THIS is why we must fear the worst scenario in Mindanao.
This tells us how grave was (is) the threat posed to the Philippine state by the siege of Marawi by the Islamic State-affiliated Maute group.
In the Islamic State’s avowed goal of establishing a wilayat (province) in Southeast Asia, in the strategy and tactics in the ensuing battle, in the abuse and displacement of the civilian population, in the destruction of the city center and city installations, in the use of sniper fighters to fight off government forces, and in the grueling endgame, the IS-inspired assault on Marawi, Mosul and Raqqa has followed remarkably the same pattern. You cannot set apart the local struggles from the overarching Islamic State.
I hope this point has been fully considered by the Supreme Court in its ruling today on the petitions against the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao. The international character of the conflict is material in every way.
Significantly, even the wishful thinking of the forces fighting the Islamic State has followed a similar pattern.
1.On Thursday, June 29, 2017, while addressing policemen at Camp Quintin Mercado in Buhangin, Davao City, President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he could see the end of the ongoing clash of state forces against the Maute group. He said: “The way the battle is evolving now, I think it will be a matter of days…Before the end of the month, matatapos na eh. We are winning the war, do not worry.”.
Fighting has been going on in Marawi since May 23, when members of the Maute group seized several key installations in the city.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has been more elastic in his timeline. He expects clashes to end before Duterte delivers his second State of the Nation Address on July 24.
But the spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said the AFP is not setting any deadlines for the end of hostilities.
2. On the same date, Thursday, June 29, in Mosul, Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider a-Abadi declared an end to the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate in the region, as anti-Islamic State coalition forces were on the offensive in both the Iraqi city of Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa. He said: “We are seeing the end of the fake Daesh state. The liberation of Mosul proves that.”
On Friday, June 30, a senior commander of the Iraqi armed forces seconded the prime minister with his own statement. He declared that Iraq will declare victory over the Islamic State group in Mosul during the “next few days.”
What emboldened these statements was the successful penetration by Iraqi forces of Mosul’s Old City, where IS fighters were making their last stand. The Iraqi troops reached the al-Nuri Mosque, a hugely symbolic win. The site is where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance in July 2014, where he declared the self-styled Islamic “caliphate” encompassing territories then held by the extremists in Syria and Iraq.
Fall of the caliphate
3. The cross-border “caliphate” encompassing swathes of Iraq and Syria is now facing twin offensives in Mosul and Raqqa, the two most emblematic strongholds of IS. This has led many analysts to predict the imminent fall of the caliphate.
“In the next few days, we will announce the final victory over Daesh,” Staff Lieutenant General Abdulghani al-Assadi, a senior commander in the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, told the media in Mosul.
Across the border in Raqqa, coalition officials predicted a long, bloody battle ahead for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, even as it succeeded in completely encircling the militants’ de-facto capital on June 29. US-led coalition officials estimated that as many as 2,500 IS fighters still remained in Raqqa.
While the loss of the two cities would be a major blow to IS, it would not mark the end of the threat posed by the group, which could return to the insurgent-style attacks that were its hallmark in years past.
To these defeats in Mosul and Raqqa, the failure in Marawi will be added
Aquino ignored IS threat
In all these cities, the Islamic State are now merely fighting for survival. Defeat is inevitable.
This perspective must not be missed in looking at the endgame in Marawi. It is key to a full assessment of the threat to the nation and the final resolution of the conflict.
How did IS grow to such a point that it could lay siege to an entire Philippine city without being challenged.
Disturbing information is now emerging that the threat from Islamic State (IS)-inspired militants in the Philippines was made known to the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, but he merely shrugged it off.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, in a briefing last June 6, said confiscated funds allegedly owned by the Maute group began to pile up from as early as 2014. Aquino was still the President at that time.
“Apparently the money had been compiled from 2014 to 2016, based on records. It had been slowly accumulated over a period of two years,” Abella said.
President Aquino suffered a major blow from the IS during his term. On April 9, 2016, Abu Sayyaf rebels killed 18 soldiers in an encounter in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.
In July 2014, Abu Sayyaf’s leader Isnilon Hapilon gave a bayah (pledge of allegiance) to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Hapilon has been declared the IS emir in Marawi City, which IS leaders in the Middle East claimed as their wilayat.
No security strategy
Duterte, in recent speeches, has indicated that Maute rebels received financial support both from the international terror network based in the Middle East and from local drug syndicates. As one proof of this, he claimed that P10 million worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) packs were found in the possession of former Marawi City Mayor Omar Solitario Ali.
Ali, who was included in the Duterte’s infamous list of alleged narco-politicians, is suspected to be a financier of the Maute group. (Ali denied this in an article he contributed to the Manila Times, “We can defeat the IS and the Mautes,” June 30 and July 1, 2017. —Ed.)
These facts in the record underscore both the lack of a coherent strategy and plan for the defense of Philippine territory, and the appalling lack of intelligence to support national security forces.
Loud debates about the Constitution and martial law are emptied of meaning when the vigil over national security is lax. Do we even have a national security adviser who knows his job and can talk sense to our people?