. The research question for this thesis is what CT lessons are learned from historical studies of Sri Lanka and Algeria? My hypothesis is that CT hard power was effectively used to strain irregular forces, but not sufficient to ultimately defeat them.

The Sri Lankan and Algerian cases point to several key similarities in combating terrorism. For instance, propaganda and media attention proved to be crucial for the victorious combatant in both conflicts. Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) political leaders desperately sought international attention to alleviate the pressure being applied to the organization by the French military. The FLN accomplished this by staging attacks and worker strikes in time to coincide with UN General Assembly meetings. Likewise, the Sri Lankan government capitalized on international attention brought about by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) assassinations on key Sri Lankan and Indian leaders by isolating LTTE financial assets and safe havens abroad. Another learning point gained from Sri Lanka and Algeria was the use of concentrated military might by the government. The LTTE was utterly crushed when the government applied heavy pressure with determined military offenses which were clearly designed to destroy the rebels. Similarly, the French army enjoyed much success by employing mobile hunting teams in rural areas to pursue FLN rebels.

Both cases also illustrate one glaring fact: CT hard power is necessary, but insufficient. This is not a comprehensive, historical view of CT. However, both case studies do illustrate that CT hard power is effective at limiting terrorist activities, but CT hard power cannot be applied to solve political problems that are the root of all insurgencies or terrorist organizations and a combination of hard and soft power is often the most effective way to end modern conflicts.

Definitions

Several terms must be defined to avoid confusion due to the fact that varying and contrasting ideas exist on terrorism and counterterrorism. Therefore, the next segment will describe terrorism, counterterrorism, and irregular forces in context for the case studies. The foundations of this essay rely on one’s understanding of exactly what terrorism, counter-terrorism (CT), and CT alternatives entail.



Terrorism

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington DC, the phrase “terrorism” has become a buzzword that evokes an emotional response within the U.S. The world community has dealt with terrorism before and the American population reached the same conclusions as the rest of the world: terrorism is politically heated, often effective, and very deadly. Terrorism is largely considered a dirty method of warfare and those who utilize terror as a strategy to achieve a political goal are illegitimate brigands. In reality, terrorism is simply a part of warfare.1 Dr. Bruce Hoffman, the director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism, states that the US Department of Defense defines terrorism fairly clearly in saying that terrorism is “the unlawful use of- or threatened use of- force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives.”2 I will rely on this definition, because it is the most comprehensive description of terror.



Counter-terrorism (CT)

Several definitions exist on how to classify on CT, but many experts3 can agree that CT consists of two types of power: hard and soft power. CT utilizes hard and soft power to eliminate terrorist organizations through negotiations, military action, or economic sanctions. The average American today would probably classify counter-terrorism as military strikes, but in reality the hard power capability is a only small part of the total spectrum of CT operations.

Hard Power

Military hard power is the a-typical response when counter-terrorism options are assessed. Hard power options vary and should be carefully considered when choosing the correct response to irregular forces (terror organizations, insurgencies, guerrillas, etc.). Military reprisal attacks can be undertaken when the enemy is in control of a nation-state or significant regions in a state.4 Military preemption strikes are undertaken to destroy the enemy in advance to avoid an imminent attack.5 Elite commando units can also be utilized to attack terrorist training grounds and hunt down terrorists.6 Assassinations, or targeted killings, are attacks carried out to eliminate leaders of terrorist organizations or irregular forces.7

Nonmilitary hard power is also an option. This consists of economic sanctions imposed on states that support irregular forces or violent non-state actors. Economic or financial sanctions are used to strangle irregular forces’ financial assets. This includes prohibiting the exportation or importation of goods to or from targeted regions, stopping financial and other assistance, and freezing financial accounts.8



Soft Power

Soft power is a more subtle alternatives to military or economic hard power options. Examples of soft power include deterrence, diplomacy, conciliation, and peace.9 Deterrence is simply dissuading terrorist organizations from action if the government can put the terrorists’ political goals at risk.10 Diplomacy is almost necessary to analyze the views of terror groups. This involves third party negotiations and helps solve specific terrorist situations.11 Like hard power, soft power options must be closely examined in order to determine the course of action most likely to lead to positive results.

Counter-insurgency (COIN)

The most popular alternative to CT is counter-insurgency operations (COIN). COIN is an approach designed to solve the underlying political, social, and economic problems of an insurgency by separating the population from insurgent forces, building political infrastructure, and eliminating insurgent forces (CT). A primary difference between COIN and any form of CT is the concentration on the population. COIN forces tend to give attention to winning the support of the population while CT forces usually fixate on the irregular forces using terrorism. David Galula, a successful French commander in the rural regions of Algeria, notes that population support is key and it is gained through an active minority siding with the governmental power.12 By this definition, COIN and CT share considerable overlaps, particularly with key COIN aspects and CT soft power. The problem with COIN is that it is extremely costly and time consuming, often taking years or even decades to bear fruit, all the while draining public patience and possibly damaging the state’s image in the world community.



Research Methodology

I will use a historical case study as my research methodology to explore the possibilities of counter-terrorism as a viable foreign policy stance. These case studies will be analyzed in a historical context including a brief history of the situation, terrorist actions, government (CT) actions, and the lessons learned each case study. The underlying themes in both case studies will be underscored and examined in the recommendations section.

As argued by candidate Joe Biden during the 2008 Democratic primary debate, counter-terrorism can be a viable method to eliminate terrorism through direct military action against terrorist organizations. Combating terrorism is an inherently difficult progress, made even more difficult by a lack of suitable metrics to gauge success and failure that policy makers need to justify such action. The metrics for the two case studies are based on the definitions of hard and soft power. Specifically, these case studies analyze whether or not the government troops ultimately defeated the irregular forces opposing them. The types of questions that need to be asked are: did the government effectively use soft power to bring the irregular forces to the peace table? Was hard power effectively used to defeat the armed branches of the irregular forces? Who did the international community side with? These questions all help illustrate how the governments of Sri Lanka and France dealt with irregular forces using terrorism.

The two case studies I have chosen are the French in the Algerian War and the Sri Lankan forces fighting against the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) in Sri Lanka. Both cases have what I believe to be clear-cut examples of strategic level CT: one successful (Sri Lanka) and one failure (Algiers). These cases are interesting because both the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) were unconventional armed forces in pursuit of political goals. These political aspirations by both the FLN and LTTE were not sought after exclusively by terrorist strategies, but knowingly used terror to mobilize their respective populations.

Other cases that I decided not to pursue include Sendero Luminoso in Peru, Chinese communists in the Chinese civil war, and the Vietcong in Vietnam. The Vietcong utilized terror to control the population, but the Vietnam War has too much American influence for my purposes as I wanted case studies with virtually no American footprint. The Chinese civil war was eliminated simply because I found it to be much more of an insurgency and terror tactics did not seem to be part of an overall strategy. The Sendero Luminoso model was thrown out because it is still ongoing. The Peruvian government has come close to destroying Sendero in the mid-1990s, but the government has proved inept at ending the conflict in the foreseeable future.

In both cases, the historical background must be described and any outlying factors unique to the individual case need to be identified. It is also important to note that what worked in Algiers will not necessarily work in Sri Lanka as each case is uniquely different. The cultural landscape and political climate all dictate the viability of proposed solutions. The perspective for this thesis will be that of the CT forces, so any success or failure will be relative to the CT forces.

In Algiers, French forces attempted to quell the violence started by the FLN with force. In the city itself, the French were tactically successful. Rebel leaders were killed or captured en masse and the FLN body count was rising. However, tactical success could not be translated to strategic progress in achieving the French goals of maintaining Algeria as an extension of the French state in northern Africa. This case will be interesting because CT worked extremely well on the tactical level (according to Alexander’s framework), but failed to defeat the FLN politically.

Sri Lanka is a case in which the government ultimately won, forcing the rebels into submission with a massive military offensive. The infamous Tamil Tigers fought for decades against the Sri Lankan government, utilizing suicide bombers and assassinations to intimidate government officials. Of note, the Tamil Tigers only bombed military or political targets and attempted to avoid civilian casualties when possible.13 This study will help in looking at the possible reasons for strategic success in thwarting a terror-based insurgency.



Literature Review

The common themes in this essay will be centered on the successful/unsuccessful usage of CT techniques as well as successful/unsuccessful countermeasures taken by different terror organizations to combat CT forces. These CT techniques can include targeted killings, innovative tactics, international coordination, and increasing intelligence gathering assets.

The definitions piece will supply the foundation and focus for the research on both case studies in order to prevent gaps in the theory of CT. While this is a CT-centered essay, COIN must also be addressed as an alternate method of achieving similar results. In most situations dealing with irregular forces, insurgencies, and terrorist organizations the population is divided. Usually somewhere between 10-20% of the population is active in supporting the irregular force, 60-80% is a passive middle ground, and 10-20% are die hard government supporters. The difference between CT and COIN is what aspect of the population is addressed. CT focuses on limiting the 10-20% of the active population supporting the irregular force through a combination of hard and soft power. COIN is concentrated on the 60-80% of the passive middle ground. COIN seeks to alienate the passive middle ground from the active supporters of the irregular force.

Terror organizations and insurgencies that utilize terror tactics vary from country to country. However, they can usually be classified by their ruthless acts of violence and dedication to their particular cause. Oftentimes, as in Sri Lanka, Algiers, and current US operations, these terror organizations take the form of guerrillas fighting in the frontiers. In Afghanistan, the Taliban fighters currently engaging US troops are deeply entrenched in their ideals. This is no different than the FLN fighting for an Algeria free from French occupation or the Tamil Tigers rising up against the Sinhalese majority for an independent Tamil state. These thoughts and ideas drove these groups to terrorist tactics, even suicide attacks, to achieve their strategic goals. These organizations are able to place a huge amount of pressure on the local government. According to Robert Taber, “Guerrillas who know their trade and have popular support cannot be eliminated by the means available to most governments. And on the other hand, few governments can stand the political, psychological, and economic stresses of guerrilla warfare…”14 This is put in this thesis merely to emphasize the importance of choosing an appropriate strategy that will be effective at combating irreconcilable zealots.

Common themes of CT operations include, but are not limited to, targeted killings against cell leadership, intense intelligence gathering operations, direct action raids on strong points, and reducing the number of terrorist attacks on the government and population. In keeping with the chosen definition of CT operations for this thesis, all of these themes have the singular purpose of diminishing a terror group’s ability to operate. This is done by both whittling away at infrastructure and manpower. This is why CT is often referred to as “hard power” due to its tangible, kinetic nature.15 CT operations are also focused on the group itself rather than the population within the state.

COIN themes include nation building, population cooperation, and direct action against military branches of terror cells. COIN operations are focused more on the population in an attempt to indirectly influence support for an insurgency or terror cell. The main idea of COIN is to win the support of the population; thereby destroying the insurgency’s recruiting pool. In theory, this will result in a united stand against the insurgency led by the people.16 In order to build infrastructure and protect the people from the terror group, the government must conduct kinetic operations against the insurgency to prevent any massed groupings and disrupt coordination between cells.

This research falls much closer to the CT side when comparing CT and COIN. CT hard and soft power are quite different, but used to achieve the same goal of eliminating a terrorist threat. The LTTE and FLN cases show many striking lessons and will be revealed at the end of each study.

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

Background

The LTTE, more commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, was a Sri Lankan insurgency organization that engaged the Sri Lankan government in armed conflict from the early 1970s until it was militarily defeated in 200917. Velupillai Prabhakaran, the founder of the LTTE, chose the tiger as the symbol of the resistance because of the similarities between the tiger and the Tamil people. The LTTE adopted a strategy of terrorism that included suicide bombings, assassinations, and attacks on military, political, and government targets.18 This eventually led to condemnation by the world community and the downfall of the LTTE.

Sri Lanka, a small island south of India in the Indian Ocean, was under colonial British control until February 4, 1948.19 The Tamils received preferential treatment under British rule although the Sinhalese made up the vast majority of the Sri Lankan population. This obvious favoritism created an ethnic schism that would manifest itself once the Sinhalese majority took control after the British departure. In 1956, the ruling Sinhalese majority passed laws that included forcing Tamils to learn Sinhalese, restrictions on higher education institutions, and civil service.20 The Tamils believed that these laws were acts of discrimination and in the early 1970s, violence erupted in the form of Velupillai Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran was a young, idealistic Tamil who attempted to assassinate a moderate Tamil mayor in Jaffna from February 1971 until his success in July 1975, which was a marked beginning to Tamil violence in Sri Lanka.21 With his success, Prabhakaran established the LTTE as the militant wing of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF)22 and so began the armed struggle for an independent Tamil state.

Terrorist Activity

While Prabhakaran was engaging in small-scale terror attacks, the Sri Lankan government sought to negotiate with the Tamils in order to bring an end to the rising levels of violence. In January 1984, Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene convened the All Party Conference in the capital of Colombo. Indira Ghandi, then the Indian Prime Minister, was set to mediate between the ruling United National Party (UNP), Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP), TULF, and five smaller Tamil political groups.23 This in and of itself sets the LTTE apart from many other terrorist organizations in that it was a direct part of several peace talks with the Sri Lankan government.24 The conference resulted in a failure, as the Tamils demanded one-third of the land and two-thirds of the coastline of Sri Lanka for itself which the government promptly refused.25

During the actual conference, the LTTE began a massive and unfortunate wave of ethnic-cleansing against Sinhalese farmers in the rural northern regions of Sri Lanka. On November 30, 1984 the Tigers attacked two Sinhalese farming villages (the Dollar and Kent farms) killing more than one hundred civilians while they slept.26 These villages were in the areas desired by the Tamils for demarcation and marked the first regular attack on a Sinhalese community. The Sri Lankan government vowed vengeance after the LTTE shot and killed one hundred twenty Sinhalese Buddhist pilgrims and injured eighty-five others in the May 14, 1985 attack on the sacred precincts of the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura.27 The purpose of these terrorist attacks, and later suicide attacks, was to cause panic and chaos among civilians and also to confirm “the inefficacy of the administration, demoralize law enforcers, and boost morale among the Tigers and their followers.”28

For the next fourteen years, the LTTE carried out their violent terror campaign by murdering government ministers, local politicians, and moderate Tamil leaders.29 The LTTE attacked naval vessels, oil tankers, the Colombo airport, the Colombo World Trade Center and Central Bank, the Sri Lankan Joint Operations Command, and even the most sacred Sri Lankan Buddhist shrine.30 Perhaps the most controversial tactic employed by the LTTE was the invention of the suicide belt and introducing women as suicide bombers.31 While the statistics on the number of suicide attacks vary depending on the source, there were somewhere between 143 and 191 suicide attacks from 1987 to 200132. The Sri Lankan president was assassinated by a Black Tiger suicide squad in 199333 and the Tigers were even successful in assassinating former Indian Prime Minister Rajiz Ghandi in 1991.34

The LTTE struggle can be broken down into several phases. The first phase (1983-1987) consisted of six insurgent groups that utilized terror tactics and the Sri Lankan military35. During this time, the LTTE trained cadres, gathered weapons and equipment, established means of income through expatriates, and made valuable ties with the Indian government.36 During the second phase (1987-1990) the LTTE shifted its focus from building infrastructure and support to an offensive organization. The 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Agreement brought 70,000 Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka to combat the LTTE through counterinsurgency operations, which the LTTE vowed to defeat.37 By the time of the Indian withdrawal, nearly 10,000 LTTE fighters were mobilized and established control over the north and east of Sri Lanka as a result of the Indian departure.38 The third phase (1990-1995) brought about the assassination of Rajiv Ghandi, the former Indian Prime Minister, by a suicide bomber. This led to an Indian ban on the LTTE and labeled it as a terrorist organization.39 Later, in 1993, the Sri Lankan president was assassinated by a Black Tiger suicide squad.40 From 1995 to 2002, the LTTE boosted its military campaign by dedicating itself to guerrilla warfare during the fourth phase of armed conflict, once again supplemented with terror attacks on military and government assets. From 2002 until 2008, the LTTE called for and broke several cease fires in order to buy time and space from the government onslaught set at ending the war through military means. However, in 2008 the Sri Lankan government officially denounced the Cease-fire Agreement and utterly defeated the LTTE through an extended military campaign in the north.41 This campaign resulted in 4,318 LTTE cadres killed after 1 January 2008 which was drastically more than the 3,345 cadres killed in all of 2007 and the 2,319 fatalities in 2006.42 On 17 May 2009, what was left of the LTTE surrendered to the Sri Lankan Army in Vellamullaivaikkal.43

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