Philippines’ War On Terror: Special Report On Post 9/11 Al-Qaeda Attack On America

September 11, 2007 at 9:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

US troops in Jolo island during a humanitarian mission. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 08 Sept) – Six years after the so-called U.S. global war on terror, the Philippines, a staunch ally of Washington, is still fighting the Abu Sayyaf, a small terror group, but with ties to the al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.

The campaign against the Abu Sayyaf, which means “Bearer of the Sword,” killed hundreds of government soldiers the past years. Since last month, 57 soldiers had died and dozens more wounded in fierce fighting with the Abu Sayyaf in southern Philippines.

Although the war on the Abu Sayyaf, originally founded in the early 1990s by Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, has been slow and deadly for the Philippine military, the gains of the battles resulted in tremendous victories, not only for the Filipino government, but to the United States as well – six years after the 9/11 suicide attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in America.

At least 19 terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners and intentionally crashed two of the aircrafts — United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11 — into the World Trade Center in New York City, one plane into each tower, resulting in the collapse of both buildings.

The hijackers crashed a third airliner, American Airlines Flight 77, into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. and the fourth aircraft, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into a field near in Pennsylvania. The plan was originally hatched in the Philippines in 1995.

Several leaders of the Abu Sayyaf, including Khadaffy Janjalani, the group’s chieftain called Emir by his followers, have been killed by U.S.-backed Filipino troops in long and raging battles in southern Philippines.

Janjalani, a former police spy, broke his ties with the government and took over from his elder brother, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who was slain in December 1998 in a firefight with policemen in Basilan island.

Three of Khadaffy Janjalani’s most senior lieutenants were also killed in separate clashes with U.S.-backed Filipino troops – Aldam Tilao, Hamsiraji Sali, and Jainal Antel Salih since 2002. All were included in the U.S. most wanted terrorists list.

Gen. Alexander Yano, Philippine Army chief, said the war on terror is a continuing fight, an unfinished battle that the government is waging and winning so far. “We have gained a significant achievement. Many of the high-value targets, like Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and other senior terror leaders have been neutralized,” he said.

He said the U.S. security assistance to the Philippines and other countries providing similar aid, helped a lot in fighting terrorism, especially in the southern region, where security forces are pursuing the Abu Sayyaf and the JI. “The U.S. provided us important trainings and other technical assistance and other ally countries also and these are vital in our operations in fighting terror,” he said.

Yano said: “The war on terror involves not only the Philippines or the United States, not only democratic nations, but the whole world because terrorism is a menace that is threatening humanity.”

Col. Antonio Supnet, military commander in Jolo island, said intensified government operations against terrorists also killed other senior Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders — Ismin Sahiron, Jundam Jumalul, Gadar Abubakar, Abu Bas, Abu Hubaida, Mahsud Ibno, Almjatz Jimong and a JI member Abu Mukisin Gufran.

And also two Abu Sayyaf brothers, both were assassins — Itting and Anni Sailani –and bombers Tajajul Ampul, Amilhamja Ajijul and Binang Sali were also killed. These Abu Sayyaf personalities were once considered the most ferocious during their lifetime and their deaths is proof that the Philippine military is slowly winning the war on terror since 2002, when Manila launched an all-out offensive against the Abu Sayyaf and its allies.

It was also in 2002 that the U.S. committed 1,300 troops to the Philippines under the Joint Special Operations Task Force–Philippines (JSOTF-P) and $93 million in military aid to assist Manila defeat the Abu Sayyaf in the so-called “Operation Enduring Freedom–Philippines.”

The codename was originally from the “Operation Enduring Freedom” (OEF), the official name used by the U.S. government for its military response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. It was previously planned to have been called “Operation Infinite Justice.”

Operation Enduring Freedom–Philippines was later renamed “Oplan: Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder.” The U.S. troops provided anti-terrorism trainings and supplied intelligence to the Armed Forces of the Philippines from 2002 until now.

Philippine and U.S. authorities linked the Abu Sayyaf to the spate of bombings in the southern Filipino region, including executions of civilians and kidnappings for ransom to raise fund and support its terror campaign. The Abu Sayyaf has pillaged small towns, bombed passenger ships, commuter buses, Catholic churches and public places, including malls and department stores and killed hundreds of innocent people since the time it was founded.

The Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 21 foreigners in a cross-border raid in Sabah, Malaysia in 2000 and ransomed off the hostages with the help of Filipino negotiators. It also killed two of three U.S. citizens kidnapped in 2001 after failing to seek the release of al-Qaeda bomber, Pakistani Ramzi Yousef, from U.S. prison.

Yousef, who first bombed the World Trade Center in February 1993, was the mastermind of the “Bojinka Plot,” a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. airliners and a plan to kill Pope John Paul II in the Philippines in 1995. He bombed a Philippine airliner bound for Japan, killing one passenger and the Abu Sayyaf owned up the attack. Yousef then fled the Philippines and was arrested in Pakistan. Six years later the al-Qaeda attacked the WTC.

Philippine military officials say the number of Abu Sayyaf militants have dwindled from several hundreds in the 1990s down to about 200 in 2007. But the number is not permanent either as members of other rebel groups and criminals come and go as Abu Sayyaf militants.

Aside from military trainings, U.S. and Filipino troops also embarked on a massive humanitarian mission and carried out development projects, with the help from the private 3P Foundation headed by Armando de Rossi and USAID, across southern Philippines — particularly in areas where there are large Muslim communities in an effort to win their hearts and minds.

It was a big success both for the Filipino and U.S troops because of the active participation of civilians in development projects in those areas, especially in Jolo where hundreds of Muslim villagers even held a huge rally in support to the American presence on the island in 2006.

Navy Adm. Timothy Keating, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the work being done by Special Forces training Philippine troops resulted in significant setbacks for terrorists and the criminal elements that would support them.

At a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in April this year, Keating said there have been less incidents of terrorism in the southern Philippines. “Progress has been significant. It has not — again, the pace is not break-neck, but it is quantifiable nonetheless.”

“An important aspect of this — as those smaller nations’ militaries get better at counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, they will work more closely with each other without our prodding or our assisting.”

“And that is of significant benefit, I think, to us, as our forces can now literally stay out of the equation as, let’s say, Malaysians and Filipinos work closely together to enhance maritime and land security in their respective countries without direct assistance from the United States. And that is a very positive benefit of the train- and-assist program,” Keating said.

Vice Admiral Eric Olson, deputy commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, in the same hearing in Washington, agreed with Keating and said: “This is a train-and-assist mission in the Philippines that incorporates a number of other disciplines, like civil affairs and psychological operations activities.”

“We are living with the Philippine army. Our operations have a Philippine face on them. The people in the local areas are crediting the Philippine government for the goodness that is coming from the activity. We are doing — assisting the Filipinos with medical programs and dental programs and veterinary programs and school building programs and those things.”

“So for us, it is a form of counter-terrorism and irregular warfare. They see it largely as a humanitarian assistance mission, coordinated by their government. It is absolutely a model. It’s a model that doesn’t apply everywhere, but it’s a model that we ought to apply wherever we can,” Olson said.

In Zamboanga City, Lt. Cdr. Fred Kuebler, JSOTF-P public affairs officer, said the accomplishments and success they enjoy are through the AFP. “Since the U.S. role is one of support, it’s the AFP that owns the accomplishments. In other words, we don’t conduct any of the humanitarian aid missions without the AFP,” he said.

“U.S. troops work along side AFP for engineering projects and medical missions. There are many of these projects the AFP conducts on their own. A great example is the announcement of deploying two engineering battalions to Basilan to finish the road,” he said.

Kuebler was referring to the Philippine Army engineers sent by President Gloria Arroyo on Sept. 5 to finish the stalled P800 million, 165-kilometer circumferential road projects on Basilan island. The Philippine Air Force also sent an engineering contingent to the island to work on infrastructure projects.

“Another important thing to note is that the AFP has been able to continue these Civil-Military Operations while conducting combat operations (against terrorists). This is good stuff,” he said.

In 2005, U.S. forces began direct support missions for the Philippine military in western Mindanao against Abu Sayyaf, and U.S. military personnel began non-combat missions on Jolo island. Washington also sent the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy for a month-long medical mission in the southern Philippines in June 2006 treating tens of thousands of poor Filipinos.

Many U.S. ships, from HSV to naval cargo vessels, arrived in southern Philippines since 2002 to participate in development and infrastructure projects with local soldiers as part of a war – a battle to win the support of Filipino civilians.

The U.S. efforts benefited not only the Filipinos, but as well as the AFP and the Arroyo government, which alone cannot afford such huge undertakings for lack of funding.

The U.S. humanitarian mission, with the support of the AFP, is a big boost in the war on terror. Bottled water, posters, comics with photos of wanted terrorists, such as leaders of the Abu Sayyaf and JI are being distributed in areas where U.S. and Philippine soldiers conduct medical missions. And civilians have become more aware of the threats pose by terrorists and in return cooperated with authorities by secretly providing intelligence, while others are motivated by huge bounties on the heads of terrorists.

A U.S. Congressional research report this year said Philippine military commanders praised U.S. equipment, U.S. intelligence gathering, and U.S. assistance in planning AFP operations. The U.S. military civic action project on Basilan in 2002 appeared to weaken support for Abu Sayyaf on the island and received general praise in the Philippines.

But hostilities broke out again in Basilan’s Al-Barka town in July this year after MILF fighters attacked government forces and killed 14 soldiers who strayed into a rebel stronghold while pursuing the Abu Sayyaf. Ten of the soldiers were later beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf after the rebels retreated.

Since 2002, Philippine offensive against Abu Sayyaf became more intense and effective on Basilan island, southwest of Zamboanga City and on Jolo island in the Sulu archipelago in 2006 with many of its members killed and captured.

And all these were attributed to the persistent Filipino military operations under Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, the armed forces chief, and Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, of the Western Mindanao Command, and sophisticated U.S. intelligence equipment – from satellite photos to unmanned drones and surveillance aircrafts that tracked the movements of the Abu Sayyaf and the information provided by former Abu Sayyaf militants recruited by the military as deep-penetration agents.

However, the Abu Sayyaf has established links with the Indonesian terror group, Jemaah Islamiya, and a local radical organization called the Rajah Soliman, which is made up of Filipinos who converted to Islam.

And U.S. officials expressed growing concern over the presence of JI on Mindanao and links between JI, Abu Sayyaf and the larger rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

The Bush Administration supported the ongoing peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF as the best means of eroding the MILF-JI linkage. And Washington even offered $30 million in aid should the MILF seal a peace agreement with Manila.

The MILF has repeatedly denied any links with JI, although Filipino military commanders say there is a connection between the two groups. They say JI militants, among them Indonesian bombers Dulmatin and Umar Patek and Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, who heads the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM) terrorist organization provided the MILF and Abu Sayyaf trainings on explosives.

Jakarta tagged Dulmatin and Patek as behind the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. The two were also believed behind several bombings in Jolo island, where hundreds of U.S. troops are deployed and assisting the AFP in fighting terrorism.

Col. David Maxwell, the JSOTF-P commander based in Zamboanga City, in an interview with The Australian in January this year, said: “This is a Philippines battle and the Philippines forces are winning.”

“The Philippine navy has done a tremendous job with the ability for Dulmatin and Patek to move by water. They have really isolated Jolo so well and it is probably difficult for them to move off the island.”

“But where are they going to go? You look at what the Armed Forces of the Philippines are doing in central Mindanao. Are they going to go back after they were evicted by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front? Basilan (island) is very secure these days, they can’t go back there,” he said.

“They will have to leave the Philippines and right now their best hope is to continue to remain here on Jolo because they’ve got a low level of basic support network that has allowed them to survive. But it’s only a matter of time. The armed forces of The Philippines are going to win over all the sanctuaries and they are going to win over all the people and eliminate the ability for them to survive on the island,” Maxwell said.

In a separate statement, Maxwell said after the events of 9/11, the region became a front line against terrorism, and Manila and Washington set their sights on the dismantling the terror networks of the Abu Sayyaf group and JI.

He said Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines officially began in early 2002 as Joint Task Force 510 executing the combined Philippine – US Balikatan 02-1 on Basilan. Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P) advisory efforts began in the Southern Philippines in 2002 and continue to this day.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines, JSOTF-P, and the Philippine people are working hand in hand to accomplish two mutually supporting objectives. First the elimination of terrorism and secondly, the elimination of the conditions that cause terrorism.”

“The people of the Philippines and the United States have a long history together. Our commitment to the Philippine people has been forged by both military and personal ties throughout the years,” Maxwell said.

He further said that in coordination with, and on the invitation of the Filipino government, a small number of U.S. forces are providing advice and assistance to the local security forces in various locations throughout the southern Philippines in support of their fight against terrorist organizations in the region.

JSOTF-P, in coordination with the Western Mindanao Command, advises and assists the AFP in their effort to degrade the ability of the JI and ASG to operate and seek sanctuary in the southern Philippines in direct support of RP and US efforts in the war on terrorism.

“Philippine sovereignty serves as the framework with regards to how we support our Philippine allies,” commented Maxwell. “This is a Philippine fight, and one they are winning. We will only be here as long as we are asked to stay and be value added to our allies.”

Through subject matter expert exchanges, civil-military operations involving a variety of medical and construction projects, and the sharing of information between U.S. and Philippines security forces, the AFP experienced significant successes, he said.

Since 2002, AFP and JSOTF-P personnel have completed 165 Medical Civic Action Projects at a cost of $676.000, treating over a quarter million patients, or to be a little more exact, a little over 255,000 people.

Engineering Civic Action Projects contracted and built in conjunction with Philippine contractors consisting of Jolo roads projects, water drilling, schools, Basilan wells, hospitals and a host of other projects total over $6,670,825 dollars.

“These successes are due, in large part, to the fact the Philippine security forces have been able to separate the population from the terrorist organizations throughout the region through civil-military projects that help improve lives.”

“It’s these projects, and military-civilian relationships between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine people, that help remove the conditions that foster terrorist activities,” said Maxwell.

He said in addition to these projects, AFP military operations have begun to create a paradigm shift within the civilian community, denying sanctuary for terrorist elements and leaders.

In June this year, the Rewards for Justice program paid out $10 million to multiple informants who provided information to the AFP on the whereabouts and activities of wanted terrorists.

These tips resulted in military operations neutralizing ASG leaders Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Solaiman. Janjalani was best known for masterminding the kidnap and killing of international tourists, including Americans, from the island of Palawan in 2001.

Tips also came in leading to the killing of an Abu Sayyaf terrorist camed “Black Killer” off the coast of Tawi-Tawi by 2nd Marine Battalion Landing Team in 2006.

“The AFP-US team has enjoyed some well-earned successes, but we are not yet successful,” Maxwell said. “Success will be achieved when the terrorist sanctuary in the Philippines is gone, and lawless groups have no other alternative than to leave and find sanctuary elsewhere, allowing the Filipino people to live in peace, to prosper, and to pursue the happiness they deserve.”

“The important thing to remember is this is not the model for the war on terrorism, but rather a model on how to support an ally in their fight against terrorism,” he said.

Canberra also said the presence of JI in Mindanao poses a serious threat to Australia, but a joint anti-terror training with the Philippines is underway in areas where the JI, Abu Sayyaf and MILF operate. For now, it is limited to providing intelligence support and training in bomb detection, hostage rescue and maritime security.

Australia is Manila’s biggest provider of defense and counter-terrorism assistance next to the U.S., with aid of an estimated $US13.5 million last year.

JI attacks are always feared to be deadly. The Rizal Day bombings, blamed on JI, were a series of attacks that occurred around the Philippine capital on December 30, 2000, known as Rizal Day, commemorating the martyrdom of the Filipino’s national hero, Dr Jose Rizal. At least 22 people were killed and more than 100 others injured in the attacks.

The U.S. has offered as much as US$10 million bounty for Dulmatin’s capture; US$5 million for Zulkifli and US$1 million for Patek’s head. Washington also offered US$5 million for known Abu Sayyaf leaders under the Rewards for Justice System.

Since its inception, Rewards for Justice has paid more than $62 million to more than 40 people who have provided credible information that has brought terrorists to justice or prevented acts of international terrorism.

Many disgruntled members of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a peace pact with Manila in 1996, have joined the Abu Sayyaf. They say the peace agreement failed to uplift their living standards and that many Muslim areas in Mindanao remain in poverty.

MNLF members clashed with government troops on Jolo in 2005, in an eruption of violence reportedly related to the launching of an earlier government offensive against Abu Sayyaf, with which the breakaway MNLF faction allegedly shares close ties. MNLF faction commanders on Jolo have warned the army against launching attacks close to their bases on the island. The military accused the MNLF of coddling Dulmatin and Patek and other Abu Sayyaf leaders.

Some Moro Islamic Liberation Front commanders are also providing sanctuary to Abu Sayyaf and JI militants and even allowed them to train secretly inside rebel bases in central Mindanao, Filipino officials say.

In April 2005, U.S. Charge d’ affaires in Manila, Joseph Mussomeli, said parts of Mindanao, with its poverty, lawlessness and porous borders, and links to JI could develop into an “Afghanistan-style” situation. Also former U.S. Ambassador to Philippines, Francis Ricciardone, had canceled a U.S.-funded road project in Cotabato in Mindanao, describing the city as a “doormat” for terrorists.

It was in Cotabato City where some foreign al-Qaeda operatives had been arrested by joint U.S. and Philippine law enforcement agents.

Philippine authorities say as many as seven dozen Indonesian and Malaysian JI militants are believed hiding in Mindanao. The lack or limited military equipment of the AFP, such as aircrafts and patrol vessels made it difficult for troops to hunt down the terrorists or carry out their missions.

But U.S. and Australian military aid have made up for some of these short falls in equipment, however, with the Abu Sayyaf and JI active in some areas in Mindanao and the decades-old problems of Muslim and communist insurgencies still persist, terrorism may further heighten in the coming years.

Jesus Dureza, Philippine government peace adviser, says Manila signed Sept. 6 an amnesty proclamation that will cover members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its political arm, the National Democratic Front and the group’s armed wing, the New People’s Army and also other communist groups. “Amnesty will be extended only to those who wish to avail of it,” Dureza said.

“On the contrary, those already convicted by competent courts will have to face the consequences of their conviction, except to seek restoration of their political or civil rights by amnesty.”

Jose Maria Sison, CPP founder, was arrested Aug. 28 in The Netherlands where he is living in exile by the Dutch police allegedly for ordering the NPA killings in 2003 and 2004 of Romulo Kintanar and Arturo Tabara, ex-CPP leaders.

The U.S. designated the CPP, NDF and the NPA as foreign terrorist organizations on Manila’s prodding after peace talks failed in 2004. The Philippine government insisted the rebels, who fighting the past four decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country, to lay down their arms and sign a peace deal.

President Arroyo ordered the armed forces to crush insurgencies in three years before her she steps down by 2010. But it was a tall order and is unlikely that the military will be able to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf, not even the NPA. And new breeds of insurgents and terrorists, deadlier and smarter, will come and go and leave their marks in strife-scarred Mindanao, despite the so-called war on terror, unless poverty and corruption in government are eliminated and eventually peace will reign. (Mindanao Examiner)


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