On February 2nd, 2012, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Col. Marcelo Burgos, announced that due to an evening air strike, several leaders of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group had been killed. This group has been the cause of fear and disturbance in the southern islands of the Philippines for almost 30 years. The group has been known for its bombings, kidnappings, and killings. The group defines itself as an Islamic Separtist cult that is seeking an independent Iranian-style Islamic theocracy in the southern Philippines. With the recurring Abu Sayyaf threat, this air strike serves as a monumental victory for the Armed Forces in their fight against terrorism.
Colonel Burgos announced that Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, Umbra Jumdail, and Abdullah Ali had all been killed Thursday morning when a U.S.-backed military airstrike bombarded the terrorist camp on Jolo Island. These three leaders, among the most wanted terrorist militants, will serve as a crucial loss to the dwindling Abu Sayyaf group. The group is believed to only have around 400 members at this point, but is still identified as a key threat in the fight against terrorism for the Philippines. Most notably, the group is responsible for the 2009 kidnappings of three Red Cross workers from Switzerland, Italy, and the Philippines. All the hostages were eventually recovered by their repsective countries, but not before paying significant ransoms. In addition, the group is believed to have several other hostages including a Japanese, an Indian, and a former Australian Soldier.
This attack marks a great success for the Philippines and its allies. It means that efforts have not been in vain. It means that the fight can be won. It means that the end is in sight. There are only a limited number of Abu Sayyaf members left and their resources are dwindling. This is a war that was waged to protect a people, and it has done just that. The Philippines has only protected itself from this group, as they deserve to do. In sharp contrast, Defense Secretary Panetta announced last week that there will be a significant troop reduction in Afghanistan, and that the remaining troops will begin to move away from their combat role. This announcement comes in spite of the fact that several critics believe that withdrawing U.S. troops will only provide an open lane for the Taliban to seize complete control of the country. But the announcement by Panetta is simply sending a message, and an important one.
The Philippines gained its independence in 1945, but continued to suffer from grossly corrupt governments. The people felt no more free than if they had still be under control of the Japanese or any of the other long list of countries that took their turn occupying the Philippines. It was not until 1986 that a popular movement called the “People Power Revolution” swept the country and finally freed Filipino’s. This movement came from the people and established a stable government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Now, decades later, the Philippines operates under a stable government and continues to experience successes like this one. The Philippines is a model for successful foreign relations for the U.S.
The United States needs to pattern its involement in the Middle East, particularly in Afghanistan, after its involement in the Philippines. Secretary Panetta took the first step to doing that this week by announcing the new plan. It is not a complete withdrawal from the country. It is not a surrender to the terrorist groups. It is a simply a message to the Afghan people. The message is this: freedom and security come from within. If these people want to be governed a certain way, then they must decide that and then never stop until they get it. There must be a sort of Middle Eastern “People Power Revolution.” This is the only way that the United States influence will be valuable. It is the citizens of Afghanistan that have to live with the outcome of the war, not the U.S. troops. Therefore, it makes sense that if the principle instigators of change do not come from within, then the war should not be waged. The U.S., as the only capable country in the world, has a responsibility to help the fight for freedom. But our role must be secondary to that of the locals, or else we will fail. In order to reap the same success as we have in the Philippines, we must follow that model.