“Search Interrogate and Destroy” – Hard COIN for Hard Times

In late 2012, workers digging foundations for a new wing in Matale Hospital unearthed partial skeletons of more than 150 people. Of the various theories that sought to explain how this mass grave came to be, the one that most people instinctively thought might be true was that this was the final resting place of victims of death squads from 2nd JVP insurgency, which from 1987 to 1989 almost brought the Sri Lankan State to total collapse. The counter-insurgency (COIN) campaign, which in turn destroyed the JVP had few equals (except perhaps the 1990s Algerian counter-insurgency campaign and the India’s anti-‘Khalistan’ counter-insurgency in the Punjab) for its ruthlessness.

Mass grave being excavated in Matale Hospital, 2012

Unlike today’s COIN warriors who use seemingly benign terms like “Fight, Secure, Build”, Sri Lanka’s COIN warriors used the more honest, Search, Interrogate and Destroy” to characterise their brutal, blood-stained and ultimately successful campaign to crush the JVP.

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