A picture of the four Malaysian hostages kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf group posted on Facebook, presumably by the terrorist group themselves.(The Star/ANN/-)
Fresh clash between the Abu Sayyaf and the military has driven out at least 7,000 residents from their homes in southern Philippines. The terror group Abu Sayyaf continued its offensive against the Army Friday with gun battles spreading to three towns in Basilan province and sending at least 7,000 residents fleeing their homes and pleading for government help.
The offensive, a first by Abu Sayyaf in recent years, led to clashes that started on Wednesday evening when at least 200 terrorists attacked the headquarters of the Army’s 18th Infantry Battalion (IB) here.
Authorities said there were brief respites from the clashes.
Terrorists, some of whom armed with .50 cal. machine guns, had positioned themselves on four hills surrounding the community of Punoh Butigan in the village of Sungkayot, where the 18th IB headquarters is located.
Julie S. Alipala | Philippine Daily Inquirer | Basilan, Philippines
Can ‘Shock and Awe’ End Abu Sayyaf’s Kidnapping Conglomerate?ReplyDelete
Soon after Rodrigo Duterte took his oath of office as president of the Philippines, his military chief of staff vowed to carry out a “shock and awe” offensive against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a small but resilient and brutal band of terrorists operating in the Sulu Sea and on the islands of Basilan and the Sulu archipelago. To some observers, breaking news seems to confirm that the promise of “shock and awe” is being fulfilled.
Hours ago as I write, two battles raged in Mindanao between Philippine government forces and Abu Sayyaf fighters.
In the mountainous jungle of Patikul, Sulu, nine ASG gunmen were killed and 19 of their comrades wounded in fierce fighting after their group of some 130 armed militants were discovered by a contingent of troops that called in artillery and helicopter support. Casualties on the government side were one killed and six wounded.
At almost the same time, on nearby Basilan Island, some 200 ASG fighters equipped with several 50-caliber machineguns surrounded and laid siege on the headquarters of the 18th Infantry Battalion in Singkayot village. At the moment, there has been no report of casualties in this series of running skirmishes, but hundreds of villagers have been forced to flee their homes.
The Patikul kill ratio of 1:9 is a sort of redemption for the military. In early April, Abu Sayyaf fighters killed 18 soldiers and wounded 56 more, while suffering six dead, including Moroccan bomb-making expert Muhammad Khattab.
In the aftermath of the fighting in Patikul, there is no information on the fate of seven Indonesian sailors and a Norwegian held hostage by the ASG. Negotiations for their release could have been disrupted. They are probably being kept alive as future bargaining chips.ReplyDelete
So what’s going on? Is this really the beginning of a shock and awe campaign? Strictly speaking, no.
The term “Shock and Awe” is taken from the title of a book by military experts Ullman and Wade. It means the use of overwhelming and mind-boggling force that distorts the enemy’s perception of the battle space and destroys his will to resist. The classic example is the massive bombing of hundreds of targets in Baghdad and Mosul in March 2003 that eased the invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition.
Hence, strictly speaking, the Philippine military is in no position to carry out a shock and awe offensive against anyone — especially now that it is led by a commander-in-chief who does not believe in investing in fighter jets because they are “good only for ceremonial flybys.”
What the Philippine military can do is to leave out the overblown rhetoric and simply go into the grim and tedious business of decimating and degrading the Abu Sayyaf Group until it can no longer run with impunity its multimillion-dollar kidnapping conglomerate.
This can be done. But the political will must be there. This time the police and the military must closely coordinate instead of engaging in rivalry for credit and bounty. This time there must not be even just the suspicion of deals between the Abu Sayyaf and police and military units.
A variation of a local practice can be resorted to. It works like this: if you’re a Tausog from Sulu and one of your relatives, say a nephew, is kidnapped and you know the kidnappers, you’re well advised to round up all their relatives — fathers, mothers, children, nieces and cousins — and make it well understood that if your nephew isn’t soon released, their own relatives will suffer irreversible fatal consequences.ReplyDelete
I'm not saying the military should round up all the relatives of the Abu Sayyaf fighters and threaten to massacre them if the fighters do not release the hostages and surrender. But there has to be a socio-political operation focused on the kith and kin and the communities of the terrorists.
The idea is to win over the hearts and minds of the Abu Sayyaf mass base, a task that the military’s Office of Civil Relations (OCR) was designed to specialize in. The action point is to address their legitimate grievances and to give them a feel of what that 6.5 percent national GDP growth, Asia’s best, is all about. The aim is to motivate the relatives to persuade the terrorists to get out of the kidnapping business, stop playing Robin Hood, and get into safer, more constructive ways of making a living in the mainstream of the national life.
Participation of moderate religious teachers would be helpful, especially if they’re in the mold of the late Ustadz Ilyas Ismail, the Acehnese missionary, who at one time led many young Muslims in Mindanao away from the excesses of folk Islam (such as beheading Christians to get to a more prestigious place in heaven) and toward a gentler Islam of common sense.
But if there has to be ferocious combat, then government forces must consistently fight better than they did last April when they lost 18 good men in one encounter. It is true that the social milieu of the battle space is hostile to the government, but as I have already pointed out, that problem can be addressed. It is also true that the Abu Sayyaf fighters have mastery of the rugged and forbidding physical terrain, which gives them a huge tactical advantage. But that can also be overcome through comprehensive and thorough intelligence and the use of cutting edge drone technology and perhaps robotics. That will be a bit expensive but, hey, you're not going to defeat Abu Sayyaf on the cheap.ReplyDelete
Speaking of drones, in May 1996 then Brig. Gen. Prabowo Subianto and Indonesian Special Forces troops used Israeli drones purchased from Singapore to track and spectacularly rescue a group of British scientists kidnapped in Irian Jaya (now Papua) by separatist rebels.
And of course the three governments concerned — Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia — must make good their plan to pool intelligence and carry out coordinated and maybe even joint patrols in the Sulu Sea to frustrate Abu Sayyaf’s raids for ransom-worthy hostages. Let’s hope that these three governments will have enough naval vessels that can cover such a vast marine area and also overmatch the fast boats of the terrorists.
In this regard, there is a lesson that history teaches.
In the late 18th century and most of the 19th, the scourge of Southeast Asia was an armada of Balangingi and Iranun marauders in the service of the Sulu aristocracy. They roamed the seas and barged in on coasts and islands to kidnap people — men, women and children — and make them slaves who would then fish for tripang, dive for pearls and farm the land to enrich their Tausog masters.
The slave-raiders habitually went as far south as Jakarta and Papua, and they did so with impunity until the Western navies — Spanish, Dutch, French and British — began to cooperate and to deploy fast and heavily armed steam vessels, against which the prahus of the Balangingi and Iranun warriors were sitting ducks. Thus slave-raiding for the Sulu aristocrats came to an end when concerned governments worked together and technology trumped brute force.ReplyDelete
So there are clear paths toward ending the era of Abu Sayyaf kidnapping with impunity. Let’s not talk or dream of shock and awe. The Philippine government needs only to play it clean (no military, police corruption) and smart (use intelligence, technology) and soft (win over the hearts and minds of the Abu Sayyaf mass base).
All these are easier said than done. But, hey, taking out the Abu Sayyaf is no Sunday morning picnic.
Jamil Maidan Flores is a Jakarta-based literary writer