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Confronting militant Islam in Southeast Asia: the case of the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines

Confronting militant Islam in Southeast Asia: the case of the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines
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   PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE This article was downloaded by: [Cruz De Castro, Renato]  On: 8 September 2009  Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 914657243]  Publisher Routledge  Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Korean Journal of Defense Analysis Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: Confronting militant Islam in Southeast Asia: the case of the Abu Sayyaf Groupin the Philippines Renato Cruz De Castro aba International Studies Department, De La Salle University, Manila, the Philippines b Political ScienceDepartment, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USAOnline Publication Date: 01 September 2009 To cite this Article Cruz De Castro, Renato(2009)'Confronting militant Islam in Southeast Asia: the case of the Abu Sayyaf Group in thePhilippines',Korean Journal of Defense Analysis,21:3,345 — 361 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/10163270903087394 URL: Full terms and conditions of use: article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.  Confronting militant Islam in Southeast Asia: the case of theAbu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines Renato Cruz De Castro* International Studies Department, De La Salle University, Manila, the Philippines and Political Science Department, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA This article discusses the Bush administration’s extension of the War on Terror inSoutheast Asia and this operation’s main objective  *  the Abu Sayyaf Group(ASG) in the Philippines. It probes the ASG’s history, transnational links, andterrorist operations. Then using content analysis, the article analyzes the terroristgroup’s primary reading material to determine its ideological affiliation withtransnational Islamic militant groups. It then argues that the transnational jihadist ideology is evident in the ASG’s primary reading material. The materialreflects the ideas of the late Palestinian terrorist Abdullah Azzam, and byimplication, those of the late Egyptian poet Sayyid Qutb. In conclusion, thearticle points out that the influence of jihadist ideology on the ASG is superficial,because of the widely held view that the band is a marginalized group operating atthe fringes of the mainstream militant Islamic movement in Southeast Asia. Introduction Prior to the 1990s, insurgency and terrorism in Southeast Asia, though rampant andendemic, were largely local or regional in scope. Linkages between these variousterrorist and insurgents groups were relative weak, and most of them traditionallyoperated only in their own countries or regions, and focused on domestic issues andgrievances. Everything changed in the late 1990s, however, as the region witnessedthe emergence of religious-inspired and transnational insurgents and militant groups.Motivated by the Islamist socio-political ideology, these groups merged ‘‘religion andpolitics’’ ( din wa dawl  a) to directly challenge the Western secular model of governance and politics. They have adopted and internalized the slogan ‘‘Islam isthe solution’’ of the late Egyptian poet Sayyid Qutb in an effort to inspire politicalmovements against secular Western-type governments in Islamic countries, until orunless the West is convinced that the Islamic world can have an equitable stake inmodernity and globalization. 1 They have also forged, or are in the process of forging,transnational links within the region and significantly, with other global Islamicterrorist movements like al-Qaeda. Describing the motives and modus operandi of these militant Islamic groups, a noted Southeast Asian expert on terrorism andcounter-terrorism notes: These groups aim to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate that would unite the umma or theMuslim community under the banner of Islam. As such these groups are clearlyinfluenced by radical (jihadist) ideology. In terms of methods and tactics, they have also,*Email: ISSN 1016-3271 print/ISSN 1941-4641 online # 2009 Korea Institute for Defense AnalysesDOI: 10.1080/10163270903087394 The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis Vol. 21, No. 3, September 2009, 345  Á  361  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ C r u z  D e  C a s t r o ,  R e n a t o]  A t : 17 :21 8  S e p t e mb e r 2009  to varying degrees, learnt from al-Qaeada through the Afghan mujahedeen network,where they have obtained funding, indoctrination and training which have raised theiroperational effectiveness. 2 The terrorist attacks in the continental United States on September 11, 2001 andthe consequent efforts by Washington to form a global coalition against terrorismled to the confrontation between the Bush administration and these militant Islamicgroups in Southeast Asia. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush adminis-tration indicated its intention to wage a low-intensity campaign against militantIslamic groups all over the world and to cooperate with other states in addressinginternational terrorism. Washington expressed its commitment to a lengthycampaign against militant Islamic groups based primarily on limited militaryoperations, and more importantly, active cooperation with the Southeast Asianstates in neutralizing terrorists ’ havens, financial assets, political sponsorship, as wellas strengthening these states ’ overall counter-terrorism and counter-insurgencycapabilities.In late 2001, the Bush administration approved the deployment of 200 U.S.Special Forces in a two-and-a-half week joint exercise with Filipino troops against amilitant Islamic group operating on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao  *  the Abu Sayyaf (Sword of God) Group or the ASG. The following year, then-U.S.Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced the deployment of 600 Americantroops to Abu Sayyaf  ’ s lair on the island of Basilan, off the main southern island of Mindanao. The troops, however, would not be engaged in actual combat. Instead,they served as military advisers to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in itscounter-terrorism operations against the ASG. This deployment of American troopsin Basilan marked the beginning of Washington ’ s long-term effort in assisting an allyto neutralize transnational jihadist groups and criminal organizations that operatewithin the so-called ‘‘ seam of lawlessness ’’  *  a geographic area that stretches fromAfghanistan to maritime Southeast Asia. Currently, the United States and thePhilippines are engaged in a sustained and long-term program of securitycooperation that includes counter-terrorism training, provision of military equip-ment, and tactical military assistance against the ASG. In 2005, U.S. Special Forcesunits were deployed in the heart of Abu Sayyaf  ’ s enclave on the island of Sulu  *  thesouthernmost part of Mindanao. American elite troops built heavily fortifiedcompounds inside Philippine Army camps from where they have accompaniedAFP units in intelligence-gathering, night-combat training, and humanitarianoperations in ASG-influenced villages. 3 Many analysts and observers of the ASG, however, are now claiming that theband is not actually a militant Islamic group but rather a criminal organizationinvolved in kidnap-for-ransom activities. 4 An American counter-terrorism expert hasargued that the group is more of a criminal nuisance, with no apparent link tointernational terrorist organizations. 5 He maintained that the Abu Sayyaf isdangerous to the Philippine government, not because it is a militant Islamic groupbut rather as it is a ‘‘ criminal organization that threatens law and order anddevelopment. ’’ 6 In her book Seeds of Terror , noted journalist Maria Ressa allegedthat the ASG has been corrupted into a shakedown operation, albeit one with linksto al-Qaeda and with ambitions to carry out terrorist acts for monetary reasons. 7 This view questioning the Abu Sayyaf as a militant Islamic group is bolstered by the346 R.C. De Castro  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ C r u z  D e  C a s t r o ,  R e n a t o]  A t : 17 :21 8  S e p t e mb e r 2009  Philippine military ’ s occasional statements that the group ’ s members are ‘‘ plainbandits that make money off kidnap-for-ransom activities. ’’ 8 The allegation that the ASG is actually abandit or criminal band raises questionsregarding the group ’ s identity as a militant Islamic group and by implication, on theraison d ’ e ˆ tre of Washington ’ s second front on the war on terror in Southeast Asia.This article explores the Abu Sayyaf  ’ s credentials as an Islamic militant group byexamining its transnational linkages and more importantly, the presence and depthof a jihadist ideology in this group. Specifically, it addresses four main questions: 1)How popular and pervasive are jihadist ideological writings in the ASG? 2) Whoamong the jihadist ideologues have the greatest impact on this group? 3) What werethe processes that enabled these jihadist ideologues to exert their influence on theASG? And 4) on the basis of its adherence to a jihadist ideology, can the ASGqualify as a militant Islamic group in Southeast Asia? Extending and sustaining the second front in Southeast Asia In late 2001, the Bush administration opened the second front on the waron terror inSoutheast Asia, thus effectively confronting the Abu Sayyaf on the southernPhilippine island of Mindanao. Needing American military assistance to neutralizethe various insurgent groups in the country, President Gloria Arroyo immediatelydeclared her support for Washington ’ s war on terror by offering American forcesaccess to the country ’ s air-space and allowing U.S. Special Forces to conduct trainingoperations with the AFP on the southern island of Basilan. 9 The AFP were alsogranted access to the U.S. military ’ s excess defense articles. From 2002 to 2004,Washington provided the AFP with a C-130 transport aircraft, two Point-classcutters, a Cyclone-class special-forces landing craft, 28 UH-1H Huey helicopters,and 30,000 M-16 assault rifles. 10 More importantly, it participated in several large-scale training exercises with American forces. Training exercises between the AFPand U.S. Armed Forces generally focused on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism warfare, logistics and equipment maintenance, intelligence training, andcivic-military operations.To sustain long-term American involvement in the AFP ’ s counter-terrorism andcounter-insurgency operations against Islamic militants in the country, Philippineand U.S. military officials in 2006 formulated a comprehensive plan for joint securityexercises in the Philippines until 2009 and for the policy direction in the twocountries ’ bilateral security relations. 11 The plan includes a number of combinedU.S.  Á  Republic of the Philippines (RP) military exercises in Central Mindanao,regarded by the Pacific Command as ‘‘ a window of terrorism, not only in thePhilippines but also in the entire Southeast Asia region. ’’ 12 More significantly, theAFP allows U.S. troops to assist Philippine troops in field intelligence-gathering andsmall-unit infantry training in Mindanao. Under the framework of the Joint RP  Á  U.S. Counterterrorist Cooperation Program, the U.S. military is to actively assist thePhilippine military in counter-terrorism operations by developing more lightreaction units in the AFP, enhancing the Philippine Air Force ’ s night-fightingcapacity, and the Philippine Army ’ s psychological operations, civil affairs, andintelligence capabilities.The two allies also conduct joint Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) militaryexercises annually in areas near insurgent-influenced villages. Balikatan 2005, 2006, The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 347  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ C r u z  D e  C a s t r o ,  R e n a t o]  A t : 17 :21 8  S e p t e mb e r 2009  2007, and 2008 were staged in various parts of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.All were undertaken to promote the interoperability of the Philippines and theUnited States for advanced joint and combined war fighting capabilities, and topromote regional security cooperation. These exercises also included the construc-tion, repair, or renovation of various roads, ports, hospitals, and existing runways inLuzon and Mindanao that can be used by American forces in actual militaryoperations in the near future. Moreover, semi-permanent U.S. military stations andfacilities are dispersed throughout the littorals of Southern Mindanao, and a morepermanent facility has been established in Manila inside Camp Aguinaldo.Prominent among them are the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines(JSOTF-P), which is located inside a Philippine military camp in Zamboanga Cityand the U.S. Special Forces ’ Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Jolo, Sulu where pre-positioned equipment is maintained and a small number of U.S. personnel aredeployed on a rotational basis. This is part of America ’ s overall support to the AFP ’ scounter-terrorist operations in Mindanao. They are also considered as ‘‘ lily pads ’’ that would be available to U.S. forces for joint exercises with the host countries andas supply points for American military activities, if required by the situation. 13 In March 2006, the two sides created the Security Engagement Board (SEB), anew consultative mechanism for Philippines  Á  U.S. cooperation on non-traditionalsecurity concerns in the twenty-first century. The SEB recommends joint activities totackle non-traditional security challenges in accordance with the Philippine  Á  U.S.Visiting Forces Agreement. Since its formation in 2006, the SEB has conductednearly 63 joint U.S.  Á  Philippine consultations and exercises on addressing non-traditional security challenges such as terrorism, the drug-trade, and naturaldisasters. 14 Interestingly, the United States has begun funding long-term and big-ticketdefense projects like the Philippine Navy ’ s Coast Watch South (CWS) project. Thisundertaking entails the Philippine Navy ’ s (PN) and the Philippine Coast Guard ’ sinstallation of eight high-frequency radio equipment and radar stations along thePhilippines ’ southern maritime borders of Sulu and the Sulawesi Sea. These stationsmonitor and report movements along the shipping lanes and fishing areas that arealso used by pirates and Muslim militants who transit between Indonesia andMindanao. They are linked with maritime aircraft and patrol ships that conductpatrol and interdiction operations against pirates and terrorists using these sea-lanes.In early 2008, the Pentagon promised to provide US$15.5 million to finance thePhilippine Navy ’ s CWS project, in which US$11.1 million is earmarked for the PN ’ sacquisition of radar equipment, while US$4 million is allocated to the Philippine AirForce ’ s purchase of UH-1 H helicopters. For 2009, the Pentagon has pledged anotherUS$28.9 million. The total project cost is US$49.335 million. To show Americanresolve in supporting this big-ticket defense project, the chairman of the U.S. JointChiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen flew to Mindanao in June 2008 and assured theAFP of continued U.S. military assistance to boost its anti-terrorism operation onthe island. The CWS project is aimed to monitor the movements of private gangsand radical Islamists moving between the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas.In October 2008, the annual PHILBEX exercise was held in Mindanao with3,500 Philippine and U.S. forces taking part. In the aftermath of the exercise, the348 R.C. De Castro  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ C r u z  D e  C a s t r o ,  R e n a t o]  A t : 17 :21 8  S e p t e mb e r 2009
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