Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why the Tigers Won't Die

The Sri Lankan military has made great strides of late towards extinguishing the Tamil Tigers. The momentum has built to make the Tigers' demise seem all but inevitable, but the truth is they aren't going to go away.

Just yesterday, the group's senior leaders called for a cease-fire with the Sri Lankan armed forces, anxious to cut a deal. So maybe their insurgency will lay low for a while, but a couple of considerations make it clear that this struggle will live on. The first is their procurement and logistics methods. The second is their franchise potential.

Estimates show the Tigers have a revenue stream of $50-80 billion a year. A proscribed terrorist organization, their creativity in opening revenue streams would make seasoned Wall Street pros jealous. First, they have found a way to tax their diaspora communities living in the UK, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland and elsewhere. Canadian intelligence estimates $1.5 billion / month flows to the Tigers from Canada and the UK alone.

The investments are next. Senior leaders have taken these taxes and invested them in totally legal funds. Another Canadian estimate showed the return on these investments 10 years ago was $6.5 billion. That was only in one country. One can easily see how the other investments would pay off. The Tigers use the revenue to procure weapons and arms from dealers in 15 different countries. We don't know where all of their money is and we don't know from whom they procure all of their supplies.

Even if the Sri Lankan military "wins", these revenue streams are still going to be available. Their logistics network is still strong, the diaspora tax and investments still flowing in. Without cutting out the roots, the insurgency can always flare up again.

The second point is the franchise potential. Even if the Tamil Tigers were do cease to exist in Sri Lanka, they have proven themselves the most adaptable and creative insurgency in history. They've captured submarines near completion, had their own airforce and invented the suicide vest. As Zachary Abuza noted at the Counterterrorism Blog, " Their nearly forty-year struggle is highlighted by firsts and superlatives"

Their tactics and designs have been adopted by insurgents and terrorists around the world. That's why they will always be with us. Hey, come to think of it, they could probably work out some royalty agreements if they need more cash.

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