Violent Jihad

The Jihad in the Southern Philippines

Thousands of troops mobilize to crush the Islamic State's furthest-flung outpost.

BY CounterJihad · @CounterjihadUS | August 30, 2016

In 2014, the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS).  Before that time it had been an affiliate of al Qaeda, especially through al Qaeda’s Pacific branch, Jemaah Islamiyah.  Whereas those links entailed common recruitment and logistics, it is unclear how much this allegiance to ISIS has practical qualities.  Nevertheless, the Abu Sayyaf group has adopted the practice of beheading hostages.  Earlier this year it beheaded two Canadian hostages, after having received a ransom payment for them and then demanding more.

Abu Sayyaf has been a hostile Islamist militant group for twenty years.  While Moro separatist groups including the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have sometimes been pursued for peace talks, Abu Sayyaf has shown no sign of being reasonable enough to talk with.  The government has fought them sporadically for decades as a result.

The Philippines has a new president who has only just taken office, one famous for his heavy hand.  In his war on drugs, President Rodrigo Duterte has killed nearly two thousand suspects in just a few weeks.  Abu Sayyaf’s high-profile kidnappings and murders have now drawn his ire.  President Duterte responded to the beheadings by sending thousands of soldiers on a search and destroy mission through the regions of Mindanao where Abu Sayyaf has its strongholds.

His orders were straightforward:  “Go out and destroy them. Kill whoever they are.”

Fifteen soldiers were killed overnight fighting Abu Sayyaf members, and two of the Islamic militants.  The larger picture looks better than the figure from that skirmish.  So far 25 militants have been killed in the sweeps.  The heavy casualties that attended this one engagement, in which some 70 militants are thought to have participated, have not dogged the rest of the mission so far.  The clash took place on Sulu, one of the larger islands as well as one of the most restive.

Duterte appears to take seriously the threat posed by the ISIS link.  In early August he gave a speech to the military that worried about native militant groups becoming “contaminated” by ISIS.  Another group, which has also sworn allegiance to ISIS, staged a successful jail break recently.

The campaign will be difficult.  The southern Philippines are a chain of islands bordering major shipping routes.  Small boats are ubiquitous in the area, making it very difficult to block militant logistics or movements.   To combat this threat the Philippine Navy has a Special Operations Group that was, until recently, trained by elements of the United States Special Operations Command, as were special operations elements of the Philippine Army and Marine Corps.  However, in 2015 the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines was deactivated.  A smaller number of US advisers remain as liaisons.

US President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with President Duterte next week.  However, it appears that the meeting will focus on concerns about the drug war, rather than offers of assistance in the fight against Islamic militants.  President Obama’s adviser Ben Rhodes has said that the President is deeply concerned about the appearance of extrajudicial killings of drug criminals.



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