The on-going ‘Defeating Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Experience‘ seminar is providing much food for thought. The Global Context of Counterterrorism: Strategy, Ethics, and Sustainability in Sri Lanka’s COIN Experience by Dr. David Kilcullen published on this site is based on a speech delivered at this seminar. The proceedings are webcast live (though our experience is that the webcast only works on the Windows platform and not on OS X or Linux, and is rather poor in terms of quality) with key presentations archived on YouTube here.

We were sent today the brief submission of the US Defence Attache’s observations on the end of war in Sri Lanka, recorded from what must have been one of the Q&A or discussion sessions today.

[audio:|titles=1.6.2011 US Def Attache’s observations about war]

What he says is,

“Hello, may I say something to a couple of the questions raised. I’ve been the defence attache here at the US Embassy since June of 2008. Regarding the various versions of events that came out in the final hours and days of the conflict – from what I was privileged to hear and to see, the offers to surrender that I am aware of seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, KP – people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE. So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.

And I think the same is true for the version of events. It’s not so uncommon in combat operations, in the fog of war, as we all get our reports second, third and fourth hand from various Commanders at various levels that the stories don’t seem to all quite match up. But I can say that the version presented here so far in this is what I heard as I was here during that time.

And I think I better leave it at that before I get into trouble.”

The defence attache’s observations are interesting in light of the US Embassy’s situation report (#74) of 17 May 2009, which we now know courtesy Assange. As mentioned in Afterposten, which published this cable,

“3. (C) Ambassador spoke to Gothabaya Rajapaksa (sic) on the morning of May 17 to urge him to allow the ICRC into the conflict zone to mediate a surrender.”

This is a tad confusing, since the US Ambassador at the time, going by this cable, did not seem to share the defence attache’s suspicion that the offers of surrender were ” a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day.”

We can’t help but recall Alice in Wonderland, and note that this is all getting “curiouser and curiouser!”


In response to this interjection by the US Defence Attache, the US State Department on 3 June 2011 issued this press release.

Sri Lanka Defense Symposium

Press Statement
Mark C. Toner
Deputy Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
June 3, 2011

Remarks earlier this week by the U.S. Embassy’s Defense Attaché at a conference in Colombo reflected his personal opinions. They do not reflect the policy of the United States Government. The United States declined invitations to participate in this conference, and our Defense Attaché attended to observe the proceedings as part of his normal duties.

The United States remains deeply concerned by the findings of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka. We are committed to ensuring that there is a credible accounting of, and accountability for, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka. We believe that the Sri Lankan Government must act quickly and credibly to address the violations alleged in the report and to adopt the measures necessary to achieve national reconciliation and build a united, democratic, and peaceful Sri Lanka.

PRN: 2011/905

  • Lakshan

    Does these “observations” points to a reassessment of US startegy towards SL following the visit by Rober Blake , despite disheartening advice that was meted out,his feedback on the political situation being groundswell of support for MR… following the war crimes allegations , anti American rhetoric dished out through state and govt friendly media that can influence public opinion of SL and surge of support for “friendly” China and Russia with SL getting deeper in to anti west nationalist camp led by them and add to this strategical importance of SL to USA . Perhaps we are seeing overtures being made to the government and with time we would even find tastier crumbs being thrown to Lazarus’ plate. But will USA enagage with SL to the same degree as China ? Or will it allow its interests to be represented through India ? We will see

  • “This is a tad confusing, since the US Ambassador at the time, going by this cable, did not seem to share the defence attache’s suspicion that the offers of surrender were ” a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day.””

    The US ambassador is a diplomat, and a civilian; the defence attache is a serving military officer, and would tend to see things from a soldier’s perspective. The ambassador would take the defence attache’s views under advisement, but that doesn’t mean they would both conform to the same opinion. That maybe why the defence attache concludes by saying he should stop before getting into trouble.

    • M A Huffman

      No doubt. A good summation of the situation David.

  • myil selvan

    Is it Defeating or Perpetrating Terrorism: The SL Experience?
    Or is it an Orwellian tribute?

    • M A Huffman

      It should be taken as a Sri Lankan attempt at defending its actions against a very biased international, mainly western, community calling the kettle black while deeply involved in its own war on terrorism, that it is loosing.

  • Saro

    This is why an independent investigation is all the more important to establish the facts and set the record straight. Otherwise there will be claims by both parties on the rightiousness of their own and blame the others.

    • Isn’t that how it’s always been done; from Waterloo to Hiroshima to Guantanamo Bay?