Saturday, May 31, 2003

Global war on terror continues -- in the Philippines

Today's New York Times passes on this report that Al Qaeda operatives have began to train in the Philippines with their affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah. In the past, these two groups were loosely affiliated -- more like two baseball teams in the same league than two subsidiaries of the same corporation.
For the last six to nine months, recruits mostly from Indonesia and Malaysia, but also a few from as far off as Pakistan and the Middle East, have received training at inaccessible, rough-hewn sites — basically a few huts and some tents — in a marshy region on the island of Mindanao, officials said.

The training is similar to what their older colleagues in terrorism got in Afghanistan when that served as Al Qaeda's base, they added.

In Mindanao, though, the training appears to include more of a special emphasis on the use of sophisticated explosives, the officials said.

"We've closed the camps in Afghanistan, but they're still operating in the southern Philippines," said an Australian official in Canberra. More broadly, intelligence officials say there is a constant movement of international terrorists across an area that includes Mindanao, islands in the Sulu Sea, the Malaysian state of Sabah and northern Indonesia.
Analysis: Al Qaeda has purposefully built an organizational structure that is loose, networked, and able to respond to direct attacks on its leadership and infrastructure. The move to conduct operational training in the Pacific is significant, because it represents a major increase in the scope and importance of this relationship for Al Qaeda. Furthermore, it may represent the opening of a "second front" in the Pacific -- or at least a greater one than we've seen to date. Terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda were responsible for the bombing in Bali last year which was purportedly targeted American interests through our proxies, the Australians. There has also been a significant, but low, level of terrorism in the PI, conducted by the Islamic terrorist groups MILF and Abu Sayyaf. We currently have American military and humanitarian aid to assist the Philippine government in fighting this war, but that may not be sufficient. If the Al Qaeda presence in the Pacific expands, and begins to threaten American interests, we may need to fight a campaign there similar to the one in Afghanistan.

Bottom Line: The war on terrorism is not over, and may only be marginally influenced by our success in Iraq. The real war on terrorism is still being fought by intelligence analysts, financial analysts, law enforcement officials, and soldiers, and it will continue in places like Sudan, the Philippines, Algeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, and everywhere else that Al Qaeda has spread.

Friday, May 30, 2003

U.S. to realign military footprint in Asia

Esther Schrader has this interesting report about the Pentagon's plans to alter its deployments in Asia. I'll write more on this later, but I think that Ms. Schrader has a real big scoop here. Asia has most of the emerging threats we will deal with in the next decade, and it is very significant that we are altering our footprint there. I think we will see a number of changes in the near future to respond to new and emerging threats, both of the conventional variety (e.g. China) and the unconventional variety (Indonesia and the Phillipines). More to follow...
American soldiers face increasing hostility in Iraq

I was not surprised to read this report in today's New York Times about increasing hostility towards American troops in Iraq. We have, in short, become an occupying army and one that appears to be there for the long haul. That's probably the right thing to do, given our imperatives to build lasting institutions in Iraq. But we must recognize this effect, and the increased risk it poses to our soldiers. It may necessitate the deployment of additional forces to manage the short-term security risk, either from the U.S. military or from our allies.
The complexity of postwar Iraq has led American forces into law enforcement tasks for which they are not well prepared. They are still searching for Mr. Hussein and his key officials. They are fighting hardened criminals freed from prison by an amnesty granted by Mr. Hussein late last year.

For many Iraqis, the shifting role of American troops has been a shock. Just eight weeks ago, they were rolling across the country passing out candy to children. Now they are kicking in doors and blocking traffic to seize the weapons that most Iraqis have for home defense.

In Hit, the change of perception about the American presence is palpable. "Having the Americans standing in the streets really provokes the people," said Qusay Yusef, a carpenter with four children.

For now, the Americans have withdrawn. Captain Watson said that the patrols and roadblocks would continue, but that his troops would still be "at pains" not to appear as "ugly Americans."
Coda: I first heard that phrase "ugly American" in Korea, when my colonel exhorted us to not act that way as MPs on patrol in Tongduchon. Like a lot of things in the military, though, it's easier said than done. I'm not sure how you can maintain law & order, maintain security, and also be the nice guy (or respected guy) on the block.
Light Blogging
: I'm away from Los Angeles for work so I won't have much to say until Sunday when I get back. I hope to have a good dump on the weekend's news then for everyone.