Michael's Dispatches

This Morning’s Photos

Friday, 05 June 2009
Sulu Island

U.S. troops here in the Philippines have been happily receiving large shipments of donated books from citizens in the United States.

In addition to building roads, schools and clinics, our troops along with Filipinos have been stocking shelves with donations from an organization called “Books for the Barrios.”

The villagers have been very happy, and along the roads there must have been hundreds of kids waving at our soldiers today. I didn’t see a single kid beg for candy, but I did see soldiers waving back. Large groups of children are a clear window into the hearts of their parents. All of our combat experienced troops in Afghanistan, Iraq – and here – watch the kids. The kids here are great, and I have not yet seen any that were made into brats by our folks handing out candy. The Philippine kids I’ve seen are well-mannered.

In the villages of Barangay, Buansa, Indanan, and Sulu teachers allow kids check out the books. Many children take the books home. The teeth of many children are in horrible condition.

Both the Philippine and U.S. military are giving me access to talk with their officers and enlisted soldiers, though they highly recommend not traveling alone around here because foreigners keep getting kidnapped. The villagers enjoy talking – many speak English -- and seem pro-U.S. We had lunch today in a village and the food was cooked by the locals, and it was delicious. Our troops who work in the villages hire locals to cook their meals and wash their uniforms.

The strategy here is complex. It’s largely based on drying up terrorist sanctuaries while walking an arduous path to avoid inflaming the people. The Philippine press is free and reckless, so the government must deal with the same sort of propaganda monsters that we deal with in the United States, while our collective enemies generally do not bother with distractions such as truth.

It would take months of hard research and internal travel to develop enough situation awareness to give a serious opinion about the direction of the war in the Philippines. My gut instinct at this point, however, is that progress is being made.

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