By Mango –
Millions of words have now been written about the numbers of Tamil civilians killed during Sri Lanka’s victory over the Tamil Tigers in May 2009; probably more words than the millions of bullets fired during the war. But something didn’t ring true.
Missing from this civilian casualty toll inflation is any mention of an immutable fact of warfare: the ratio of dead to wounded. This was first analysed in a ground-breaking study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 1999, which examined casualty ratios in wars from 1940 to 1988. The study showed that the “number of people wounded is at least twice the number killed and may be 13 times as high” depending on the conflict type, weapons used and other factors.
Applying this ratio to Sri Lanka’s civilian casualty numbers during the last stages of Eelam War 4 shows a truly appalling misuse of civilian casualty numbers by international humanitarians, whose jaundiced view on Sri Lanka’s victory has led them to disregard basic mathematics, statistics, facts and logic.
Counting the Dead and Ignoring the Wounded
The number of wounded vary from 18,479 to 440,037. Odd.
Casualty Chart, KIA to WIA including Sri Lanka Army’s own casualty data © The Carthaginian Solution 2013
Spot the Glaring Error
KIA to WIA at 1:3 ratio with data shown by release date order, from 2009 to 2013. © The Carthaginian Solution 2013
The United Nations in Sri Lanka’s Casualty Numbers
In 2009, the UN’s “Crisis Operations Group” in Sri Lanka first established the numbers of Tamil civilian casualties with any degree of authority and confidence. They estimated 7,721 killed and 18,479 wounded arriving at a killed to wounded ratio of 1:3. This is a low ratio and is in line with the fact that wounded civilians in the combat zone did not have quick access to high quality medical facilities.
The Darusman Report’s Casualty Numbers
This report’s authors gave credence to the “40,000 dead civilians” meme in a masterful display of officialese stating, “A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. …. but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage.” Oddly, none of the Committee’s highly qualified members noted the discrepancy between the number of dead civilians and the lack of correspondingly (high) number of wounded survivors.
Gordon Weiss’s Casualty Numbers
In his book “The Cage” Gordon Weiss (ex-Colombo based UN staffer), upped the ante by raising the civilian dead total to between 10,000 and 40,000. Applying a conservative ratio of 1:3 (dead to wounded), we arrive at wounded totals ranging from 30,000 to 120,000. Weiss merely noted in passing that the UN counted about 20,000 wounded Tamil civilians, and completely ignored the stunning implication this has on his inflated civilian deaths numbers.
Frances Harrison’s Casualty Numbers
Frances Harrison (ex-Sri Lanka based BBC hack and ex-Amnesty International staffer) raised the civilian dead total even higher ranging from 26,000 to 146,679. Assuming a ratio of 1:3 (dead to wounded), we arrive at wounded totals ranging from 78,000 to 440,037. Here things start getting slightly insane as there were only 330,000+ civilians held hostage in the No Fire Zone.
Using Harrison’s upper estimate of 146,679 ‘civilians’ dying and thus producing 440,037 wounded gives a total 586,716 people killed and wounded. This is almost double the number of civilians thought to be in the No Fire Zone area at the time.
Sri Lanka Army’s own Casualty Numbers
The Security Forces admitted 5,285 combat deaths (KIA) and 28,189 wounded (WIA). This gives a dead to wounded ratio of 1:5, which is broadly in line with the BMJ study. Troops had access to better medical care than the wounded civilians, thus explaining the 1:5 ratio, when compared to the 1:3 ratio applicable to civilian wounded. Comparing this ratio to a well-equipped Western force like the US Army in Iraq, which by 2012 reported 4,487 US soldiers killed and 32,223 wounded since in 2003, produced a dead/wounded ratio of 1:7.
How Do You Define A Civilian?
There were at least three types of civilians caught up in combat in the No Fire Zone. LTTE cadres (in uniform and in civilian clothes), semi-trained LTTE auxillary forces and press-ganged civilians who carried out military duties for the LTTE. When killed in action, all could (and would be) counted as civilian casualties. In the LTTE’s glory days, cadres killed in action were often stripped of their uniforms and dressed in civilian attire to increase the ‘dead civilian’ count. But it’s doubtful if the LTTE had time for such niceties as they fought to stave off annihilation, in May 2009.
This captured LTTE combat video (above) from May 2009 shows all three categories of civilians in action in the “No Fire Zone”. Screenshots taken from the video clearly show the various types of civilians at work, helping to shore up the LTTE’s defensive line.
So How Many Civilians Were Killed?
The best guesstimate predicts between 10,000 to 15,000 dead (including LTTE cadres), which ties in with the UN’s casualty total of 15,000 to 20,000 wounded civilians.
Show Me the Money… er…. the Wounded
It’s entirely possible that over 146,679 Tamil civilians were killed in Eelam War 4. But for that to be true, (and allowing for the large margin of error evident in anything to do with casualty numbers in Eelam War 4), those who make that claim have to conjure up at least another 440,037 wounded Tamil civilians, who – so far – are proving difficult to find and are conspicuous by their absence.
Source data notes:
(1) “The UN’s Country Group in Sri Lanka established a total figure of 7,721 killed and 18,479 wounded.” International Crisis Group.
(2) “The United Nations Country Team is one source of information; in a document that was never released publicly, it estimated a total figure of 7,721 killed and 18,479 injured from August 2008 up to 13 May 2009, after which it became too difficult to count.” [paragraph 134, Darusman Report]
(3) “..by late June, when all civilians were inside the [post-war IDP] camps, a collection of aid agencies had made a preliminary calculation of 15,000-20,000 wounded civilians”. p. 321, “The Cage”, Gordon Weiss
“I believe that between 10,000 and 40,000 [deaths] is a reasonable estimate. I think most likely it’s somewhere between 30,000 to 40,000 [deaths] ”, Gordon Weiss on Australian TV & interviews
(4) “..anywhere from 26,000 to 146,679 people unaccounted for, presumed dead.” p.238, Frances Harrison, “Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War”
(5) Sri Lanka Government’s post-war census report recorded that about 7,400 people died of undefined or “other” causes during the months leading up to the end of the war. Source: http://www.statistics.gov.lk/PopHouSat/VitalStatistics/EVE2011_FinalReport.pdf
(6) from July 2006 (Mavil Aru) to May 2009 (Nanthi Kadal) 5275 were KIA, 28,189 were WIA, and 140 were MIA. This is for the whole operation…. almost one-fourth of the Army losses that occurred during the entire two and a half year operation were sustained in the final stages. My note: KIA and MIA have been combined as generally, those missing in action are presumed dead. Source: http://www.army.lk/docimages/image/LLRC_2013.pdf