Philippine Campaign Continues
“We’re not giving them time to rest.” With those words, Philippine Major-General Eugenio Cedo, military commander of the ongoing security operations in the southern Philippines , articulated the current campaign strategy. Several weeks ago, TRC commented on the commencement of the annual Philippines counterinsurgency campaign that is backed by US and other western forces. TRC stated that a successful campaign would require a sustained approach that leveraged both significant Philippines forces and Western support. The conflict, involving over 5,000 Philippine troops, has being ongoing since August 2006. TRC judges that this campaign has made more of a difference than previous Philippine offensives: ? On September 18, Philippine security forces seized about half a ton of ammonium nitrate, a chemical commonly used in making bombs, that had been hidden under a shipment of fresh fish. ? On September 14, security forces captured Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG; Group Profile) commander Angging Yunos, alias Abu Yunos, in Isabela City in Basilan province. ? In August, Philippine authorities seized nearly 6,000 blasting caps during three different operations directed against ASG members. ? Also in August, Philippine forces dismantled an SSG bomb factory. Overall, the data indicates the Philippine forces have been effective and have unbalanced ASG and other guerrilla groups such as the New People’s Army (NPA) . Structural changes in the Philippine army and security services are part of the recent success. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Hermogenes Esperon stated in September that the Philippine Armed Force were increasingly capable. The military appears to have benefited from increased resources and restructuring that began in 2003. Esperon has also referenced getting at the roots of Philippine insurgencies. Regarding the NPA, he recently stated: “We believe that we have the mechanics for addressing the roots of insurgency and as we go along, we believe that we could dictate a faster pace of operations… and in four years time, we hope to achieve some kind of strategic victory.” Esperon has also made public comments about transitioning some counterinsurgency activities to the Philippine National Police, a sign that the Philippines Defense establishment is experimenting with new approaches. The role of the US, however, should not be underestimated in this recent campaign. US military and other advisors provide a significant amount of intelligence and doctrinal advice. This will continue. In late July, Philippine defense officials stated US forces would remain through 2006 and the first half of 2007 and engage in counterterrorism training with the Philippine armed forces in Mindanao, where ASG and Jamaah Islamiya militants are based. In surveying the summer campaign, TRC found encouraging developments. But in TRC’s last discussion of the 2006 summer campaign against ASG, we also stated the Philippine government would have to change the underlying conditions in the southern islands to realize a long-term reduction of ASG and other guerrilla activities. Until annual incomes rise and the central government in Manila overcomes the barriers of distance from, and diversity in, the southern islands, Philippine guerrilla groups will wax and wane and will provide infrastructure and safe haven for dangerous regional and transnational terrorist groupings.