Counterinsurgency success in Philippines

Peter Brooks:

WHEN the U.S. counterter rorism operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Philippines-based al Qaeda affiliate, kicked off in late 2001, the Bush administration dubbed it the "Second Front" in the War on Terror. Today, it's more like the "Forgotten Front."

But the lack of notoriety isn't necessarily a bad thing. The joint U.S.-Philippine counterterror campaign in the southern Philippines is going pretty darn well after 5½ years. Indeed, some experts tout the "Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines" campaign as the most successful counterterrorism/insurgency effort of the post-9/11 period.

Abu Sayyaf (ASG) is hardly a household name. But the Muslim terrorist group has plenty of terrorist street cred: Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law founded it, along with other jihadists who had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The ASG also had ties to al Qaeda bigs Ramzi Yousef and his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who both spent time in the Philippines and were involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Operation "Bojinka" (an unsuccessful 1995 bombing of 11 airliners out of Manila) and 9/11.

Its stated goal is to establish an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. But some believe its project extends to all of Muslim Southeast Asia.

The ASG engages in kidnappings (for ransom), bombings, beheadings, assassinations and even extortion of Filipinos and foreigners (especially tourists). U.S. citizens and soldiers number among its victims.

In 2004, it bombed a ferry in Manila Bay, killing more than 100. The same year, an ASG cell was broken up while targeting the U.S. embassy in Manila.

ASG also has ties to al Qaeda's pan-Southeast Asian terror powerhouse, Jemaah Islamiya - the group that killed nearly 200 in the Bali bombing in 2002. It also gets support from a range of Middle East extremists.

The good news?

U.S.-Philippine operations have significantly weakened the terrorist group. Philippines forces have killed two senior ASG commanders since last December. One was sold out by an ASG member-turned-informant, motivated by the State Department's rewards program.

Once 2,000 fighters strong, ASG's been whittled down to around 200 to 300 today. As a result, its trademark bus and local market bombings have dropped off, as has its once-lucrative kidnapping practice. The threat has clearly receded.


He goes on to explain why the operation has been successful. It is worth reading and worth considering as Congress looks to abandon operations in Iraq. Just how successful has it been. Zawahiri who has delusions of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan is mute when it comes to the Philippines. For a guy who is gabby enough to send out nine tapes this year his silence says something.

This AP report today suggest that the Philippines Marines suffered a serious setback in a recent operation against the terrorist.


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