PHILIPPINES ADOPTS MORE MOBILE SEA-BASED STRATEGY AGAINST ABU SAYYAF
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are restructuring their campaign against Abu Sayyaf Islamist militants in Western Mindanao by adopting the fleet marine concept as a replacement for the Sulu Archipelago-based Joint Task Force Comet (Sun Star Network, September 15). The make-up of the Philippine Republic presents a special challenge to internal security forces, as it is composed of 7,000 islands and islets spanning 60,000 square miles of sea.
The commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), Lieutenant General Benjamin Muhammad Dolorfino, described the fleet marine concept as an opportunity to use the sea as a maneuvering space rather than an obstacle. The transfer of assault operations to amphibious units will help level the intelligence-gathering battle, which the AFP has been losing to the militants’ intelligence network. According to Dolorfino, “We are so easy to detect with our ground operations. The whole island instantly knows [we are coming] just by the sound of a six-by-six truck revving up” (Sun Star Network, September 15). Landings from the sea will help restore the element of surprise to AFP operations.
The seas and waterways of the southwestern Philippines were once plagued with Muslim pirates – now these are part of the operational zone of Abu Sayyaf, a notorious composite Islamist terrorist group/criminal gang with deep roots in Western Mindanao, specifically the Zamboanga Peninsula and the islands of the Sulu Archipelago (most notably the island province of Basilan). Abu Sayyaf is light on ideology but capable of striking with brutal effectiveness and a callous disregard for civilian lives, as seen in the February 2004 bombing of Superferry 14 in Manila harbor, killing 116 people.
Though Abu Sayyaf has been pressured by U.S.-supported Filipino troops for several years, they still have the ability to lash back, as was seen in a September 16 ambush in which militants under the command of Nur Hassan Jamiri and Long Malat Sulayman killed three soldiers of the 32nd Infantry Battalion. Later in the day, however, a government mortar team zeroed in on the militants, killing two, including Commander Sulayman (Manila Times, September 17; Philippine Star, September 18). Police and Air Force intelligence agents have also recently captured long-wanted militants Bidung Ismael (a.k.a. Ben Ismael) and Jul Ahmad Ahaadi (a.k.a. Jul Puti) (Philippine News Agency, October 15; Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 8). Three days earlier, the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police and the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations killed Sulu provincial leader Gafur Jumdail (a.k.a. Doc Abu) and two associates (Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 5).
October witnessed a pair of important training exercises conducted in the Philippines with U.S. military forces – the joint naval Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT – which included the first participation of U.S. and Philippine riverine forces) and PHIBLEX 11 (amPHIbious Landing EXercises), which rehearsed amphibious assaults (SunStar Network, October 13; Philippine Star, October 13; Manila Bulletin, October 10).
Created in 1950 for use against communist guerrillas, the 9,500 man Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) has already been active alongside the Philippines Army and police units in fighting against Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the southern province of Basilan, though they have been operating largely as infantry units (Manila Bulletin, March 21; ABS-CBN [Manila], December 19, 2008). The Marines are organized into three active-service brigades, a fourth reserve brigade, and a support and services brigade.
According to Rear Admiral Ernesto Marayag, current Marine amphibious assault operations are executed by small units carrying out “surgical strikes.” Marayag stated, “This is not the same as in the Saving Private Ryan film. We put in one or two teams or one company during the right time, under cover of darkness, because surprise is vital in any special operations” (ABS-CBN [Manila], December 19, 2008). Marine commander Brigadier Rustico Guerrero announced that 60 dogs of the military K-9 unit will also be deployed in hunting down ASG members (Pilipino Star Ngayon, September 8).
However, amphibious operations will be hampered by the absence of the surveillance and attack capabilities offered by helicopters – the Navy’s last helicopter crashed off Zamboanga nearly two months ago and the bidding for two new helicopters has been suspended due to suspected collusion between suppliers and defense officials (Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 5; Manila Standard, October 5). The Philippine Navy (Hukbong Dagat ng Pilipinas), to which the Marines belong, is in desperate need of modernization. Its 31 Second World War-era ships are generally conceded to be incapable of patrolling and securing the Philippines’ territorial waters (Manila Bulletin, July 27).
CHADIAN INSURGENCY COLLAPSES AS SUDAN SECURES WESTERN BORDER BEFORE REFERENDUM IN SOUTH
The new friendship between Chad and Sudan has led to the complete collapse of the once powerful Chadian armed opposition, which was reliant on Sudanese bases and assistance. The collapse comes as part of a major security restructuring in the Chad-Sudan-Central African Republic region, one that will help enable Khartoum to focus on the South Sudan as the January 2011 South Sudan independence referendum draws near.
With last year’s rapprochement between Khartoum and N’Djamena came new joint border patrols that put an effective end to cross-border operations by Chadian rebel groups. Union des Forces de Résistance (UFR) spokesman Abderahman Koulamallah acknowledged that the movement’s armed presence in Sudan was “a matter of longstanding concern for Sudanese authorities,” adding that UFR forces would leave their bases in Sudan voluntarily “because of the friendly ties that bind us” (Afrol News, October 4). Nevertheless, Khartoum encouraged their departure by expelling their leaders to Doha and restricting access to local markets. In these conditions, Koulamallah announced the willingness of the UFR to hold immediate and unconditional talks with the Déby regime, saying, “It is time that the leaders of the armed opposition and those in government meet as soon as possible. This is a new step since we are calling for a dialogue without condition. We believe that the reconciliation with Sudan was one thing and the reconciliation between Chadians is another. We are awaiting the Chadian government’s response” (Radio France Internationale, October 20).
General Mahamat Nouri, leader of the Alliance nationale pour le changement démocratique (ANCD) and the Union des forces pour la démocratie et le développement (UFDD) coalition, opposed the disarmament of his forces, but could do little about it, after being expelled to Doha, other than offer the hope that his fighters would be granted refugee status rather than returned to Chad (L’Observateur [N’Djamena], September 30; PANA Online, September 7). There were fears in the ANCD that President Déby had demanded the extradition of some 30 ANCD leaders, though authorities in N’Djamena later denied this (Radio France Internationale, September 27). Timane Erdimi’s UFR agreed to disarm and return to Chad in mid-October, though some have vowed to establish new bases in the Central African Republic (CAR) (Afrol News, October 11; for Erdimi and the UFR see Militant Leadership Monitor, July 30).
There are reports that Chadian rebel Adam Yacoub, a former military commander in the UFR, has crossed into the CAR with fighters under his command (Sudan Tribune, September 27). Many UFR fighters had planned to move to the CAR, but the border was better patrolled than expected and hoped-for assistance from the Sudanese government in making the move failed to materialize (Afrol News, October 4).
With their leaders gone, discipline began breaking down in the remaining formations of opposition fighters. Near the North Darfur town of Kutum, Chadian fighters were accused of raping local women, terrorizing farmers, preventing the harvest from being brought in and threatening people with their weapons (Radio Dabanga, October 1). In the Wadi Saleh district of West Darfur, Chadian rebels entered the town of Garsila with the intention of liberating two of their leaders who had been arrested after refusing to order the fighters to disarm (Radio Dabanga, October 21).
Many of the rebels have chosen to return to N’Djamena and take advantage of an amnesty being offered by President Idriss Déby. Most UFR fighters assembled in the North Darfur capital of al-Fashir to be returned in five batches with the cooperation of officials from the Chadian government and military (Sudan Tribune, October 12).
The UN’s Mission des Nations Unies en République Centrafricaine et au Tchad (MINURCAT), which has provided security along Chad’s borders with Darfur and the CAR since 2007, ended military operations on October 15 in preparation for a full withdrawal by the end of the year at the request of the Chadian government (UN News Service, October 20). As the UN forces prepare to depart, regional solutions to the continued insecurity caused by groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are being developed. A mid-October meeting in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), resulted in a commitment from Uganda, Sudan, the CAR and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to create a joint operations center responsible for enabling the effective exchange of intelligence (Daily Monitor [Kampala], October 19).
Sudan is also forming a joint border patrol with the CAR to monitor the movements of Chadian and Sudanese rebels moving to the region. According to Colonel Fatah al-Rahim Abdalla Sulayman, the commander of Sudanese forces operating in the area, a military protocol has already been signed between Bangui and Khartoum with some elements of the new border force already active (SUNA, September 26; Sudan Tribune, September 27).
The establishment of the joint border patrol with Chad gave Khartoum a chance to find a useful role for Minni Minawi’s faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), which abandoned the rebellion in Darfur in 2006 to join with the Khartoum government. Since then, Minawi’s group has suffered from extensive desertions as it was put to work fighting former comrades and fellow tribesmen in Darfur. The joint border patrol had a recent success with the liberation of a kidnapped Chinese engineer who had been seized in northern Darfur by Chadian gunmen from Ennedi, close to the Sudan border (AFP, September 17; Radio France Internationale, September 15).
With the resolution of Chad’s long-standing dispute with Sudan and the dispersal of the armed opposition, President Déby has been displaying a newfound confidence that extends to risking the departure of French military forces in N’Djamena (Opération Epervier) by demanding rent for facilities used by the French. The French forces (which include three Mirage 2000 warplanes) have ensured the survival of the Déby government by providing intelligence and logistical support in the regime’s struggle with rebel forces. French military medical teams also provide free surgical and dental operations to Chadian citizens, but the entire force has the option of moving to Gabon if Déby’s demands prove excessive (Jeune Afrique, September 3). Legislative elections are scheduled to be held in Chad on February 5, 2011 with a presidential poll set to begin on April 3.