Long-term US strategy emerges out of Philippines
As US intervention against rebel group ends, the military calls for more missions.
Just weeks before its scheduled conclusion, the US mission in the Southern Philippines the Bush administration's largest military deployment outside Afghanistan has accomplished almost all of its objectives.Skip to next paragraph
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The Abu Sayyaf group, which was holding two Americans hostage at the start of the mission, has been driven from a posture of open defiance to scattered remnants strung across a few small southern islands.
US forces on the island of Basilan yesterday received permission to assist local troops on the frontlines. On Monday and over the weekend, US spy planes guided Philippine troops to Abu Sayyaf hideouts in the Sulu Archipelago, which were pounded by mortars and rocket fire. And also on Monday, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told reporters that the kidnap-for-ransom gang appeared on the verge of being wiped out.
The US military sees the operation as such a success, it's asking Congress to approve new missions to the Philippines, which is home to a number of other kidnap-for-ransom outfits.
The Abu Sayyaf has been the focus of the US presence since the mission began in January. In many ways, they were the ideal target for the war on terror's second front: a small organization with minimal support from the local population and historical links to Al Qaeda. Though it occasionally claims a militant Islamic ideology, its activities have been confined to kidnapping and extortion.
But continued US interest in working with the Philippines illustrates that the intervention has been about far more than the Abu Sayyaf, analysts say. It's also been a proving ground for an emerging facet of the Bush administration's antiterror strategy: supplying military hardware and training to other countries that are trying to bring domestic insurgencies to heel.
"Basically, we want to add military heft through training and cooperation to friendly governments who have Muslim insurgencies that might or might not be fertile ground for Al Qaeda,'' says Robert Rotberg, director of the Harvard Kennedy School's Program on Intrastate Conflict. "The idea is a kind of cordon sanitaire an expression of US muscle by proxy."
It is the same logic behind expanding US military ties with Pakistan and the reason the US is providing antiterrorism training to the Republic of Georgia. It's why the administration requested emergency military financing for countries like Yemen and Kazakhstan, and why it's pushing to resume working with the Indonesian military, which still has one of the worst human rights records in Asia.
Most of the US proposals are awaiting congressional approval. But analysts say the success of the Philippines mission increases chances it will be given.
Expanded military ties with other governments was a goal of the administration even before Sept. 11. For instance, the government wants a $20 million equipment and training package to help Nepal fight Maoist guerrillas, and also wants congressional approval for antinarcotics money in Colombia to be used for counterinsurgency.
But such controversial measures have become more acceptable in Washington circles. "Sept. 11 altered the limits of the possible,'' says John Gershman, an analyst at the Interhemispheric Resource Center in Silver City, N.M.