MOST of us are now familiar with what happened in the Mamapasano Massacre on January 25, 2015. An operation (Oplan Exodus) was mounted in the area to seize Zulkifli Abdhir alias Marwan, an international terrorist. Some of the legal proceedings of this operation are still in progress. There are major issues which were overlooked then but which it is timely to consider now in the light of the current uprising in Marawi.
Lost in past discussions was the significance of the scale of the operations to seize just one terrorist.
Mamapasano is a battalion-size operation involving about 500 troops for the specific purpose of arresting one terrorist—Marwan. Although Marwan was killed in the encounter, we lost 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troops.
To put things in perspective, a similar operation to seize one terrorist in our Asean neighboring countries like Malaysia or Indonesia, will probably involve a platoon or at most company-size operation. The big operation needed in our country indicates sizable support among our local Muslim communities for terrorist fugitives. If just a dozen terrorists take refuge in our country, using the Mamapasano encounter as basis, we will need up to division-size operations (about 10,000 troops ) to run after 12 terrorists. If a hundred terrorists take refuge in our country, our defense forces will be overwhelmed. The flow of such numbers of terrorists into our country is feasible in a short period of time.
This possibility, a big number of foreign terrorists operating in our country, is thus upon us now. The presence of so many foreign-born IS-affiliated fighters in Marawi shows the scope of this problem. These terrorists will be adequately funded by states supporting terrorism and will thus be better armed than our military.
What happened in Lebanon
This is what happened in Lebanon. Small terrorist cells initially started infiltrating the country. The small terrorist cells merged into larger groups. Finally, the terrorist groups in turn merged into the Hezbollah which is now larger, better armed and more powerful than the Lebanese Army. The funds the Hezbollah receives from abroad is larger than the budget of the Lebanese forces. The Hezbollah can take over Lebanon at any time; the only reason they have not done so is because of the fear of intervention by the Israelis.
On our part, our first task is to prevent our so-called militants posing as nationalists, from dictating our foreign policy. The militants have been consistently opposing the participation of foreign countries in the counter-terrorism operations in our country. The bad part is we have been listening to them. The huge uproar they created in the Mamapasano encounter about American participation in the operation illustrates the agenda of these militants, which is to make us face alone the threat of terrorism. The resulting mismatch could topple our government. The position of these militants is contrary to our international obligations under the United Nations. The UN Security Council Resolution 1373, paragraph 3 (c):
“ Calls on member states to xxx cooperate, particularly through bilateral and multilateral arrangements and agreements, to prevent and suppress terrorist attacks and take action against perpetrators of such acts.”
As noted, the resolution is broadly worded and allows member nations to enter into such agreements as may be needed to fight terrorism. This includes a weak UN member nation soliciting the assistance of other member nations to contribute military force in fighting terrorism within its borders. The government should just simply ignore the clamor of the militants (as happened in Mamapasano) questioning the participation of the US in anti-terrorism operations in our country. As noted, our actions in this regard is consistent with our UN obligations. The clamor of our militants is actually against our commitment to the UN and the world community, to fight terrorism.
In our present world, when Muslims fight their fellow Muslims, the contest becomes an international war. Each side to the contest starts bringing in supporters from abroad as is happening now in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya. In our case, most of our Muslim brothers will support the government against Muslim insurgents. But the escalation of the conflict is inevitable.
PH needs foreign help
We should also prepare for the long haul. Internationally funded terrorism conflicts are long-running affairs as shown by the events in Afghanistan. The Afghan conflict started in 1978 with the Soviet intervention and has lasted to the present. There are actually two types of terrorist-inspired conflicts going on now in the Middle East. The first type is the continuing high-intensity war in Iraq and Syria. These two conflicts are marked by set-piece battles involving large military units. In this regard, we are fortunate. The archipelagic geography of our country will make it difficult to maintain high-intensity conflicts in our backyard. The massive flow of heavy weapons to maintain such conflicts will be difficult to maintain. The second type are the conflicts in Afghanistan and Libya. In these two cases, there are brief periods of high-intensity conflicts involving set-piece battles, but there are even longer periods of low-intensity conflict which looks more like traditional hit-and-run guerilla warfare. We will probably see the second type of conflict happen in Mindanao. The Marawi-type uprisings will happen once in a while, followed by long periods of sporadic hit-and-run guerilla warfare. In any event, we will need foreign assistance since high-tech equipment is one of the best ways to counteract small-scale guerilla-type operations. We will thus have to ignore and even consider as treacherous, efforts by our militants to rule out foreign intervention in our emerging war on terrorism.
We have already witnessed the catastrophic consequence of our militants dictating our foreign policy. In 1992, we ousted the American bases without taking the compensatory step of increasing our defense budget. At the time, Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal or Baja de Masinloc) was a target range of the US Navy. The US withdrawal opened the door to the Chinese takeover of the West Philippine Sea. Removing the US military bases left us defenseless against Chinese aggression. By the same token, if we listen to the militants and face international terrorism alone and without allies, our country will in due course be the next Lebanon. The terrorist groups will be better armed, better funded and more powerful than our armed forces as in Lebanon now.
HERMENEGILDO C. CRUZ