Sri Lankan Army KIA, 1981-1999

Below I posted about a source I’d found with micro-data on SLA combat fatalities. The OCR-ing has proven more of a challenge than I had hoped, but the information on date and place is inputted for all observations, though we still need to add many of soldiers’ names and do extensive cleaning on names of places, how to aggregate them into districts, etc. I think, combined with the qualitative research, this will also help us generate a clear order of battle for the 1980s/1990s SLA: where which units were, when, conditional on taking at least one fatality.

Preliminarily, this graph shows variation over time in SLA KIA:


The huge spikes are not surprising – the conventional phases of the LTTE-SLA war in the early and late 1990s, with dips during the IPKF and then the 1994-5 ceasefire.

Here are the places where 100 or more SLA members were killed over this period:

Place Freq. Percent Cum.
Vavuniya 954 8.93 8.93
Palaly 875 8.19 17.12
Paranthan 647 6.06 23.18
Kilinochchi 555 5.20 28.38
Welioya 550 5.15 33.53
Mankulam 509 4.77 38.29
Elephant Pass 434 4.06 42.36
Batticaloa 404 3.78 46.14
Mannar 355 3.32 49.46
Pooneryn 286 2.68 52.14
Jaffna 206 1.93 54.07
Mullaittivu 199 1.86 55.93
Vettalaikerni 191 1.79 57.72
Trincomalee 185 1.73 59.45
Vavuniya-Mankulam 143 1.34 60.79
Valachchenai 120 1.12 61.91
Pulmoddai 111 1.04 62.95
Kanagarayakulam 106 0.99 63.95
Vavuniya-Omanthei 100 0.94 64.88

Not much surprising here, either – these are the main battle zones in and around the Tamil north and east.

So what is surprising? I’m intrigued by how *few* SLA casualties we see in the 1980s, even as the country was politically coming apart. Body counts aren’t necessarily a proxy for political disorder – throughout the contemporary and historical literature, you get a sense of a country and political system on the brink, but these are not particularly substantial death counts in comparative perspective, or compared to the size of the Sri Lankan security apparatus.

Also, 1988 and 1989 are pretty light on fatalities despite the raging JVP rebellion in the south. There are 305 KIA in those 2 years combined, with only Welioya, Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Cheddikulum, and Matara having 8 or more KIA combined during those two years. I’m going to be doing more on the spatial breakdown of the 1981-87 period with an eye on the LTTE’s rise and then 1987-89 period with a JVP focus.

So either the Army wasn’t that involved in anti-JVP operations compared to the police (data on which I continue to be in search of!) and pro-state paramilitaries, or they were involved but were not particularly vulnerable to JVP operations. I continue to wonder where the claims about total death counts (~40,000) in the 1987-1990 period actually come from, though it’s clear that civilians overwhelmingly bore the brunt of the violence and their experiences are unlikely to recovered from history.


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