US Digs in Deeper in the Philippines
Noel Tarrazona writes in Asia Times:
As the Armed Forces of the Philippines expand the scope of their offensive against Muslim insurgent groups on Mindanao, some are wondering if the escalating conflict could lead or already has led to the establishment of a permanent US military presence in the restive region. Since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and near Washington, the United States has, as part of a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines, poured hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of military aid and technical assistance toward the army’s counterinsurgency campaign against Abu Sayyaf, a radical separatist group that Washington contends has links to regional and global terror groups, including Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiya and al-Qaeda.
More recently, the Philippine Army has resumed low-intensity hostilities with two Muslim ceasefire groups, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Manila has accused the MNLF of harboring members of the 300-member Abu Sayyaf. With US military assistance, though not full-fledged fighting forces, the Philippine Army is believed to have largely hobbled the dwindling Abu Sayyaf by decapitating its top leadership.
With the spiraling fiasco in Iraq and the re-emergence of the Taliban as a fighting force in Afghanistan, the US has no clear-cut victories to show after President George W Bush launched his “war on terrorism” in 2001. Southeast Asia, including combating Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines, was identified by Washington as an important theater in the global campaign and by certain measures now represents the only front were the US could conceivably declare any sort of a military victory.