Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines
and The Indirect Approach
Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen and
defended by its citizens.
-President George W. Bush
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 have ushered
in a new era of counterinsurgency to deal with al-Qaeda-linked insurgent
and terrorist organizations. The U.S. military's initial success
in Afghanistan, as impressive as it was, forced the enemy to adapt.
To survive, al-Qaeda has transformed itself into a flatter, more
cellular organization that seeks to outsource much of its work.1
Thus, insurgency has become an al-Qaeda priority in terms of rhetoric,
recruitment, and spending.2 The connection
between terrorism and insurgency is now well established, and in
fact there is tremendous overlap between the two.3
The U.S. military, though, is struggling to
adapt to protracted, insurgent type warfare. America's affinity
for high-tech conventional conflict and quick, kinetic, unilateral
solutions that avoid contact with the local populace has slowed
its response to this complex form of conflict.4
How, then, can the U.S. military tailor a more efficient, more effective
approach to future military efforts against Al-Qaeda-linked groups
around the globe? Specifically, how can the U.S. military implement
a sustainable, low-visibility approach that is politically acceptable
to our current and future partners, and that can help change the
moderate Muslim community's perception of U.S. Operations in the
War on terrorism?
The history of insurgent conflict during the
Philippines Insurrection (1899-1902), Malayan Emergency (1948-1960),
and Hukbalahap Rebellion (1946-1954) shows that successful COIN
operations are protracted efforts that rely heavily on indigenous
security forces.5 Therefore, the U.S.
strategy should emphasize working indirectly "through, by,
and with" indigenous forces and building their capacity to
conduct effective operations against common enemies.
The Unilateral Approach
As free societies gain ground around the
world, the U.S. military is going to be increasingly restricted
in terms of how it operates. An age of democracy means an age
of frustratingly narrow rules of engagement. That is because fledgling
democratic governments, besieged by young and aggressive local
media, will find it politically difficult-if not impossible-to
allow American troops on their soil to engage in direct action.
The current COIN campaigns in Afghanistan and
Iraq have demonstrated that unilateral U.S. military operations
can be ineffective and even counterproductive to the democratic
institutions we are trying to establish. To reduce our footprint
in Iraq, our top priority now is to stand up Iraqi security forces
to take over the fight against insurgents. These forces must prevail
if Iraq is to achieve and maintain long-term stability.
Alarge foreign military presence or occupation
force in any country undermines the legitimacy of the host-nation
government in the eyes of its citizens and the international community.
As we now know, large U.S. occupation forces in Islamic regions
can create problems for us. A senior British military officer who
served in Iraq has remarked that the U.S. Army there has acted much
like "fuel on a smoldering fire"; he suggests that this
is "as much owing to their presence as their actions."7
If he is right and our mere presence can be counterproductive, then
a tailored, low-visibility approach that plays well in the moderate
Muslim community and is politically acceptable to our potential
partners makes sound strategic sense.
Osama bin Laden has made the presence of U.S.
Forces in the Middle east a rallying point for global jihad by a
new generation of Muslim holy warriors.8
Just as the war in Afghanistan against the soviets created the leaders
of today's global terrorist network, so Iraq has the potential to
produce far more dangerous second- and third-order effects. Blowback
from the current war in Iraq might be even more dangerous than the
fallout from Afghanistan.
Fighters in Iraq are more battle-hardened than
the Arabs who fought demoralized soviet army conscripts in Afghanistan.
They are testing themselves against arguably the best army in history
and acquiring skills far more useful for future terrorist operations
than those their counterparts learned during the 1980s. Mastering
how to make improvised explosive devices or conduct suicide operations
is more relevant to urban terrorism than the conventional guerrilla
tactics the mujahideen used against the red army. U.S. military
commanders say that today's militants in Afghanistan have adopted
techniques perfected in Iraq.9
The transfer of these deadly skills to al-Qaedalinked
insurgencies presents a clear and present danger. The world has
already seen bomb-making skills migrate with deadly results from
the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyya to the Abu Sayyaf Group in
Manila and throughout the Southern Philippines.10
Other countries with al-Qaeda-linked insurgencies include Iraq,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arab, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria,
Egypt, and India.11 Developing indigenous
capacity to confront this emerging threat will become increasingly
important to future efforts.
The Southern Philippines
The Southern Philippines is typical of areas
that are ripe for Al-Qaeda influence. It is located along ethnic,
cultural, and religious fault-lines in a region that has been only
loosely controlled or governed throughout its long history of occupation.12
The area is home to a discontented Muslim population dominated by
a predominately catholic government based in Manila. Approximately
5 million Muslims live in 5 of the poorest provinces of the Philippines,
in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. In these provinces, the majority
of the population has an income well below the poverty line.
These regions are what Sean Anderson calls
"grey areas"-ungovernable areas in developing nations
over which unstable, weak national governments have nominal control
but which afford criminal syndicates or terrorists and insurgent
groups excellent bases of operation from which they can conduct
far reaching operations against other targeted nations."13
Philippine "grey areas" are notorious
for civil unrest, lawlessness, terrorist activity, and Muslim separatist
movements. They are home or safe haven for several al-Qaeda-linked
organizations, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),
Abu Sayyaf, and the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyya. The core leaders
of many of these groups received their initial training in the camps
of Afghanistan and their baptism of fire in the jihad against the
soviets in Afghanistan.14 Al-Qaeda
did not originate these movements, but it has used them as vehicles
to expand its global reach and spread its extremist ideology.15
The United states became interested in the
Southern Philippines shortly before 9/11, after Abu Sayyaf kidnapped
several U.S. Citizens and held them hostage on their island stronghold
of Basilan.16 After 9/11, the region
became a front line in the war. Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines
(OEF-P) officially began in early 2002 and is best known for Joint
task Force (JTF) 510's combined U.S.-Philippine operations on Basilan
(Balikatan 02-1). Special Forces (SF) advisory efforts began in
the Southern Philippines in 2002 and continue to this day.
The Diamond Model
the unconventional or indirect approach of
working "by, with, and through" indigenous forces has
remained consistent throughout OEF-P.17
Led by Brigadier General Donald Wurster and colonel David Fridovich,
OEF-P planners created their guiding strategy using principles that
can be found in Gordon Mccormick's strategic COIN model, called
the Diamond Model.18 This model can
help planners develop an effective holistic approach to cut off
organizations like Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyya from their bases
of popular support and to isolate, capture, or kill their members
and leaders. The Philippine Government and its armed forces now
call the application of principles found in the Diamond Model the
"Basilan Model," after its successful use against Abu
Sayyaf on Basilan in 2002.
The Diamond Model establishes a comprehensive
framework for interactions between the host-nation government, the
insurgents, the local populace, and international actors or sponsors.
The host-nation government's goal is to destroy the insurgents or
limit their growth and influence to a manageable level. Their opponent's
goal is to grow large enough to destroy the state's control mechanisms
and then either replace the existing government or force political
concessions from it that achieve the group's objectives. Jemaah
Islamiyya's and Abu Sayyaf's objectives were to create Islamic caliphates
or states in the southern Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.19
To develop an effective counter-strategy, the
state must first understand its advantages and disadvantages relative
to the insurgents. With its armed forces and police, the state has
a force advantage over the insurgents. On the other hand, the insurgents
have a marked information advantage. Being dispersed and embedded
in the local population, they are difficult to detect and target;
additionally, they have visibility of the state's security apparatus
and infrastructure and can easily target them. As Mccormick asserts,
"the winner of this contest will be the Saudi that can most
quickly resolve its disadvantage."20
The state's goal, then, should be to rectify
its information disadvantage so it can effectively locate the insurgents
and capture or kill them. The insurgent group's goal is to grow
in strength and effectiveness so it can threaten the state's security
apparatus and infrastructure before the state can overcome its information
disadvantage. Time is typically on the Saudi of the insurgents because
they can often achieve their goals simply by surviving and exhausting
government efforts and the national political will.
The Diamond Model can help establish the optimal
strategy the state should pursue to rectify its information disadvantage
and win the COIN fight. Legs 1 through 5 of the model depict the
actions the counterinsurgent should take. In the case of legs 1
through 3, these actions should be sequential.21
The upper half of the model addresses the state's internal environment.
Because it suffers from an information disadvantage, the state must
first pursue leg 1 to strengthen its influence and control over
the local populace. Mccormick defines control as "the ability
to see everything in one's area of operation that might pose a threat
to security and the ability to influence what is seen."22
This level of visibility requires an extensive human intelligence
network; it cannot be achieved by technological means. When military
strategist John Paul Vann pointed out about U.S. Counterinsurgency
efforts in Vietnam is true today: "We need intelligence from
the local civilians and soldiers from the area who understand the
language, customs, and the dynamics of the local situation, who
can easily point out strangers in the area even though they speak
the same language."23
Gaining popular support is a zero-sum game.
One side's loss is the other's gain, and vice versa. Strengthening
ties with the local populace by focusing on their needs and security
also denies or degrades insurgent influence over the people and
leads to information that exposes the insurgent infrastructure.
This allows the state to attack leg 2 with operations that disrupt
the insurgent's control mechanisms over the people. These moves
often lead to actionable intelligence, which the state can use to
target the insurgency's infrastructure. Actionable intelligence
gained by patiently pursuing efforts along legs 1 and 2 enables
the state to identify and strike the insurgents along leg 3.
Military forces conducting COIN operations
typically ignore legs 1 and 2 of the model and attempt to directly
target their opponents. As the Vietnam war showed, this usually
entails large-scale search-and-destroy operations that the insurgents
easily avoid and that often produce collateral damage that alienates
the people.24 The state can defeat
most insurgencies by operating effectively along legs 1 through
3, in that order.25 The
overall strategy (internal to the state) identifies the local populace
as the center of gravity in the COIN fight and winning popular support
as the key to the state's ability to remedy its information disadvantage
and win the conflict. The indirect approach of working through the
local populace and indigenous security forces to target the insurgents
thus becomes the most direct path to victory.
The lower half of the Diamond Model depicts
the external environment. If an external sponsor is involved, the
state attacks leg 5 by directly targeting the supplies and financing
flowing from the outside to the insurgents. At the same time, the
state implements diplomatic operations along leg 4 to gain support
and resources for its COIN efforts from partner nations and other
international actors. It simultaneously employs diplomatic pressure
and punitive measures to influence the behavior of insurgent sponsors.
OEF-P Lines of Operation
One of the more critical elements of COIN planning
is synchronizing the overall effort with the country team or embassy
staff. The Diamond Model prompts planners to consider all elements
of national power when planning COIN operations.26
In countries with well-established governments, what military operations
play a supporting role to efforts managed by the U.S. State Department.
Planning that integrates the military and country-team staff members
produces optimal results. Because of the protracted nature of these
operations, military and country-team staff must maintain close
relationships and conduct interagency coordination on a regular
basis. In the Philippines, OEF-P planners coordinate closely with
the country team to facilitate interagency planning and synchronization.27
Applying the principles found in the Diamond
Model within the political constraints of the Philippines led to
the pursuit of three interconnected lines of operation:28
_ Building Philippine Armed Forces (AFP) capacity.
U.S. Ground, maritime, and air components trained, advised, and
assisted Philippine security forces to help create a secure and
_ Focused civil-military operations. Philippine-led,
U.S.-facilitated humanitarian and civic-action projects demonstrated
the government's concern for regional citizens and improved their
quality of life.
_ Information operations (IO). Aiming to enhance
government legitimacy in the region, the joint U.S.-Philippine effort
used IO to emphasize the success of the first two lines of operation.
The lines of operation complemented country-team
efforts to help government security forces operate more effectively
along legs 1 through 3 of the model, thereby enhancing the host
nation's legitimacy and control of the region; this in turn reduced
the insurgents' local support, denied them sanctuaries, and disrupted
their operations. Diplomatic efforts executed along leg 4 were also
Principles found in the Diamond Model were
successfully applied against Abu Sayyaf during OEF-P on Basilan
Island in exercise Balikatan 021.29
Located 1,000 kilometers south of Manila at the northern tip of
the Sulu Archipelago in the war-torn southern Philippines, Basilan
is 1,372 square kilometers in size and home to a population of just
over 300,000 people. As the northernmost Island in the Sulu Archipelago,
Basilan is strategically located. It has traditionally served as
the jumping-off point or fallback position for terrorists operating
in central Mindanao, and its Christian population has long been
prey to Muslim kidnapping gangs.30
in the 1990s, Abu Sayyaf established a base of operations there
and began a reign of terror that left government forces struggling
to maintain security as they pursued an elusive enemy.
To succeed in coin, the counterinsurgent must
first understand the root causes of the insurgency: what are the
underlying conditions that make the environment ripe for insurgent
activity? To answer this question, U.S. Pacific Command deployed
an SF assessment team in October 2001 to the southern Philippines.31
The team conducted detailed area assessments down to the village
level and updated them throughout the operation. They gathered vital
information about the enemy situation, army training requirements,
local demographics, infrastructure, and socioeconomic conditions.32
Measurements ranging from infant mortality rates and per capita
income to the number of squatters, government services, and local
education levels enabled planners to "build a map of disenfranchisement
to ascertain where active and passive support would likely blossom."33
These assessments provided critical information concerning the root
causes of civil unrest at the village level. They also laid the
foundation for the operational plan, for as military analyst Kalev
Sepp notes, "The security of the people must be assured as
a basic need, along with food, water, shelter, health care and a
means of living. The failure of COIN and the root cause of insurgencies
themselves can often be traced to government disregard of these
In February 2002, the United States dispatched
JTF-510, comprised of 1,300 U.S. Troops, to the Southern Philippines.
Its mission was to conduct unconventional warfare operations "by,
with, and through" the AFP to help the government separate
the population from, and then destroy, Abu Sayyaf.35
The bulk of the force consisted of an air component in Mactan, Cebu,
and staff and support personnel located at the JTF headquarters
in Zamboanga. The tip of the U.S. spear consisted of 160 SF personnel
and, later, 300 members of a Naval construction task group. All
U.S. Forces operated under restrictive rules of engagement.36
Once on Basilan, SF advisers deployed down to the battalion level
and moved in with their Philippine counterparts in remote areas
near insurgent strongholds. The SF teams found the Philippine units
in disarray and lacking in basic infantry skills and initiative.
One SF adviser said, "The situation had degraded to the point
that the AFP no longer aggressively pursued the insurgents. The
combination of neglect and lack of military initiative had created
circumstances that contributed not only to the continuing presence
and even growth of insurgent groups, but to the genesis of new terrorist
and criminal organizations."37
Using their language and cultural skills, the
SF teams quickly formed a bond with their military counterparts
and local villagers. Their first goal was to establish a secure
environment and protect the local populace. SF advisory teams went
to work immediately, honing AFP military skills through focused
training activities that increased unit proficiency and instilled
confidence.38 According to one SF adviser,
"SF detachments converted AFP base camps on Basilan into tactically
defensible areas, and they trained Philippine soldiers and marines
in the combat lifesaving skills needed for providing emergency medical
treatment with confidence. Those lifesaving skills were a significant
morale booster for the AFP."39
Increased patrolling accompanied training,
which allowed the AFP and local security forces to reestablish security
at the village level and seize the initiative from the insurgents.
SF advisers credited an aggressive increase in AFP patrolling with
denying Abu Sayyaf its habitual sanctuary and curtailing the group's
movement.40 The SF teams played a key
role in building AFP capacity by accompanying units (as advisers
only) on combat operations.41 Reestablishing
security and protecting the Basilan people were the foundation for
all other activities along leg 1 of the Diamond Model.
Once security was established, both civil affairs
and SF soldiers worked with their counterparts to execute high-impact
projects that produced immediate and positive benefits for the local
population.42 Humanitarian assistance
and civicaction projects were initially targeted to meet the basic
needs of the local populace, then refined and tailored for particular
regions and provinces based on assessment results.43
As the security situation improved, the U.S. Naval construction
Task Group deployed to the Island to execute larger scale projects
such as well digging, general construction, and improvements to
roads, bridges, and piers. In addition to enhancing military capabilities,
these infrastructure projects benefited local residents. When possible,
locally procured materials and workers were used in order to put
money directly into the local economy. Humanitarian and civic-action
projects on Basilan improved the image of the AFP and the Manila
government and helped return law and order to the Island.44
A key component in leg 1 of the model, the projects earned local
respect, improved force protection, and reduced Muslim village support
for the insurgents. Consequently, the AFP was able to cultivate
closer relations with the people in insurgent-influenced areas.
45 As colonel Darwin Guerra, battalion
commander of the 32d infantry, AFP, reported, "Where once the
people supported rebels and extremists because they felt neglected
or oppressed by the government, the delivery of their basic needs
like health and nutrition services, construction of infrastructure
and impact projects, and strengthening security in the community
that the Balikatan program brought [sic] changed their attitudes
and loyalty. As residents began to experience better living conditions,
they withdrew support from the militants."46
The AFP consistently took the lead on all activities
and projects throughout Balikatan 02-1, with the U.S. military playing
a supporting role. Putting the AFP in the lead enhanced AFP and
government legitimacy at the grassroots level and helped end passive
support for the insurgents. Targeted humanitarian assistance and
civic-action projects also drove a wedge between Abu Sayyaf and
the local populace. At the same time, these activities provided
opportunities to interact with the locals and tap into the "bamboo
telegraph," the indigenous information network.47
As villagers became more comfortable, they openly shared information
on the local situation with AFP and U.S. forces.
Intelligence collection and sharing was also
critical to the operation. SF advisers conducted extensive information
collection activities to gain situational awareness and contribute
to a safe and secure environment. They shared intelligence with
the AFP and helped them fuse all sources of information to develop
a clearer picture of the insurgents' organizational structure. Improved
relations with local residents generated increased reporting on
Abu Sayyaf activity. SF advisers also leveraged U.S. military intelligence
surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, integrating these assets
into intelligence collection plans to support AFP combat operations.
Actionable intelligence stimulated progress on leg 3, direct AFP
combat operations against Abu Sayyaf.
By August 2002, just six months later, the
synergistic effects of security, improved AFP military capability,
and focused civil-military operations had isolated the insurgents
from their local support networks. As the security situation on
Basilan continued to improve, dOctors, teachers, and other professional
workers who had fled the Island began to return, and the Philippine
Government, the U.S. agency for international Development's Growth
with Equity in Mindanao Program, the Autonomous region of Muslim
Mindanao, and various nongovernmental organizations brought in additional
resources to further address the root causes of the civil unrest.48
Results of Balikatan 02-1
My visit to Basilan Island in 2005 revealed
a vastly different environment from the terrorist safe haven once
dominated by Abu Sayyaf. The Island's physical landscape remained
largely unchanged. The rugged mountains, jungle terrain, and remote
villages that rebel groups and extremists had once found so inviting
and conducive to their deadly activities were all still there. What
had changed were the attitude and loyalties of the Basilan people,
making the environment far less favorable for insurgent activity.
The U.S. military and the Philippine Government
know that Balikatan 02-1 was a success, and the operation is now
commonly referred to as the "Basilan Model." While it
didn't destroy Abu Sayyaf altogether, the model proved effective
_ Denying the insurgents and terrorists sanctuary
in targeted geographic areas (Basilan Island).49
_ Improving the capacity of indigenous forces
_ Enhancing the legitimacy of the host-nation
government in the region.51
_ Establishing the conditions for peace and
development (Basilan Island).
_ Providing a favorable impression of U.S.
military efforts in the region.52
The holistic approach used on Basilan enabled
the AFP to gain control of the situation, to become selfsufficient,
and eventually to transition to peace and development activities.
Both U.S. and AFP military forces could then focus their efforts
and resources on other insurgent safe havens. This approach is characteristic
of the expanding inkblot, or "war zone" strategy, used
during successful British COIN efforts in Malaya.
Continuing the Fight
Despite the success of U.S. and Philippine
war efforts on Basilan, the fight against extremism in the southern
Philippines is far from over. Although Abu Sayyaf was neutralized
on Basilan and significantly reduced in size, its leaders managed
to flee to Central Mindanao and the Island of Sulu.53
Using the peace process between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
and the Philippine Government for cover, and with assistance from
Jemaah Islamiyya, Abu Sayyaf has increased its urban bombing capabilities
and extended its reach as a terrorist organization.54
To gain better visibility on this emerging threat and to continue
to assist the AFP, SF advisory efforts have adapted as well.
Soon after Balikatan 02-1, JTF-510 reorganized
into a much leaner organization called the Joint Special Operations
Task Force, Philippines (JSOTF-P), which continued advisory efforts
with selected AFP units at the strategic, operational, and tactical
levels.55 Follow-on JSOTF-P advisers
have pursued the same strategy, but with greatly reduced resources
along some lines of operation.56 The
reorganization reflects a shift in focus to indigenous capacity-building
efforts, with the deployment of advisory teams to particular AFP
units near terrorist safe havens or transit points in the southern
Deployed at the tactical level, SF advisory
teams called Liaison coordination elements (Lce) are small, tailored,
autonomous teams of special operations personnel from all services.57
they advise and assist select AFP units in planning and fusing all
sources of intelligence in support of operations directed at insurgent-terrorist
organizations.58 LCEs conduct Decentralized
planning and execution using a robust reachback capability to the
JSOTF-P to leverage additional assets in support of AFP operations.
These assets range from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance
assets such as tactical unmanned aerial vehicles to humanitarian
assistance to tailored information products.
The JSOTF has increasingly emphasized information
operations that heighten public awareness of the negative effects
of terrorism and provide ways to report terrorists to local security
forces. Also featured are positive actions the government and military
take to foster peace and development. The introduction of a Military
information support Team in 2005 significantly enhanced the production
of print and media products in support of U.S. And Philippine government
war information objectives.59 Products
include newspaper ads, handbills, posters, leaflets, radio broadcasts,
and novelty items. These IO efforts have helped to raise public
awareness of the U.S. Government's rewards program.60
Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has said,
"More than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield
of the media. We are in a media battle in a race for the hearts
and minds of Muslims."61 If this
is true, then shaping an environment less conducive to terrorist
activity by raising public awareness is a true combat multiplier.
Indirect Approach Advantages
With U.S. Forces stretched to the breaking
point globally, SF advisory efforts will become more attractive
to U.S. Policymakers in the future. These efforts have some marked
advantages over unilateral military operations.62
Economy-of-force operations by nature, they are characterized by
a small footprint, low resource requirements, and limited visibility.
This makes them ideal to use in politically sensitive areas where
a large foreign military presence would undermine the host-nation
government's legitimacy and serve to rally opposition extremist
elements. Additionally, with their low profiles, SF advisory operations
can usually be sustained for a long time, a distinct benefit during
protracted struggles.63 Operations
in the southern Philippines have been ongoing since 2002, and so
far they have received very little attention from the U.S. Media
The SF advisory approach also creates a more
favorable impression of U.S. military efforts. Advisers are much
more politically acceptable than soldiers who take a direct role
in combat. Humanitarian and civic-action activities performed with
indigenous forces demonstrate the U.S. And host-nation government's
commitment to promoting long-term peace and development. In 2002,
U.S. Advisers operating on Basilan went from seeing throat-slash
hand gestures to receiving smiles and handshakes from local Muslims
after the latter discovered the true nature of the SF's activities.64
In 2005, U.S. military forces received a hero's welcome when they
returned to Basilan for training exercises. The people repeatedly
thanked them for their assistance during Balikatan 02-1.65
This good word has spread to the neighboring
Island of Sulu, a notorious Abu Sayyaf and extremist stronghold.
In 2005, the Sulu provincial government asked U.S. military and
AFP officials to conduct the "Basilan Model" on their
Island during Balikatan 06.66 Prior
to the exercise, local Islamic religious leaders asked the Muslim
populace of Sulu to welcome U.S. forces.67
Patricio Abinales, Associate Professor at the Center for Southeast
Asian studies, credits the American military presence in the Southern
Philippines for contributing to the emergence of reformist leaders
(especially former Moro rebels) and politicians identified with
"moderate Islam" who represent a change in conduct from
the "guns, goons, gold" custom associated with traditional
A Regional Approach
A regionally networked approach will optimize
U.S. Efforts to build indigenous capacity. The enemy is part of
a transnational global network and flows across borders in many
regions of the world like Southeast Asia. Terrorists and insurgents
use ungoverned areas to their advantage so that efforts by individual
states alone will not be effective. The best way to confront a network
is to create a counternetwork, a non-hierarchical organization capable
of responding quickly to actionable intelligence. The goal should
be a networked regional capability that can seamlessly pass intelligence
among SF advisory teams collocated with indigenous forces in strategic
locations. In denied or unfriendly areas, surrogate forces developed
and operating under the direction of SF and interagency partners
should perform this task. As Steven Sloan notes, "the development
of counter terrorist organizations that are small, flexible, and
innovative cannot be done in the context of a unilateral approach
to combating terrorism. There must be unity of action on the regional
and international level that breaches the jurisdictional battles
among countries that often seem to take precedence over an integrated
war against terrorism."69 The
U.S. government, military, and people must understand that these
long-duration efforts require patience and determination. Gaining
access, fostering trust, building relationships, and developing
an indigenous or surrogate military capacity can take years, and
success can often be difficult to measure. SF advisory teams must
deploy forward to access indigenous capability and develop the situation
in critical areas near suspected terrorist safe havens and transit
locations. Once they complete their assessments, more refined plans
ranging from small-scale LCE operations to larger Basilan-type efforts
can be developed. This strategy has the added benefit of being preventive
instead of just reactive. Positioning SF advisory teams as "global
scouts" forward will provide early warning and allow our policymakers
to assist our partners in shaping a more favorable environment.
Basilan in Iraq?
The "Basilan Model" and follow-on
U.S. efforts offer a template for a sustainable, low-visibility
approach to supporting America's allies in the war. In Iraq, where
unilateral conventional operations have often been ineffective and
even counterproductive, we should consider employing SF advisory
teams on a large scale. Because they know the geography, language,
and culture of the region and are skilled in working "by, with,
and through" indigenous forces, SF is uniquely suited to adeptly
navigate Iraq's politically and culturally sensitive terrain to
enable effective host-nation operations against our common enemies.
By itself, however, just building the host-nation's
capacity to capture or kill insurgents will not guarantee victory.
The United States must employ a holistic approach that enhances
the legitimacy of the host-nation government and its security forces
in the eyes of the local populace. Using the Diamond Model, it must
focus on the people at the grassroots level as the enemy's center
of gravity. Ultimately, we will win the "long war," as
the Quadrennial Defense Review now calls it, by gaining broader
acceptance of U.S. Policy within the moderate Muslim community.
The best way to do this is by working in the shadows, "by,
with, and through" indigenous or surrogate forces to marginalize
the insurgents and win over the people. In an irony befitting the
often paradoxical nature of counterinsurgency warfare, "the
indirect approach" offers us the most direct path to victory.
1. John Arquilla and David
F. Ronfeldt, "Netwar Revisited: The Fight for the Future Continues,"
in Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency, ed. Robert J. Bunker
(London and New York: Routledge, 2005), 9.
2. Daniel Byman, "Going
to War with the Allies You Have: Allies, Counterinsurgency, and
the War on Terrorism," Strategic Studies Institute (November
3. Ibid., 5.
4. For insights on common
problems with U.S. military COIN operations as observed by a senior
officer in one of our closest allies in the war, see Brigadier Nigel
Aylwin-Foster, British Army, "Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency
Operations," Military Review (November-December 2005).
5. Kalev I. Sepp, "Best
Practices in Counterinsurgency," Military Review (May June
2005), and Byman, 2.
6. Robert D. Kaplan,
"Imperial Grunts," Atlantic Monthly Online, October 2005,
7. Aylwin-Foster, 4.
8. According to an Al-Qaeda
fatwa delivered in 1996, "The ruling to kill the Americans
and their allies-civilian and military-is an individual duty for
every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible
to do it, in order to liberate al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque
[Mecca] from their grips, and in order for their armies to move
out of all lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim."
Full text available online at <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/terrorism/
9. Peter Bergen and
Alec Reynolds, "Blowback Revisited," Foreign Affairs (November-December
10. Zachary Abuza,
"Balik Terrorism: The Return of the ASG [Abu Sayyaf Group],"
Strategic Studies Institute (September 2005): 31.
11. John P. Sullivan,
"Terrorism, Crime and Private Armies," in Networks, Terrorism
and Global Insurgency, 72.
12. The Philippines
were occupied by the Spanish from 1542 to 1898; the United States
from 1898 to 1941; the Japanese from 1941 to 1944; and the United
States again from 1944 to 1945. The United States granted the Philippines
full independence in 1946.
13. Sean K. Anderson,
"U.S. Counterinsurgency vs. Iranian-Sponsored Terrorism"
in Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency, 85.
14. Abuza, 2.
15. Ibid., 5. Jamal
Khalifa, Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law, was dispatched to the
Philippines in 1991 and established a network of Islamic charities
that have been linked to terrorist financing in the region.
16. The Abu Sayyaf
Group conducted numerous kidnappings prior to 9/11, but it is best
known for kidnapping three American citizens, including a missionary
couple, and several wealthy Filipino citizens from Dos Palmas Resort
on the Island of Palawan, 27 May 2001.
17. The "indirect
approach" was first advocated by British military theorist,
journalist, and historian Basil Henry Liddell Hart to prevent a
repeat of earlier trench warfare deadlock. His theory included a
form of blitzkrieg using both tanks and infantry.
18. In 1994, Dr. Gordon
McCormick created the triangle insurgent/COIN model. He later created
the Diamond Model to capture the interaction with external international
actors. See Gordon H. McCormick, "A 'Pocket Guide' to Internal
War," Department of Defense Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School,
19. Maria Ressa, Seeds
of Terror (New York: Free Press, 2003), 124.
20. Class notes from
Dr. Gordon McCormick's "Seminar on Guerilla Warfare,"
Department of Defense Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School, October
23. Rick Webster,
"Counterinsurgency: The John Paul Vann Model," Sitrep
(Winter/Spring 2004), <www.lists.opn.org/pipermail/org.opn.lists.vwar/
24. Andrew F. Krepinevich,
The Army in Vietnam (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press,
25. McCormick, class
26. For a more detailed
discussion of applying strategic counterinsurgency models to the
planning process, see LTC Eric Wendt, "Strategic Counterinsurgency
Modeling," Special Warfare Magazine (September 2005).
27. Close coordination
with the ambassador, the Joint United States Military Assistance
Group, the regional affairs team, local representatives of the United
States Agency for International Development, the political-military
adviser, and other key members of the country team will ensure unity
28. Joint Special
Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) lines of operation were
developed by the JSOTF-P and Special Operations Command, Pacific
29. Balikitan means
"shoulder to shoulder" in Tagalog. While the U.S. Government
views OEF-P efforts in the Southern Philippines as military operations
in a declared hostile-fire area, the Philippine Government describes
them as training exercises to avoid perceived constitutional restrictions
against foreign troops participating in internal combat operations.
30. COL Darwin Z.
Guerra, "Peace-Building in Basilan: The Army's 103rd Brigade
Soldier's Final Battle," unpublished, 1.
31. COL Dave Maxwell,
"Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines: what Would Sun Tzu
Say?", <www.army.mil/professionalwriting/ volumes/volume2/
32. Wendt, 10-11.
34. Sepp, 9.
35. Maxwell, 1.
36. Cherilyn A. Walley,
"Impact of the Semi-permissive Environment on Force-protection
in the Philippines Engagement," Special Warfare, 2004, 1, <www.findarticles.
37. Ibid., 4. Interview
of an SF adviser by Dr. C. H. Briscoe.
38. MAJ Joe mcgraw,
SF Detachment Commander on Basilan during Balikatan 02-1, interview
by the author, Monterey, CA, 19 January 2006. Training initially
focused on basic individual infantry skills and progressed to more
advanced collective skills. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
units have very little training ammunition and rarely fire their
weapons other than in combat situations.
39. C. H. Briscoe,
"Reflections and Observations on ARSF [Army Special Forces]
Operations during Balikatan 02-1," Special Warfare, 2004, 1,
40. Ibid., 1.
41. McGraw interview.
SF advisers initially were not allowed to accompany AFP units below
the battalion level during operations, but after a lengthy mission
review process (CONOPS), advisors were allowed to work at company
level toward the end of the operation.
42. "A 'PACOM-imposed
force cap' on Army SF personnel and heavy weapons in the exercise
area of operations constrained the use of CA [civil affairs] teams.
That compelled the commander of Forward Operating Base 11 to task
SF detachments with the CA mission." C. H. Briscoe, 1.
43. Cherilyn A. Walley,
"Civil Affairs: A Weapon of Peace on Basilan Island,"
Special Warfare, 2004, 3. <www.findarticles.com/p/articles/
mi_m0hzy/is_1_17/ ai_n9543 878>.
44. C. H. Briscoe,
45. Ibid., 1.
46. Guerra, 2.
47. Mcgraw interview.
48. After security
was reestablished during Balikatan 02-1, the Philippine Government,
the Growth with Equity in Mindanao Program, the Autonomous Region
of Muslim Mindanao, and various nongovernmental organizations provided
economic and developmental assistance to Basilan Island. The U.S.
government provided an average of $80 million of economic and developmental
assistance a year to the Philippines from 2002 to 2006, of which
60 percent was designated for the Mindanao region. See U.S. Department
of State, Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs
Appropriations Act, 2006 (P. L. 109-102).
49. The ASG no longer
poses a threat on Basilan. Its armed strength has fallen from an
estimated 1,000 in 2002 to somewhere between 200 and 400 in 2005.
Thomas Lum and Larry A. Niksch, "The Republic of the Philippines:
Background and U.S. Relations," Congressional Research Service
Report to Congress, 10 January 2006, 8.
50. AFP forces deployed
on Basilan improved their capacity while working directly with Army
Special Forces during Balikatan 02-1. Follow-on security assistance
train-and-equip modules and SF advisory efforts have continued to
build AFP capabilities.
51. Balikatan 02-1
enabled the Philippine Government and AFP to reduce security forces
on Basilan Island by 70 percent and transition to peace-building
52. Sepp, 10.
53. Khaddafy Janjalani
assumed leadership of the ASG after Abu Sabaya's death during an
AFP-led, U.S.-assisted operation in June 2002.
54. Lum and Niksch,
55. JSOTF-P has fluctuated
between 50 and 300 personnel. Advisory teams interface at the strategic
level with the U.S. Embassy in Manila and the AFP General Headquarters
in Manila; at the operational level, with AFP Southern Command in
Zamboanga; and at the tactical level, with select AFP combat units.
Advisory teams also work with AFP civil affairs and psychological
56. Humanitarian assistance
and civic-action project funding was greatly reduced after Balikatan
02-1. Some funding was diverted to tsunami relief in 2005.
57. Liaison Coordination
Elements generally consist of 4 to 12 SF advisers who are embedded
with select AFP ground, naval, and air forces down to the battalion
58. JTF-510 advisory
efforts were directed strictly at the ASG while JSOTF-P advisory
efforts have expanded to include Jemaah Islamiyya.
59. This Military
Information Support Team consists of psychological operations personnel
who develop combined products with the AFP Civilian Relations Group.
Products are approved through both AFP and U.S. chains of command.
60. U.S. Government
rewards programs in the Philippines have led to the apprehension
of 23 terrorists. Products are designed by AFP and U.S. personnel
working together to ensure they are portrayed in the correct cultural
context. Muslim soldiers within the AFP have played a key role in
this effort, translating products into native languages like Talsug.
61. Cited in a speech
by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to the Council on Foreign
Relations, Harold Pratt House, New York, NY, 17 February 2006, <www.
62. Stretched by frequent
troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin
green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according
to Andrew F. Krepinevich, The Thin Green Line, Report to the Pentagon,
63. Sepp, 9. SF advisory
efforts in El Salvador were conducted for over 12 years.
64. Robert Kaplan,
Imperial Grunts (New York: Random House, 2005), 245.
65. Author's experience
on Basilan, March 2005.
66. Author's experience
on Sulu, February 2005.
67. Roel Pareno, "Sulu
Sultan leads Jolo Rally backing Balikatan," Philippine Star,
12 Feb 2005.
68. Patricio Abinales,
"American Military Presence in the Southern Philippines: A
Comparative Historical Overview," East-West Center Working
Papers, Politics and Security Series 7, (October 2004): 14.
69. Stephen Sloan,
"Forward: Responding to the Threat," in Networks, Terrorism
and Global Insurgency, xxi.
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