Gringo Lost

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The ‘Wedge’: creating divisions between terrorists and insurgents in the Philippines

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Distinguishing between “terrorists” and “insurgents” can be difficult.  In the Philippines it is especially difficult, where last week the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) conducted an operation against Abu Sayyaf terrorists that also killed 10 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) insurgents.  Adding to the confusion, it is not clear whether the MILF insurgents were aiding Abu Sayyaf terrorists on the island of Basilan, or if they were merely unfortunate passersby.  Now in Afghanistan nabbing Taliban insurgents with al Qaida terrorists may be a good thing, the same is not necessarily true in the Philippines.

The government of the Philippines and MILF leadership had been trying to forge a peace settlement which included a mechanism to share intelligence on Abu Sayyaf.  This mechanism was called the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group, but efforts on this front have stalled alongside peace negotiations for over a year.

One goal with this type of an agreement is to establish a wedge between the MILF and Abu Sayyaf by granting some political autonomy to the MILF in exchange for increased stability.  This type of deal made sense because MILF was less prone to conduct “terror” types of operations or participate in criminal acts, as is done by the Abu Sayyaf group.  Now with the deal inactive, it may be the case that some elements of the MILF and Abu Sayyaf are collaborating, which could significantly add to the complexity of the government’s counterterrorism operations.

Last week the Defense Secretary of the Philippines announced that he wants the military to “finish off” Abu Sayyaf within the next year.  Signaling his commitment to the Islamic terrorist group’s annihilation, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro ordered the military to conduct counterterrorism operations during the holy month of Ramadan.

But Teodoro’s efforts are going to prove cumbersome if he cannot elicit MILF’s support with intelligence collection, nor prevent them from actively assisting Abu Sayyaf terrorists.  To properly split the two groups, both the Filipino government and MILF must actively engage in substantive negotiations.  Fortunately, it seems that the recent operation has prompted both the government and MILF to resume (or at least think about) the negotiation process; and hopefully this will result in some real actionable intelligence and prevent the MILF and Abu Sayyaf militants from forging an alliance that would prove difficult to combat.


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  1. […] The ‘Wedge’: creating divisions between terrorists and insurgents in the Philippines […]

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