by Austin BayUnited States tremendous political momentum, which bodes well for upcoming
military and diplomatic operations in The War on Terror.
However, an American public now familiar with "the Afghan
example" of warfare should not expect that model to apply too rigorously in
As U.S. advisers deploy to the Philippines, American strategists
face significantly different geographic, political, historical and cultural
challenges, which will translate into a revised military approach, offering
another example of why this "Millennial War" is a nuanced conflict that must
adapt operations, tactics and equipment to unique local circumstances.
There are, of course, noticeable similarities. The United States
is again operating with a local ally, in this case the Filipino government.
U.S. Green Berets are on the ground advising Filipino forces. Intelligence
systems from satellites to unmanned aircraft will probe the battle zone.
Despite political protests from anti-American populists in Manila, the
potent tool of U.S. airpower may well be applied. AC-130 gunships can chew
up jungle hideouts as readily as Himalayan trenches.
However, the dramatic change in terrain matters. Anyone holding
a bachelors degree in common sense can contrast tropical vegetation and
hundreds of Pacific Ocean islands with bare-naked Afghan crags in the middle
Jungle cloaks guerrillas far better than exposed mountains, even
if hi-tech sensors are employed. That guerrilla advantage, however, is
offset by near-complete U.S. and Filipino control of the sea (though some
rebels are smugglers skilled in using small speedboats).
Unlike Afghanistan (at the far end of a fragile air supply
line), the Philippines are not a logistician's nightmare, at least if the
U.S. Navy is on your side. If needed, troops and supplies can be deployed
quickly and in quantity. Filipino forces, U.S. special operations troops and
perhaps U.S. infantry, supported by aircraft operating from Filipino bases
or on ships in nearby waters, can strike suspected terrorist targets with
relative ease. The island region is, in fact, a "theme park" for amphibious
warriors, like U.S. Marines.
Though the Philippines went through a "sick man" phase in the
1980s as the Marcos regime collapsed, "unstable" in Manila would be
considered rock-solid in Kabul. The Filipino Army is no ragtag melange like
the anti-Taliban groups. Manila's military is very familiar with U.S.
military operations, tactics and equipment.
Perhaps too familiar. Complex historical connections and
frictions between the United States and the Philippines will both aid and
hinder U.S. military flexibility.
While Marcos ran Manila, anti-Americanism increased, with the
U.S. military facilities at Subic Bay and Clark Field particular burrs. When
the United States withdrew in 1991, many Filipinos wanted to make the
withdrawal permanent. So the Filipino constitution says no "foreign military
bases, troops or facilities" will be allowed in the country unless the
government holds a national referendum. The current U.S. combat deployment
is being described as "combined training," a fiction convenient to
Washington and Manila, but one that may leave President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo's government politically vulnerable.
Then there's the question of "the enemy."
U.S. troops intend to destroy the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which
is loosely allied with Al Qaeda. Though Abu Sayyaf translates as "Bearer of
the Sword," just how "Islamist" ASG truly is remains up for debate. ASG is
no Taliban. It controls, at most, a slice of one southern island, and
behaves like a band of pirates with a knack for kidnapping and looting.
The Filipino Army, however, has other, more embedded
challengers. Filipino Muslims -- Moros -- have been fighting for four
centuries what they call the "Spanish Catholics." In a struggle that has
left a string of failed peace accords, The Moro National Liberation Front
(MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other factions have
sought either secession from or political autonomy within the Philippines.
Despite the religious veneer, the struggle has ethnic and economic roots.
Most Moros aren't political Islamists, and they certainly aren't global
Thus the Moro conflict, though exacerbated by Osama bin
Laden-type radicals, is old and complex, and will not resolved by American
Still, taking the war to Abu Sayyaf does send an important
message to Islamist radicals who threaten Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
After Sept. 11, threatening U.S. lives exacts a stiff penalty. No matter the
local difficulties and historical tangles, U.S. military, security and
intelligence forces will find a way to work through those thickets. If
you're a terrorist, a Southeast Asian jungle's no safer than a Himalayan