Southern Philippines

Afghanistan of the Sea

U.S. Army Sergeant Alexander Jamieson is handcuffed and searched during training of Philippine National Police.

17 June 2009

Small teams of American troops are spread across many locations in the southern Philippines.  Each team works side-by-side with Filipino counterparts.  The jobs vary.  Navy SEALs and Special Boat Teams often support the AFP (Armed Forces Philippines) on actual operations.   I have been briefed on some of these operations -- though without the physical access one gets in Iraq or Afghanistan.  One truism of embedding: the more they are fighting, the closer the writer is welcome to get, right up into the middle.

Our folks do not engage in direct combat unless they are being attacked, but the Philippine commanders enjoy the direct, non-combat support, including the occasional use of U.S. warships.   American ships don't fire their weapons or engage in combat.

Other teams conduct Civilian Military Operations (CMO).  In fact, the U.S. and AFP say that 80% of the fight in the Philippines has nothing to do with guns.  It’s about securing the people, building roads, clinics and schools; digging wells and developing a viable political process.  Helping the farmers to work without being harassed by Islamic jihadist terror groups such as Abu Sayyaf  and Jemaah Islamiyah have shrunken the terrorists' habitat.  Village by village, the AFP is gaining ground.

The Filipino officers with whom I've spent many hours have a far more sophisticated view of how to fight this fight than we see with Iraqi counterparts.  Afghans are not even in the same league.

This reality, along with the fact that we have a good number of our own special operations forces here, goes far toward explaining how, even with the light footprint, the terrorist organizations are on the defense in the RoP (Republic of Philippines).

In cooperating with the AFP, small groups of our people are spread out at many locations on four islands.  At the location pictured above, on Jolo island, there were six Military Police from the U.S. Army/Japan, two National Guardsmen from the 1-294th Infantry in Guam, and four Green Berets from the 1st Special Forces Group.  On the island of Mindanao, our folks have great freedom of movement and force protection is light, but on this island our people use up-armored Humvees, as in Iraq or Afghanistan, though the bombs here are nothing like those in Iraq.  The bombs in the Philippines often are made from small mortars, or they are “fish bombs” (locals use “depth charges” to catch fish), but the islands also are chock full of M-16s.  AFP commanders say that even the poorest farmers are likely to have guns.

[Note: Some more detailed dispatches are in the works regarding the Philippines.  I have departed the Philippines on route to Afghanistan.  Pakistan embassy declined to issue a visa this morning.]


Comments   

 
# Dan P. 2009-06-17 09:51
thank you Michael. God Be with You!!!
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# MAGAN_e2 2009-06-18 00:17
Very nice article mike,

You might want to ask the surrenderees or X6 regarding these questions,

How many times have you surrendered?

Where do you get your ammo and weapons?

You might be surprise to note also, that unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ASG's and JI are using the very same type of weapons the U.S and Philippine forces do, such as M16s,M14s, M60. they even use tracers!

Indeed these is a complex environment, but when you start digging about this two questions, i'm sure it will get more complicated.

be safe mate!

magan_e2
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# CW 2009-06-18 02:27
Thanks for your reporting in the PI, Michael.

It shouldn't be too surprising that the AFP has a pretty nuanced understanding of COIN. Other than their participation in some of the less orderly transitions of power (and attempts), it's pretty much all they have done since the end of the Marcos regime.

Would you care to comment on a few issues:

Who exactly are the insurgents in the South?
To what extent is the (Communist) New Peoples Army involved?
To what extent is the current insurgency related to Al Qa'ida, or is it pretty much the same 'Moro' problem that dates back to Spanish days?
What's the state of play with the MLF, MILF and the (apparently) perpetual discussions between the Philippine government and various Muslim groups?

How does the long US relationship with the Philippines change the ability of US troops to be effective compared with, say, Afghanistan?
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# Magan_e2 2009-06-23 05:20
CW,

"AFP has a pretty nuanced understanding of COIN" - not really, they have a lot of COIN understanding, it is just difficult to conduct operations on your own country fighting your own people. Just imagine politicians intervening in tactical operations, the local media, human rights groups and other organizations, it hampers military operations. Aside from that, yes, because of the intertwined relationship between military operations on PI soil. The AFP has been demonized by Politics.

To answer your querry,(since mike is on the battlefield tailing our guys down there)

To what extent is the (Communist) New Peoples Army involved?

- The New Peoples Army (the armed wing of the Communist party of the Phils.) are only focused on overthrowing the government to establish a socialist/commu nist form of government.With there orgn. down the drain because they are in the US terror list, they now resort to Kidnap for ransom, extortion and other criminal activities. they can be found in areas where muslim secessionist are not around.

To what extent is the current insurgency related to Al Qa'ida, or is it pretty much the same 'Moro' problem that dates back to Spanish days?

-No. the Al Qa'ida (JI in SEA), in PI is pretty much represented by the ABU SAYAFF group, which are notoriously known for its terror activites. However, the MILF, despite claiming to be a legitimate combatant orgn. is using a double edged sword, meaning they also have in contact with JI and engage in terror acts.

What's the state of play with the MLF, MILF and the (apparently) perpetual discussions between the Philippine government and various Muslim groups?

-the MNLF has a peace agreement with the Nat'l Gov't. and are now integrated with the local and national politics and military orgn.
- the MILF, is still dreaming of establishing a Muslim(religiou s) state in the south, peace between the two broke down with the apparent national uproar with the secretive peace agreement with them. Some commanders went on rampage killing non-muslim civilians, looting, burning and many more. The AFP decided to talk with the MILF leadership if only they surrender those commanders which they refuse. at present, combat opns. is on to hunt for these almost 3 brigades of MILF paramilitary. Peace negotiations is back to square one.

How does the long US relationship with the Philippines change the ability of US troops to be effective compared with, say, Afghanistan?

- PEACE COMES AFTER DEVELOPMENT. WINNING THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF THE PEOPLE, means you have to be constantly present, focused on Medcap and other Development Projects. this way, you deny the enemy a sanctuary within the populace. if the populace goes against the terrorist, they're happy moments is now diminishing. Look at how these GI's look in the photos compared to A'tan and iraq.
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# TomasCTT 2009-06-27 05:47
Michael's article mentions the region is awash with M16s. Reason is simple: the Philippines license-builds M16s and M4s. I forgot the company's name - Elisco? not sure - but it all started when Armalite (if I recall correctly) was purchased by a Philippine company many many years ago (during the Marcos era I think). That company eventually had to sell the Armalite brandname (or something like that). Anyhow, that is one reason why the Philippines produces licensed-built M16A1s and M4s.

There is another reason for M16s and the like in Mindanao. Mindanao is known also for its gun industry. If I recall correctly, in Afghanistan, there are "guilds" (for lack of a better term) that produce very old rifles. The same is true in Mindanao. There was an old investigative-t ype report by one of the local news networks on this, it showed how one gunsmith in Mindano, with the use of tin (I think) and other simple materials, was able to create a copy of a "baby Armalite" (IOW, an M4 - over here in the Philippines, the M16 is sometimes called as "Armalite" while the M4 is called "baby Armalite" because it is small). Same docu-news showed a gunsmith building a "micro-baby Armalite."

Anyhow, these copies by local gunsmiths in Mindanao are just crude copies that most probably jams a lot and/or highly inaccurate.

And if the ASG bandits and MILF rebels use M16s and M4s, they are either the crude copies or stolen from the government inventory, or even purchased from soldiers who are poor. Yep, it is not unusual that some soldiers actually sell their weapons, which sometimes end up in the hands of the enemy. And there are times that the rebels or ASG bandits raid an insecure arms depot. Then there are captured weapons from captured or killed soldiers....

And that is why the M16 and M4 - and not the AK-47 - is a common weapon down south, used by both soldiers and rebels/insurgen ts/bandits.
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# TomasCTT 2009-06-27 06:11
BTW, those "fish bombs" are more often than not sticks of dynamite or homegrown explosives/dyna mite. Dynamite fishing is one of the prohibited methods of fishing in this country as it destroys the corals where the fish live and breed. Alas, it is resorted to by poor fishermen to easily get as much fish as possible.

Finally, I find it odd to see Mindanao and the other islands down south (especially Jolo and Basilan) as the "Afghanistan of the Sea." In my opinion, the Afghan situation with all its tribes, their customs and nuances, compounded with religion, are far more complex than down south. In Mindanao, as with the rest of the Philippines, it is fairly simple: poor, starving people who have no other means to feed themselves and live and feel that they are denied justice and such sometimes choose to take up arms against the government and join the rebels/insurgen ts. Sure, it may be a gross simplification of the reality on the ground, but there are some that really take up arms because they feel they are aggrieved and blame their current state on the government. That is why local development in the form of building schools, roads and other infrastructure helps a lot in the war on terror down south. Build such infrastructure and provide basic services, and the people will be happy and have no reason to take up arms against the government. Some people have dismissed the idea that there is a relation between poverty and terrorism. In some cases, yes, terrorism is purely ideology-driven . But in many cases, such as in the Philippines, poverty is a major reason why we have a communist and Muslim insurgency.

I firmly believe that for the US and her allies to win in Afghanistan, they have to be there in the long run and really spend a lot on infrastructure and providing basic services (especially education) to the people. That way, the ordinary poor Afghan will have less of a reason to pick up arms and more of a reason to live and reach their ambitions. It has happened before: the early period of the American colonization of the Philippines, and it was a stellar success (as reflected by the close relations between the USA and the Philippines today).
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# Valerie 2009-07-01 11:31
What a great read! You manage to write complicated information in an easy to read manner. Bet I'm not along when I say I feel more educated on what is going on than ever and look forward to your dispatches. Am so grateful to our military leaders and the troops.

Be safe and know we appreciate you. I hope certain Washington politicians receive and read your work....surely it would make for more intelligent decisions regarding our military?
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-1 # John Welch 2009-07-04 06:22
Amazing work you do, news media could care less.
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