Afghanistan of the Sea
17 June 2009
Small teams of American troops are spread across many locations in the southern Philippines. Each team works side-by-side with Filipino counterparts. The jobs vary. Navy SEALs and Special Boat Teams often support the AFP (Armed Forces Philippines) on actual operations. I have been briefed on some of these operations — though without the physical access one gets in Iraq or Afghanistan. One truism of embedding: the more they are fighting, the closer the writer is welcome to get, right up into the middle.
Our folks do not engage in direct combat unless they are being attacked, but the Philippine commanders enjoy the direct, non-combat support, including the occasional use of U.S. warships. American ships don’t fire their weapons or engage in combat.
Other teams conduct Civilian Military Operations (CMO). In fact, the U.S. and AFP say that 80% of the fight in the Philippines has nothing to do with guns. It’s about securing the people, building roads, clinics and schools; digging wells and developing a viable political process. Helping the farmers to work without being harassed by Islamic jihadist terror groups such as Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah have shrunken the terrorists’ habitat. Village by village, the AFP is gaining ground.
The Filipino officers with whom I’ve spent many hours have a far more sophisticated view of how to fight this fight than we see with Iraqi counterparts. Afghans are not even in the same league.
This reality, along with the fact that we have a good number of our own special operations forces here, goes far toward explaining how, even with the light footprint, the terrorist organizations are on the defense in the RoP (Republic of Philippines).
In cooperating with the AFP, small groups of our people are spread out at many locations on four islands. At the location pictured above, on Jolo island, there were six Military Police from the U.S. Army/Japan, two National Guardsmen from the 1-294th Infantry in Guam, and four Green Berets from the 1st Special Forces Group. On the island of Mindanao, our folks have great freedom of movement and force protection is light, but on this island our people use up-armored Humvees, as in Iraq or Afghanistan, though the bombs here are nothing like those in Iraq. The bombs in the Philippines often are made from small mortars, or they are “fish bombs” (locals use “depth charges” to catch fish), but the islands also are chock full of M-16s. AFP commanders say that even the poorest farmers are likely to have guns.
[Note: Some more detailed dispatches are in the works regarding the Philippines. I have departed the Philippines on route to Afghanistan. Pakistan embassy declined to issue a visa this morning.]