Joint Military Operations against Daesh in Southern Philippines
Maj Gen (Retd.) P K Chakravorty

Pertinent Issues

Terror as a tool has been used through the ages to achieve political and military objectives. Currently it is often described as Fourth Generation Warfare. Broadly it is an asymmetric tool that is normally used by the weak and the disorganised against soft and hard targets. As on date there is no accepted definition of Terrorism. No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance and this is the crux of the problem. The key elements of terrorism are obvious. These are violence primarily against non combatant targets to attain political objectives. Our Prime Minister Shri Narender Modi has stated the need for a formal definition of terrorism.

Daesh which is the synonym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was formed in Iraq after Gulf War 2 as the Sunnis were pushed out of their posts and it was natural for them to regroup and revolt. Many of them formed militant groups and were arrested by the US in Camp Buca in Iraq. As prisoners they planned against the ruling dispensation and finally formed a dedicated organisation known as the Daesh.

In June 2014, the group formally declared the establishment of a Caliphate, a state governed in accordance with Sharia, by ‘Allah’s deputy’ on earth or the Caliph. It has demanded that Muslims across the world swear allegiance to its leader and migrate to territory under its control. The group has welcomed the prospect of direct confrontation with the US led coalition, viewing it as a harbinger of an end of times of

showdown between Muslims and their ‘enemies’. The group is in physical occupation of territory and is running a renegade state. ISIS has been undertaking terror attacks globally while controlling portions of Iraq and Syria has territorial ambitions. Currently ISIS has spread its tentacles in over a dozen countries with several terrorist groups swearing allegiance to the organisation. The map indicates the area of interest to the ISIS which starts from Spain, parts of Europe, North Africa onwards to West Asia and finally ends at China. The ISIS threat posed to global peace and security can hardly be overstated, it is a threat to the entire world including the Muslims of the world. The current attack in Southern Philippines in the island of Mindanao, resulting in the declaration of martial law in the city of Marawi on 23 May 2017, indicates the spread of ISIS into South East Asia. It indicates that ISIS, with its tools of internet, social media and its operatives, is preparing operations apart from Philippines, also in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Current State of Operations

The Morros (Moors) as the Muslims of the island of Mindanao are called are known for their intransigence. For centuries they fought the Spanish, Americans and Japanese for their independence. Today they are fighting the Philippine’s Government with skill and dexterity. Several Morro outfits have pledged their allegiance to Daesh. This case is unique as for the first time they have formed a coalition. They are being coordinated under the leadership of Isnilon Hapilon, popularly known as Sheikh Mujahid Abu Abdullah. As per the Indonesian Chief of Army Staff, there are about 1200 militants who could virtually control large areas of the urban areas of Marawi in the Mindanao islands. It is stated that many of these militants have returned after active duty in Syria and that the Filipinos are no match to them.

The current fighting in Marawi was due to a raid conducted by the security forces against a stronghold of the Daesh. The raid was launched to capture Hapilon on 23 May 2017. The militants reacted by occupying the Amai Pakpak Hospital and launched a raid on the Camp of 103 Brigade of the Philippines Army at Camp Ranao. They occupied the City Hall and 146 inmates from two jails were set free and communications were cut off. There was chaos and additional troops were air lifted to Laguindingan Airport. Gradually they were able to get a large portion of the area cleared. It took heavy fighting to bring some semblance of law and order by 16 June 2017. A aerial bombing has continued and despite best efforts to contain damage, more than 300, 00 people have been displaced. Reports indicate that about 200 militants have been killed. A cease fire was declared for Eid on 25 June but fighting including aerial bombing continues.

Joint Operations

Malaysia and Indonesia have offered support to the Philippines Government. The three countries are undertaking maritime patrols from 19 June 2017 to stop Daesh militants from infiltrating into their countries. Further, they are strengthening their bases against any attacks by Daesh.

Australia has provided two AP – 3 C Orion maritime patrol aircraft to reconnoitre the area around Marawi. Details are being finalised. The United States has, at the request of the Government of Philippines, is providing technical and logistics support to the Filipinos.

Trend it might set

It is remarkable how Daesh has entered this region. Undoubtedly the internet, social media and the return of trained personnel from Iraq and Syria have enabled a coalition to be forged among the ex-rebels. It is likely that this trend of enhanced presence of Daesh will continue and further spread to the neighbouring South East Asian countries. It is for this reason that Indonesia and Malaysia have started joint maritime patrolling to ensure that none of these fighters escape into their countries. Australia is also apprehensive that Daesh may be able to penetrate their security systems and is therefore actively involving itself in reconnaissance. As per latest reports the Daesh leader has escaped. President Duterete of Philippines has praised the security forces for stabilising the situation and has promised to rebuild the city.

In this trend of joint operations against Daesh, the South East Asian countries would be viewing the issue jointly for the first time which would enable better intelligence and coordination. This is a step in the right direction.

Lesson for India

Daesh, through its social media, continues to attract Indians to join their organisation. They would like to target attractive sites and our security forces must be alert. Dealing with ISIS is contingent to the ability to gain intelligence. To have the upper hand against this organisation, intelligence agencies have to be proactive on this matter. India’s the National Investigation Agency has been vigilant in keeping constant watch on the organisation.

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