US, PH eye new tack against extremist recruitment in South
MANILA, Philippines — US and Philippine officials on Tuesday discussed a new program to thwart efforts by Muslim extremists to recruit and mobilize followers in Mindanao after a bloody siege by jihadists aligned with the Islamic State (IS).
The three-year program involves helping local officials identify issues that foster extremism and find ways to deal with them, said US Assistant Secretary Denise Natali of the state department’s Bureau of Conflict & Stabilization Operations.
Recruitment going on
American and Australian surveillance aircraft helped Filipino troops quell the disastrous 2017 siege by hundreds of mostly local militants in Marawi City, where the commercial and residential center remains in ruins and off-limits to the public.
Despite the militants’ defeat, Philippine officials say surviving militants have continued efforts to recruit new followers and plot new attacks.
More than 1,100 people, mostly militants, were killed and hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced in the five-month siege in the mosque-studded city, which renewed fears that IS was stepping up collaboration with local jihadists to gain a foothold in the region.
“We are focusing on how to prevent further and future incidences of violent extremism and radicalization from occurring so that we don’t have another Marawi ever again,” Natali said at a news conference.
The state department bureau and the Philippine government are finalizing details of the program to help provincial governments and nongovernmental groups design and enforce effective projects to counter extremism, Natali said.
She said she was to meet President Rodrigo Duterte’s national security adviser, Hermogenes Esperon Jr., and other officials in Manila on Tuesday.
Natali emphasized the importance of basing such projects on facts and evidence instead of assumptions, citing a five-month survey commissioned by the United States last year in four southern Muslim provinces that showed which issues were helping spark extremism and radicalization the most.
Low support for foreigners
The survey showed that while some people may back local jihadists, there was significantly lower support for foreign militant groups, such as IS and the al-Qaida militant network.
Religious intolerance, dire economic conditions and exposure to violence spark extremism more than religion, Natali cited the survey as showing.
“It’s not about religion; it is about living conditions. There is an economic component to this,” she told reporters.
The survey also showed that there was strong public support for the government’s effort to combat extremism, she said.
The Philippines has been one of the United States’ strongest Asian allies in the fight against terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
President Duterte, who has been a vocal critic of US security policies, said after taking office in mid-2016 that he wanted US counterterrorism forces out of Mindanao while he rebuilt frayed relations with China.
The Philippine military, however, has maintained robust relations with the United States.
More than 100 US military counterterrorism advisers and personnel remain in Mindanao to help Filipino forces battling extremists on a string of impoverished islands.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.