‘US must be wary after Mamasapano’
MANILA, Philippines–The United States should keep an eye on the divisive effects of the bloody Mamasapano incident as it could have consequences for US interests in the Philippines, particularly on the antiterror operations against the Abu Sayyaf extremist group that recently swore allegiance to the terrorist Islamic State (IS).
Writing in the newsletter of Washington-based think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Gregory Poling cited the possible effects of Mamasapano on the Mindanao’s peace process, which could in turn derail the Philippine military’s campaign to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf.
The US, the country’s oldest and strongest defense ally, has been supporting the Philippines’ counterterrorism efforts, stepping up the partnership, particularly in the wake of the Sept. 11, World Trade Center attack in New York.
And while the Unites States deactivated its Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines in Zamboanga City last month, as Poling noted, US troops remain on the ground “to advise and assist in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf.”
“The Mamasapano raid and its aftermath have presented the Aquino administration with the greatest challenge it has faced. The potential domestic damage is far-reaching,” said Poling, whose analysis appeared in the March 19 issue of the CSIS publication “Southeast Asia from Scott Circle.”
“But Washington should not view the matter as one affecting only domestic Philippine political and security concerns. Mamasapano could have very real long-term consequences for US interests,” he said in the article, “Aftermath of Botched Philippine Raid Should Concern Washington.”
The Jan. 25 operation to arrest Malaysian bombmaker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” led to the massacre of 44 elite police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos by Muslim rebels. Three civilians died as did 17 rebels from the attacking Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) secessionist group and other groups. Marwan was also slain in the encounter.
Noting how Mamasapano “has also shaken the faith in the Benigno Aquino administration, with opposition lawmakers calling for the president’s impeachment,” Poling said the fallout could end up as “more than just a domestic crisis and bears watching by US policymakers.”
Affect AFP campaign
Poling, a fellow with the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies and the Pacific Partners Initiative at the CSIS, cited how the breakdown of the peace process could undermine the Armed Forces of the Philippines campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.
He noted the threats to the peace process as a result of Mamasapano, including the misgivings of several politicians about the Aquino administration and how it handled the operation, doubts about the sincerity of the MILF, the government’s dialogue partner in the talks, and the withdrawal of support for the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The draft legislation, which is meant to implement the peace agreement that the government signed with the MILF last year, is awaiting approval by Congress where many legislators have questioned its constitutional infirmities.
“The collapse of the peace process with the MILF would seriously deteriorate the Philippine military’s capacity to press the fight against [the] Abu Sayyaf. That in turn could undermine the successes that have allowed the US drawdown of involvement in the southern Philippines,” said Poling.
He said defeating the Abu Sayyaf was a matter of utmost interest to the US.
“The United States has a vested interest in seeing the Abu Sayyaf destroyed—one that drove the 14-year-long Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines and that has come into renewed focus since Abu Sayyaf fighters began swearing allegiance to the Islamic State,” Poling said.
The Abu Sayyaf pledged allegiance to the jihadist group last year just as the world saw the Islamic State’s escalating atrocities, including the execution of hostages of different nationalities.
Poling also cited how US involvement in the Mamasapano operation was being viewed in the Philippines. Reports of both the Philippine National Police board of inquiry and the Senate have shown how Americans were involved in training the operatives, the surveillance during the assault and the extraction of the dead and wounded.
“…[T]he narrative in the Philippines has not focused on the benefits of US support in the operation. Instead, lawmakers and the public have expressed concern about the unusual level of access for US personnel during an operation about which even the interior secretary and the acting chief of [the national] police knew nothing,” said Poling.
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