Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Urban warfare training mutually beneficial: AFP chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): Urban warfare training mutually beneficial: AFP chief

While grateful for the Australian Defense Forces' (ADF) offer of urban warfare training, the deal is not exactly a one-way street as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) can apprise the ADF on how it managed to defeat and eliminate all of the Maute Group terrorists in Marawi City.

This was emphasized by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año when sought for a comment on Australia's decision to help the Philippine military to train some of its units in urban warfare Tuesday.

"They (ADF) have an offer, even Singapore, on joint exercises regarding urban warfare. Actually that (offer) is two folds as we can use their facilities and they can learn from our experience (in Marawi City)," he added in Filipino.

Fighting in Marawi City started when government troops made an attempt to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and his cohorts last May 23.

The five-month fighting killed around 920 Maute Group terrorists and their allies along with 165 government troops.

"I think at this time, we can consider ourselves expert in urban fighting with our experience in Marawi because we managed to neutralize the last terrorist (unlike) in other countries where the terrorists managed to evade the opposing military force. In Marawi, we ensured that none of the enemy, even their leaders, managed to escape," the AFP chief added.

This was attributable to the military's constant assault on all Maute Group positions in the area, Año pointed out.


Pres. Duterte vows full support for PAF

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 25): Pres. Duterte vows full support for PAF

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Tuesday, October 24, enjoined the Philippine Air Force personnel to remain committed to their duties as he vowed the government’s full support to the men and women of the Air Force.

The President led the Philippine Air Force (PAF) Change of Command and Retirement ceremony for outgoing PAF Commanding General Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, who was replaced by Lieutenant General Galileo Gerard Kintanar, Jr.

In his speech, the Commander-in-Chief congratulated Gen. Fallorina for his successful tour of duty, noting that PAF had made remarkable organizational improvements under his leadership.

“I am confident that the PAF is in good order, with several improvements initiated by Lt. Gen. Fallorina and the upgrades made under his administration,” he said.

The President said Fallorina has established the command framework, Jointly Engaged Transforming Force for Greater Peace and Security, and reactivated the Tactical Operations Command and the Air Defense Command.

In addition, Duterte said the Philippine Air Force also performed aerial reconnaissance and maritime patrol missions over the West Philippine Sea, the Benham Rise and other parts of the Philippine territory.

The Chief Executive likewise lauded the PAF for supporting internal security operations, mostly on the ongoing military operations in Mindanao, where it provided air assets for troop movement and close air support to ground troops against the Abu Sayyaf Group and other local terrorist groups.

The Air Force also provided humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations such as aerial observation over calamity-stricken areas and airlift of assisting personnel, relief goods and victims.

The Airmen deployed also several aircraft and more than 400 personnel to Marawi City for combat support and troop movement operations.

For his part, the President assured that the government would give its full support to PAF as it performs its mandate, citing the two C130s and 12 FA-50 aircraft which were added to the organization since July 2016.

He said the government is committed to promote the welfare of all PAF personnel, including their loved ones. “We recognize the valor and the sacrifices of the PAF personnel who were killed and wounded in action, particularly the casualties caused by the conflict in Marawi City,” he said.

“That you have left your families and the comfort of your homes to serve the country is truly praiseworthy. Indeed, the Philippines and our people are indebted to you because of the sacrifices you have made every single day,” Duterte said.

The Chief Executive meanwhile urged the country’s troops to continue performing their duties well, especially as martial law remains in effect in Mindanao and with the persisting threats of terrorism and insurgency.

The President also noted the significant headway made in ridding the country of the scourges of criminality, insurgency, terrorism and corruption.

According to the Chief Executive, this is because of the invaluable contributions of the airmen, noting that there could never be a task “more ennobling than that.”

“May you always stay faithful to the Constitution and the people whom you have sworn to protect. Truly, you have made our country safer and more secure,” he said.


Soldier hurt as Army, cops press campaign vs NPA atrocities in Butuan City

From News 5/InterAksyon (Oct 24): Soldier hurt as Army, cops press campaign vs NPA atrocities in Butuan City

Backhoe torched by the NPA at a quarry in Barangay Bonbon, Butuan City. Photographed by Erwin M. Mascariñas, News5 | InterAksyon

A soldier of the Philippine Army 23rd Infantry Battalion was wounded after an armed encounter with suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) Monday morning in one of the far-flung village here, as security forces intensified their watch after an NPA raid over the weekend.

“The encounter happened at around 7:20 in the morning of October 23, 2017 in Sitio Malanay, Barangay Nongnong, as a scout platoon of the 23IB pursued an armed band who burned heavy construction equipment worth PhP9 million – four back-hoes, a pay loader and a dump truck – at a nearby rock quarry at dawn Saturday.

“A 10-minute gun battle ensued between our soldiers and around 30 NPAs under Guerilla Front 4A of the North Central Mindanao Regional Committee. We believe that this group is headed by a certain Bong,” said Captain Regie Go, Civil Military Operation Officer (CMO) of the 402-Brigade based in Barangay Bancasi, Butuan City.

Butuan City Public Safety Company manning a checkpoint. Photographed by Erwin M. Mascariñas, News5 | InterAksyon

The wounded soldier was identified as Jesrell L. Amarelle who was shot on his right ankle.

Capt. Go added that they are still trying to verify whether there were NPA casualties, as operating soldiers on the ground claimed to have seen blood stains along their escape route.

Police Chief Inspector Renel E. Serrano, officer-in-charge of the public information office of Police Regional Office 13 (PRO13), disclosed that police personnel were also taking part in the pursuit operation.

“While the soldiers are operating in the forested terrain of the area, our law enforcers under the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) are conducting a parallel police operation in the vicinity. We intensified our operation after the NPA raid,” said Serrano.

The quarry permit is registered to lawyer Gil M. Cembrabo and operated by Ali Bani Martinez.

The NPA has yet to issue a statement regarding the incident.


OPAPP welcomes Norway’s new special envoy for GRP-NDF peace process

From GMA News Online (Oct 24): OPAPP welcomes Norway’s new special envoy for GRP-NDF peace process

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Sec. Jesus Dureza on Tuesday welcomed the appointment of Idun Tvedt as the Royal Norwegian Government’s special envoy on the peace process between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front.

“We welcome Amb Idun as we express gratitude to the Royal Norwegian Govt for keeping faith with us in our aspiration for a principled, just and sustainable peace in the land,” he said in a text message.

As to whether Tvedt’s appointment indicated the resumption of the peace talks, Dureza told GMA News Online: “We will wait for [the] president's guidance.”

Tvedt replaced Elisabeth Slåttum who spent three years as the GRP-NDF’s facilitator.

Dureza pointed out that Tvedt helped in the successful peace process in Colombia that resulted in a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

“She is ably taking over the role played by Amb Elisabeth whose competence and dedication steered us to reach unprecedented levels in our peace negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF,” he said.

Tvedt’s new assignment came amidst stalled peace talks between the GRP and the NDF.

President Rodrigo Duterte had called off the fifth round of talks after the New People’s Army fighters attacked soldiers and police officers, including a Presidential Security Group convoy, in different parts of the country.

“She has a high standing in the Norwegian Foreign Service and her knowledge and experience in peace and reconciliation matters are truly impressive,” Norwegian Ambassador to the Philippines Erik Førner meanwhile said in a statement.

“The team here at the Embassy looks forward to working with her and the parties towards a peaceful solution in the conflict between the GRP and the NDFP,” Førner added.

Norway has been a third-party facilitator of the GRP-NDF peace process since 2001.


Davao peace body to reach out to 3 NPA leaders

From the Sun Star-Davao (Oct 25): Davao peace body to reach out to 3 NPA leaders

THE Davao City Peace Committee targets to talk to three New People's Army (NPA) commanders working within Davao City for the localized peace talks.

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio bared this on Tuesday, October 24, after her attendance in the first meeting of the members and convener of the Davao City Peace Committee (DC-Peace), which was created through and executive order and aligned with the general welfare act stipulated under the Local Government Code.

"There were three identified commanders in Davao City which we target to reach out, and explore if they like to have localized talks," she said.

Duterte-Carpio, during the meeting, said a committee member has already been assigned to initiate talks with the three NPA commanders whose names are not disclosed since it is also not their real names. Reaching out to the three commanders is the DC-Peace's initial move on the talks.

She said starting Wednesday, October 25, until November 17, the assigned date of the next DC-Peace meeting, they will wait if there will be a positive or negative feedback from the commanders through the report of the designated person to reach out to them.

The mayor said that Davao City will also be the covered area of the talks.

"All of the issues will only be about Davao City. For those who are from Compostela Valley we will endeavor to return them to their local government unit, if they are interested to work with the government because what we are asking from them is not to surrender but we are asking them to sit with us and talk," she added.

She also said that the issues of area by area operation of NPA is not limited to one LGU was raised and she said this concern will be taken in consideration during the talk with the NPA commanders.

She added that they expect the identified three commanders to have control with their men. But she did not discount that changes may also happen in the leadership.

"We expect them to have control with the people under them, but it can change depending on how we reach out to them. As of the moment we will tap these three identified commanders under Davao City just to start the localized peace talks," she added.

Duterte-Carpio said there is a possibility of the declaration of the ceasefire from the military but it will only happen if the DC-Peace will recommend it and also if the talks starts.

"We will not recommend the suspension military operations if there is still no concrete talks. But once the talks will commence, we will wait for the committee to request for the suspension of the military operations but right now it is not brought up yet," she said.

It can be observed that the city mayor did not include military as part of the talks as she wants the committee to become a civilian initiative.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that the convener or consultant which the mayor has talked to these past months whom she described as well-versed in community civil relations is Irene Santiago, the chair of the Government Implementing Panel for the GPH-MILF Peace Accord.

Duterte-Carpio said Santiago, during the meeting, suggested for a peace building workshop for the committee members so that the members will understand how to start peace talks.

As to the objection of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process to the localized talks, Duterte-Carpio said the committee will write a letter to Secretary Jesus Dureza to explain about the localized peace talks initiative being done in the city.

"Initially we will write the letter and explain what we are doing here. We have a lawyer as one of the committee member and she said that there is no law prohibiting an LGU to have a localized peace talks, in fact we have the basis under the general welfare code of the local government code, this in an initiative of the LGU supported by the executive," she said.

The city mayor said the different roles of each committee members were already identified during the meeting.

The first DC-Peace meeting was attended by all of the committee members, Davao City Social Services and Development Office head Maria Luisa Bermudo, Davao City Legal Office representative lawyer Elisa Lapiña, Archbishop Romulo Valles, Barangay Malabog Chief Jessielito Areja, and it was also attended by the committee chair retired judge Ridgeway Tanjili. The DC-Peace Committee is given a year to conduct fruitful talks with the NPAs.


Police arrest 2 NPA leaders in Negros Occidental

From the Sun Star-Manila (Oct 24): Police arrest 2 NPA leaders in Negros Occidental

MANILA. Philippine National Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa presents the two arrested New People's Army rebels to the members of media on Tuesday, October 24, in Camp Crame, Quezon City. (SunStar Philippines/Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo)
TWO suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels wanted on numerous charges were arrested in Negros Occidental last week, police said on Tuesday.
Aurora Cayon and Louie Antonio Martinez, also known as Louie Castro, both holding key positions in the communist group, were arrested by joint police and military operatives last Thursday, October 19, in Barangay Dulao, Bago City, Negros Occidental.
Cayon is facing charges of robbery with violence or intimidation of person and arson, while Martinez is facing murder and multiple attempted murder and a local court has issued warrants of arrest against them.
Authorities confiscated a caliber .45 pistol, a hand grenade, magazines, and ammunition from the two suspects, said Philippine National Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa who presented the arrested suspects to the media in Camp Crame, Quezon City.
The PNP chief said Cayon was a staff member of the National Finance Commission (NFC) of the NPA, while Martinez was the national military staff and logistics officer of the rebel group.
 "I am certain that the capture of two officials will deal a great blow to the CPP-NPA group," the PNP chief said during a press conference.
 Dela Rosa said additional cases were already filed before the Office of the City Prosecutor in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental against the two NPA rebels, including that of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.


Reds ask Duterte to drop 'untenable' demands, focus on roots of conflict

From ABS-CBN (Oct 25): Reds ask Duterte to drop 'untenable' demands, focus on roots of conflict
The senior peace adviser to the National Democratic Front peace panel urged President Rodrigo Duterte Tuesday night to drop “untenable” conditions for the resumption of peace talks.

"The NDF is willing to resume peace talks with any regime that seriously wants to resolve the roots of armed conflict," Luis Jalandoni told ABS-CBN News.
"We have been informed of the possibilities, but have been told that it’s better to be quiet (on the details) for now," the retired rebel peace panel chair said on the sidelines of a solidarity night for farmers at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Last October 20, President Duterte hinted he is exploring the possible resumption of talks after months of threatening rebels and their supporters and accusing the militant Left of joining a conspiracy to unseat him from power.
But the President insists on a ceasefire between the Armed Forces and the New People's Army (NPA) as negotiators hammer out an agreement on social and economic reforms.

"It’s not tenable," Jalandoni warned.

“It’s clear to Duterte and to his advisers, and to (Labor Secretary and peace panel member Silvestre) Bello and the others. There cannot be such a thing as surrender, or a prolonged ceasefire without substantial inroads on basic social and economic issues. The NDF will never agree."

Jalandoni stressed the NPA will not give up its arms.

The armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), he added, will assert the right to protect its territories and surrounding communities from attacks by state forces.


The government cancelled the fifth round of talks in May as rebels stepped up offensives with the declaration of Mindanao-wide martial law.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) issued the order after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana included Asia's oldest leftist insurgency as a target of martial law.
Read: NDF negotiators ask CPP to reconsider order to intensify offensives

In July, Duterte warned he would abandon peace talks after a new spate of NPA actions and an exchange of rants with CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison. The President ordered around 20 NDF consultants released from detention for the talks to surrender or face arrest.

Since then clashes have erupted around the country, killing fighters from both sides, as well as civilians.

Thousands have also evacuated their homes due to military aerial bombardment.

In August, Duterte said any resumption of talks as a “waste of money.”

The President later warned that he was near to signing a formal termination notice, a required step in the conduct of negotiations

Last week, however, Duterte acknowledged that talking to the New People’s Army (NPA) could help ease the country’s problems.

The President’s statement came a day after he met Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza and GRP chief negotiator the NDF Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III. Both have refused to elaborate on Duterte’s remarks.

Jalandoni said the President's change of heart could be linked to a series of national surveys showing grave concern over the killings in the drug war, a decline in the economy and discontent among the country's poorest sectors.


Expert: Military offensives vs Maute can fuel recruitment

From the Philippine Star (Oct 25): Expert: Military offensives vs Maute can fuel recruitment

Philippine Navy commandos aboard a gunboat patrol the periphery of Lake Lanao as smoke rises from the "Main Battle Area" where pro-Islamic group militants are making a final stand amid a massive military offensive of Marawi city in southern Philippines Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Two days after President Rodrigo Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi city, the military announced the killing of 13 more suspected militants in the continuing military offensive. AP/Bullit Marquez

The operations of the Philippine military may have driven ISIS-inspired militant groups in the country closer together and facilitated the recruitment of new members, according to an Australian security and military expert.
Clive Williams of the Australian Defence Force Academy also opined that the number of militants killed in the long-running battle could have been "inflated," adding that the surviving fighters might have now returned to their Lanao del Sur localities where they enjoyed local support.

He said that these surviving fighters could regroup and launch another disastrous attack in the future.

"[T]he AFP operations will have driven ISIS-affiliated militant groups (the Maute Group, Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Ansar Khalifa Philippines) closer together and facilitated recruitment of new members," Williams wrote in The Interpreter of the think tank Lowy Institute.

The military offensives by the Armed Forces might have also killed more civilians than what government authorities are reporting, according to Williams, due to the military's use of "unguided bombs" to destroy even small targets, causing considerable collateral damage.

He said that the death of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the appointed leader of ISIS in Southeast Asia, and Omar Maute was a positive counterterrorism development, but the long-term implications of the five-month battle for the lakeside town were less positive.

Hapilon and Maute were killed in a pre-dawn battle with the Philippine military on October 16, dealing the militants a serious blow that precipitated their defeat.

The two militant leaders are among the more than 900 fighters killed in the battle which started on May 23 when soldiers tried to arrest Hapilon. Aside from the terrorists, 165 government forces also perished during the fighting as well as 47 civilians.

The military in the past admitted that the number of civilians killed would still rise as they regained the city and fully assessed the extent of the damage and the number of casualties.

Another "blowback" of the defeat of the Marawi militants was the rise in the possibility of "revenge attacks" against nationals of countries active in fighting ISIS.

Williams said that this was what led to deadly mass killings against members of the US-led coalition against ISIS in the Middle East such as France and the United Kingdom, two countries which have seen an increase in the number of terror attacks in their cities in the past years.

He also warned that Australia could also be a target of ISIS militants.

"If ISIS was to focus on who caused its latest problems in the Philippines, Australia would be well in the frame. The Australian government has been very public about its close defence relationship with the Philippines central government and provision of intelligence support for AFP operations against ISIS-linked groups in Mindanao," Williams wrote.

Although it was doubtful if ISIS had much capability to "project attacks" into other parts of Southeast Asia, it could call upon sympathizers to target Australians and other nationals whose governments supported anti-terror efforts against it.

"Recent terrorism-related developments in the Philippines could lead to an increased security threat to Australians in parts of Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia," he said.

He also noted that the Philippine military "made heavy weather of retaking Marawi" as it was inexperienced and lacked capability in urban warfare, something that Australia is trying to address by deploying its troops to train their Filipino counterparts in fighting in cities and towns.

The Philippine government announced on Monday that the combat operations in Marawi were over following the defeat of the last remaining group of militants holed in the city.

Last week, after the death of Hapilon and Maute, President Rodrigo Duterte went to the center of the battle to declare that Marawi was already free from terrorist influence.

U.S. touts military ties in Philippines as Duterte courts Russia, China

From Reuters (Oct 24): U.S. touts military ties in Philippines as Duterte courts Russia, China

The timing of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ trip to the Philippines this week couldn’t have been better, coming just as it celebrated a victory against Islamist militants in Marawi City - with a critical dose of help from the U.S. military.

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the "Political and Security Situation in Afghanistan" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

But as Mattis met President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, five Russian warships were parked off the Philippines and Moscow was preparing to formally hand over thousands of assault rifles, a million rounds of ammunition and 20 army trucks at a public ceremony on Wednesday.

Duterte, known for his strident anti-American rhetoric, has made no secret of his plans to cultivate ties with America’s rivals, Russia and China. Those efforts appear to be starting to bear fruit.

Just before he met Mattis, Duterte sat down with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday, who, like Mattis, was attending a gathering of Asian defence ministers north of Manila. Shoigu signed two military deals, including the procurement of unspecified equipment.

On Wednesday, Duterte was scheduled to visit a Russian anti-submarine ship, the Admiral Pantaleyev, docked in Manila.

U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim played down any U.S. concerns about Duterte’s outreach to China and Russia and noted that the United States, a former colonial power, was the country’s only treaty ally, with far deeper ties in the Philippines.

“I‘m not really threatened by this notion that China or Russia are providing some military equipment to the Philippines,” Kim told a small group of reporters travelling with Mattis.

“We have been providing very important equipment to the Philippines for many, many years. The fact that the Chinese and the Russians have provided some rifles, I‘m not sure is really such a cause for concern for the United States.”

Duterte’s often profanity-laden tirades against the United States have become his trademark during his year-old presidency, and he has chided Washington for treating his country “like a dog,” despite the longstanding U.S. assistance.

Still, Duterte’s rhetoric has been inconsistent, and he warmly greeted visiting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in August, calling himself a “humble friend” of the United States at the time.

On Tuesday, he cautiously kept to scripted dialogue at the start of his meeting with Mattis, as he welcomed him to the Philippines and spoke warmly of ties.

“I want to be (as) politically correct as possible and I want to be understood. So reading this speech will be good,” he said before reporters were escorted out of the room.

Ahead of a visit by U.S. President Donald Trump to the Philippines, the U.S. envoy cited an improvement in “tone and substance” in bilateral ties over the 10 months since he’s been in his post.

“President Duterte has made clear that even as he pursues improved relations with countries like China and Russia, he will continue to focus on making sure that the U.S.-Philippines alliance remains strong,” Kim said.


The same day that Mattis landed in the Philippines, Manila announced the end of five months of military operations in a southern city of Marawi held by pro-Islamic State rebels, after a fierce and unfamiliar urban war that marked the country’s biggest security crisis in years.

The rebel occupation stunned a military inexperienced in urban combat and stoked wider concerns that Islamic State loyalists have gained influence among local Muslims and have ambitions to use the island of Mindanao as a base for operations in Southeast Asia.

Mattis, on his flight to the Philippines, commended Manila on the operation and on Tuesday discussed ways to deepen U.S.-Philippines military ties in talks with the Philippine defence minister.

“It was a tough fight,” Mattis said during his flight, adding he thought the Philippines had sent “a very necessary message to the terrorists.”

Kim said the U.S. military assistance made a “huge difference” in the battle in Marawi, particularly its intelligence support, including with the deployment of Gray Eagle and P-3 Orion aircraft.

“I think all of us were surprised by the extent of infiltration by the terrorists into Marawi City,” he said.

“When you encounter a situation like that, you obviously need good intelligence to be able to target key areas and I think that’s where our support was quite critical.”

On Monday night, Philippine military chief General Eduardo Ano said the U.S. technical support “tilted the balance” because “we had a very hard grasp of the situation in the early days” until information flowed and helped defeat the militants.

The United States also provided information Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave $1.5 million (£1.1 million) in January for the attack on Marawi, Ano said.

But even on Marawi, Duterte has also credited U.S. rival China for its assistance.

Duterte said it was one of the 100 sniper rifles donated by China that fired the bullet that killed Isnilon Hapilon, Islamic State’s “emir” in Southeast Asia, on Oct. 16.

The ranger unit conducting the operation said the shot was fired from a heavier weapon mounted on an armoured vehicle.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on Tuesday about the receipt of heavy equipment from China to help rebuild Marawi, and also noted the receipt of rifles and ammunition from Beijing. He expected to receive four fast boats from China before the end of the year.

The United States has for decades been the Philippines’ defence treaty ally and its biggest source of hardware and training, providing about $1 billion in equipment since 2000.


AP Interview: Philippine military chief says IS funded siege

From the Washington Post (Oct 25): AP Interview: Philippine military chief says IS funded siege

In this photo taken Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 Philippine Armed Forces Chief Gen. Eduardo Ano gestures prior to the start of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in Clark, Pampanga province north of Manila, Philippines. Ano said the Islamic State group sent at least $1.5 million to finance the recently ended siege of the southern Philippine city of Marawi, with the assault leaders using the 2014 IS seizure of the Iraqi city of Mosul as blueprint. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)
By Jim Gomez | AP By Jim Gomez | AP

The Islamic State group sent at least $1.5 million to finance the recently ended siege of the southern Philippine city of Marawi, with the assault leaders using the 2014 IS seizure of the Iraqi city of Mosul as a blueprint, the Philippine military chief said.

The battle defeats of the brutal group in Syria and Iraq, and now the IS-aligned gunmen in Marawi, however, show a major vulnerability of the extremists: Their audacious territorial occupations tend to crumble over time as they’re cornered in urban settings by the relentless firepower of U.S.-backed offensives, Gen. Eduardo Ano said in an interview with The Associated Press late Monday.

The counterterrorism victories have given governments confidence that IS — which shocked the world with its rise a few years ago — could be stopped and defeated, said Ano, who oversaw the military campaign that ended the five-month siege in Marawi this week.

“They underestimated the reaction of the different countries in the world, the alliances,” he said.

“With what happened in Mosul, the Philippines and Raqqa, the different countries are now confident that if ever an ISIS siege would erupt ... they now have the recipe or the formula to fight it,” Ano said, adding that the Philippine military is ready to share its battle experiences in mosque-studded Marawi.

The siege, which was launched on May 23, left more than 1,100 combatants and civilians dead, including more than 900 militants, and displaced some 400,000 residents, including the entire population of Marawi, a bastion of the Islamic faith in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines. Military airstrikes, artillery and heavy machine-gun fire turned the lakeside city’s central business district and outlying communities into a smoldering wasteland of disfigured buildings and bullet-pocked mosques and houses.

It was one of the most devastating urban fights the country has witnessed since World War II, the military chief said.

Like in Mosul, the black-flag waving militants plotted to launch the Marawi siege on the first day of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting, but they were forced to stage the attack prematurely after Philippine army troops raided the hideout of its leaders. They also took hundreds of hostages as human shields and employed snipers to slow the advance of the military, Ano said.

“Every day, they watched videos of ISIS in Mosul,” Ano said of the Marawi siege leaders, including Isnilon Hapilon, a top Asian terror suspect who was killed by Filipino troops last week.

“That was their blueprint, that was their pattern,” he said, adding that troops recovered Islamic State group video discs of the Mosul violence in captured militant positions in Marawi.

It took about three weeks for thousands of government forces, which have been battling insurgents in jungle settings, to adopt to the urban fighting, Ano said. Two battalions of marines, for example, got stuck in a beach until a combat engineering battalion was quickly organized to clear mounds of debris that allowed them to move inland.

The massive offensive led to the killings of at least 10 key terror suspects from different extremist groups that have pledged allegiance to the IS, including Hapilon, four siblings belonging to the local Maute clan, and Indonesian and Malaysian militants, he said.

It would have taken five to 10 years for troops to hunt down and find all those militant leaders in the jungles of the south, where Ano said the extremists had mastery of the terrain and support from local clans.

The leaders of the bloody insurrection, who came from different ethnic backgrounds, were linked by their desire to be recognized by IS as its Southeast Asian branch and obtain funding from the Middle East-based group.

When the militants forged an alliance, IS sent $1.5 million in batches to finance the attack, Ano said, citing intelligence information, including some provided by the U.S.

But Ano said the Marawi militants, like their Middle East counterparts, were blindsided by their ambition and miscalculated the response to their plot, which involved the seizure of a military camp in Marawi.

“They thought that they can get the helicopters and armored vehicles and the people of Marawi will protect them, and there will be a flag flying and they can all it their own, an enclave, and probably more foreign fighters will come,” Ano said.

Tens of thousands of Marawi residents, however, abandoned the city in panic and troops managed to secure Marawi’s military camp and other vital areas. The United States and Australia later deployed surveillance aircraft that provided real-time images of militant positions, even at night — modern warfare technology that, coupled with the tenacity of Filipino troops, became a “game changer” in the massive effort to liberate the city, Ano said.

The military firepower was designed to push the militants to a coastal area where they could be overcome more easily, said the veteran combat general, who called the Marawi offensive the greatest battle of his military career. He retires on Thursday.

“We designed a very good campaign to flush them out and pressure them and canalize them into the chosen engagement areas,” he said. “We call it constriction.”


Malaysian militant wants to surrender

From The Star Online (Oct 23): Malaysian militant wants to surrender

Mohd Amin Baco @ Abu Jihad

Mohd Amin Baco @ Abu Jihad

Holed up with about 30 Islamic State (IS) gunmen in a Marawi City mosque and surrounded by Philippine security forces, Malaysian militant Mohd Amin Baco @ Abu Jihad has put out feelers indicating that he wants to surrender.
According to Philippine intelligence sources, Amin Baco is acting as the leader of the IS and Maute group gunmen who are hiding in the mosque in Sabala Manao village in Marawi City.
“Amin Baco had contacted the Joint Intel Task Group about their surrender and it is in process,” said an intelligence source.

However, Philippine security for­ces might not wait as they are softening up the fortified hiding place with snipers for an eventual assault against the militants.

According to the Philippine Arm­ed Forces, government troops are zeroing in on three sons of Isnilon Hapilon, the slain emir of IS in South-East Asia, and two Malaysians including Amin Baco, who has been central in facilitating the movement of foreign fighters in the region.

Amin Baco, who is from Tawau, Sabah, married into a prominent Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) family in Jolo island in southern Philippines.
His father-in-law is the late Ha­­tib Sawadjaan, head of an ASG faction.

Tense situation: Soldiers standing guard inside the war-torn area in Marawi City where Amin Baco (pic, above) is hiding with 30 IS militants in a mosque. —Reuters

The 34-year-old Sabahan was a member of Darul Islam Sabah (DIS), an offshoot of Indonesia’s Darul Islam and Jemaah Isla­miah.

He is believed to have moved around Sabah and Indonesia, facilitating militant travel and arms smuggling between the two locations.

Amin Baco has been on the wanted list since a 2006 crackdown against DIS which saw 16 of its mem­­bers arrested under the now-abolished Internal Security Act.

He teamed up with a stateless 30-year-old Sabahan of Filipino descent, Jeknal Adil @ Jek, to kidnap cousins Tung Wee Jie and Tung Wee Wei on Nov 14, 2012, from their birds’ nest farm in Tambisan, Lahad Datu.

So far, two Malaysians – former Universiti Malaya lecturer Dr Mah­mud Ahmad and former Selayang Municipal Council officer Muham­mad Joraimee Awang Raimee @ Abu Nur – have been killed in Marawi City.

Three more Malaysian militants – Amin Baco, Jeknal and Kadaffi Safawi @ Kaddafi Pendek – are on the run in southern Philippines.
In recent days, the Philippine mi­­litary has been saying that the end of fighting in Marawi City is in sight.

Marawi battle has implications for Australians

From The Interpreter published by the Lowy Institute (Oct 24):  Marawi battle has implications for Australians (By Clive Williams)
Recent terrorism-related developments in the Philippines could lead to an increased security threat to Australians in parts of Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia.

Earlier this year, ISIS had portrayed the Philippines as something of a success story to distract from its reverses elsewhere in the world. ISIS titled the tenth edition of its Rumiyah online magazine, released on 7 June, 'The Jihad in East Asia'. The group uses 'East Asia' to mean 'Southeast Asia' but in this case, despite the inclusive title, the article focused almost entirely on the Philippines.

In the magazine, ISIS claimed credit for the 1 June attack on the Resorts World Manila casino that caused 38 deaths, although Manila authorities have ruled out a terrorist motive (the attack was carried out by former public servant Jessie Javier Carlos, a debt-ridden problem gambler, who then committed suicide). It is, of course, not unusual for ISIS to claim attacks it had nothing to do with because it has nothing to lose by doing so.

Rumiyah’s focus on the Philippines also drew international attention to the fighting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and ISIS-affiliated fighters occupying the southern Philippines city of Marawi (population 300,000). The fighting began on 23 May 2017 during an AFP operation to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group who had pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014 (an added incentive was the US$6.3 million reward being offered by the US for Hapilon’s death or capture). Hapilon was reported to be in Marawi to meet with the occupying Maute Group that had pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2015.

The AFP made heavy weather of retaking Marawi because it lacked experience and capability in urban warfare, and it faced stiff resistance from the well-entrenched militants. Rumiyah rejected any possibility of the militants ever negotiating with President Rodrigo Duterte, 'the Crusader taghut of the Philippines', stating that 'soldiers of the Khilafah...only negotiate with their enemies using bullets and bombs.'

The same edition of Rumiyah also contained a lengthy interview with Hapilon, referring to him as the 'Amir of the Soldiers of the Khilafah in East Asia' and identifying him as 'Shaykh Abu Abdillah al-Muhajir'. Hapilon said the pledges of allegiance to ISIS by different Muslim groups in the southern Philippines had given them common purpose and attracted fighters from Southeast Asia and beyond.

On 16 October, acting on information provided by a recovered hostage, the AFP was able to pinpoint the location in Marawi of Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, leader of the Maute Group, and kill them both. Also reported killed, on 19 October, was Malaysian Mahmud bin Ahmad, who had been financing ISIS-affiliated groups in Mindanao. The AFP says it is now in the final stages of securing Marawi.

Fighting through an urban area can be difficult, demoralising, and costly for any army. It was a particular challenge for the AFP in Marawi, where many houses have been built as defendable blockhouses with bunkers to protect the occupants from criminal gangs. The militants also seemed to have learned some lessons from fighting in Mosul, Iraq, using tunnels, pre-positioned munitions, an effective resupply system, IEDs, booby traps and drones to monitor AFP activity and collect propaganda material.

Government sources report 919 militants, 165 AFP soldiers/police, and 47 civilians killed*, though the militants-killed figure is probably inflated. The militants have now mostly melted back into the Lanao del Sur countryside around Marawi where they have local support, to reorganise themselves to fight another day.

While the killing of Hapilon and Omar Maute is a positive counter-terrorism development, the longer-term implications are less positive. It is likely that many more Muslim civilians were killed than acknowledged due to the AFP’s use of unguided bombs to take out small targets, causing considerable collateral damage, while the AFP operations will have driven ISIS-affiliated militant groups (the Maute Group, Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Ansar Khalifa Philippines) closer together and facilitated recruitment of new members.

One of the blowback effects of the reverses ISIS suffered on the ground in Iraq and Syria was revenge attacks against nationals of the countries fighting against it, which led to deadly mass casualty attacks against European members of the US-led coalition, particularly France and England.

If ISIS was to focus on who caused its latest problems in the Philippines, Australia would be well in the frame. The Australian government has been very public about its close defence relationship with the Philippines central government and provision of intelligence support for AFP operations against ISIS-linked groups in Mindanao.

It is doubtful that ISIS in the Philippines has much capability to project attacks into other parts of Southeast Asia, but it could call upon thousands of sympathisers in Indonesia and Malaysia to attack Australians there, and it could make it more dangerous for Australians to travel to resort locations like Bali.

* Figures updated at 4pm, 24/10.


Intel appreciation could have cut short Marawi campaign: Año

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 24): Intel appreciation could have cut short Marawi campaign: Año

If there is anything that the military could have done differently in the five-month battle for the liberation of Marawi City against the Maute Group terrorists, it would be in intelligence appreciation.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año made this statement when asked on what particular adjustments the military could have made to shorten or made the Marawi City campaign less costly or prolonged.

Around 920 terrorists were killed since the campaign in Marawi City started in May 23 while 165 troopers made the ultimate sacrifice in the course of the five-month campaign.

"Siguro yung tinatawag nating appreciation sa intelligence information, marami nang mga dumating na information but we're busy running after terrorists in Sulu (and) Basilan in Maguindanao, so nagkulang tayo ng appreciation na this bunch of Maute-ISIS holed somewhere in Butig and Piagapo, they did the unthinkable which is occupy Marawi, yun nagkulang tayo sa appreciation, " he said.

And if they have time to do this, Año said the AFP could have prepared and deployed more troops and equipment to counter the terrorists aside from employing commanders skillful in the use of intelligence and developing assets in the conflict area.


Kintanar assumes top PAF post Tuesday

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 24): Kintanar assumes top PAF post Tuesday

Lt. Gen. Galileo Gerard Kintanar, Jr., a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1985, will be assuming command of the Philippine Air Force during short ceremonies in Clark Airbase, Pampanga Tuesday afternoon.

He will be replacing Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, a member of PMA Class of 1982, who will be retiring from the service after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.

President Rodrigo Duterte will be leading the change-of-command and retirement ceremonies.

Kintanar is described by his peers as silent worker, strategic thinker and an expert pilot.

He also served as Western Command head, which is headquartered in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, prior to his selection as PAF chief.


Australia to provide urban warfare training to PH troops

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 24): Australia to provide urban warfare training to PH troops

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) would provide Filipino troops urban warfare training, Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne said here Tuesday.

During the Philippines-Australia Joint Conference at the 4th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) Plus, a high-level regional security forum among the regional bloc's member states and other countries, Payne said the ADF would deploy mobile training teams who would provide urban warfare counter-terrorism training in the Philippines in the coming days.

She said the practical training the ADF would provide would ensure that Filipino troops would be more equipped in countering brutal tactics by terrorists.

"Through our significant involvement in the Counter-Daesh campaign in Iraq and Syria, Australia has skills and knowledge that we can share with the Philippines’ Armed Forces," Payne told reporters. Daesh is another term for the Islamic State (IS).

“It’s like made up of mobile training teams, approximately 80 in total. We will go to the appropriate military bases as agreed with the Philippines' Armed Forces and the Philippine Government, to provide the urban warfare training to work with the army and the marines. The focus will be on conducting urban operations,” she added.

The Royal Australian Navy would also conduct ship visits to the Philippines that would involve a range of cooperative activities to help build the Philippine Navy’s capacity, Payne said, noting that this cooperation would begin with next month’s visit of an Australian patrol boat.

She also confirmed that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had agreed to a new range of measures that would strengthen the two countries' cooperation to ensure that the Philippine Armed Forces would be able to face the challenges posed by modern-day terrorism.

“As part of the increased cooperation, we have also agreed to work together to enhance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the southern Philippines; strengthen information-sharing arrangements; and enhance maritime security engagement and bilateral maritime patrols,” the Australian defense minister said.

Australia and the Philippines would also co-host a multiagency civil, military and law enforcement seminar on post-conflict rehabilitation efforts later this year, she said, adding that this would focus on lessons from past operations and international and local civil-military-police expertise that would beef up the Filipino troops’ ability to combat terror threats in the long run.

For his part, Lorenzana welcomed the partnership between Manila and Canberra on the extensive Defence Cooperation Program that provides the mechanisms for military support, intelligence sharing, and people-to-people exchanges.

“Minister Payne and I discussed various programs and activities aimed at strengthening the defense cooperation between the two countries, particularly the possibility of visiting combat training facilities in Australia for some members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), as well as information sharing, maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the growing security concern in the Korean peninsula, and finalizing mutual agreements between the two countries,” he said.

The defense chief said Australia had already offered to provide training based on the Philippines’ needs and Australia’s capabilities, including airspace coordination, urban warfare, and maritime operations.

“While we need the troops now for the training on urban warfare, we also need to build a capacity to… train our troops. So the program that we are going to do in the future is to build our urban fighting centers,” he said.

Lorenzana expressed his gratitude to the Australian government for providing invaluable support to the AFP’s operations against the Maute Group, particularly on increasing operational and situational awareness in the conflict area by providing surveillance planes to help our troops on the ground.

“Truly, the fight against global terror cannot be addressed by one country alone, and we are very much appreciative of Australia’s support for our counter-terrorism program,” he said.

“Together with Minister Payne, I am confident that the Philippines and Australia will continue to strengthen our defense cooperation for the mutual benefit of the two countries,” Lorenzana said.


China guarantees PH partnership on Marawi rehab

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 24): China guarantees PH partnership on Marawi rehab

China Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua on Tuesday said the country could find a "partner" in China as it begins the process of Marawi reconstruction.

This, after China handed over 47 units of heavy equipment to the Philippines on Oct. 23 (Monday) for the rehabilitation and rebuilding of the war-ravaged city.

"I’m glad China is the first country to donate and deliver rehabilitation equipment to the Philippines. There is a Chinese saying, that is, when you want to do something good, then do it timely," said Zhao in a speech sent by the Chinese embassy to the media.

"These equipment arrived just at the time when the reconstruction of Marawi City is about to begin. The donation is timely and they are going to (be) put to use immediately," he added.

At the beginning of the campaign against Islamic State-inspired terrorists, Zhao said China committed to stand together with the Philippines.

"It is not only because combating terrorism is the shared responsibility of all nations, but also, and more importantly, that we are close neighbors, partners,and friends," he said.

China has delivered two batches of rifles and ammunition to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

As per the embassy, the third batch will be delivered in the first half of 2018, with total value of PHP800 million.

Cash donation for the purpose of humanitarian assistance provided by Beijing has reached PHP95 million.

Zhao congratulated the Philippine government, the AFP in particular, on the victory of its anti-terror campaign in Marawi after two key figures of the siege, Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, were confirmed killed in a military operation.

"It was a tough fight in an urban environment but through your determination and bravery, gallantry and combat capabilities, you have proven yet again that terrorism can be defeated and will be defeated," he said.

"I am fully confident that under the wise leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Marawi City will be a complete success," he noted.

"In this important reconstruction process, you will have a friend and partner," he ended.


Marawi now returning to normal: AFP chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 24): Marawi now returning to normal: AFP chief

The situation in Marawi City is now returning back to normal.

This was stressed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año when asked about the situation on the locality after the government officially declared the end of all combat operations in the area.

"The situation in Marawi now is (returning) to normal, we have actually sent off units also going out of Marawi (and) nagde-deploy tayo in preparation sa ASEAN Summit this coming November at saka unti-unti na nating ibabalik yung mga units na kinuha sa Visayas at saka Luzon pero meron pa rin tayong mga pwersang iiwanan dyan sa Marawi," he added.

No skirmishes have been reported as of this time, the AFP chief pointed.

Troops are helping the damage assessment and physical clearing of bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left by the Maute Group which could cause casualties if left unattended.

Asked if he considers the Maute Group defeated after the battering it got in Marawi City, Año replied: "Matagal na, sa tingin ko matagal na panahon yan maga-attempt sila mag-recover, they don't have such capability na ginawa nila katulad dito sa Marawi, ang babantayan lang natin dito yung mga lone wolf attack, yung meron isa dalawa at magpapakitang gilas at magpapasabog ng IED, yun ang babantayan natin na wala sanang mangyaring ganun, pero yung scale na ginawa nila not (Marawi attack), they don't have (that) capability (anymore)."

Around 920 Maute Group terrorists and their allies were killed in the five-month battle that started last May 23 when authorities tried to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and his cohorts.

The AFP chief also expressed confidence that all terrorists had been wiped out in the fighting and all that remains for the military to neutralize is the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.


Lorenzana turns over ADMM chairmanship to Singapore

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 24): Lorenzana turns over ADMM chairmanship to Singapore

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, chairperson of the 11th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and 4th ADMM-Plus, handed over on Tuesday the event's chairmanship to Singapore. 

“Your Excellency Minister Ng Eng Hen, I have the honor to hand over the chairmanship of the ADMM and ADMM Plus to Singapore. I am confident that we will be able to sustain and further enhance our defense cooperation under your leadership. We shall reciprocate the support you have extended to us, and we look forward to the 12th ADMM and 5th ADMM-Plus in Singapore next year,” Lorenzana said in front of ministers from 10 ASEAN member states during the handover ceremony here.

Lorenzana thanked his fellow ministers for making the Philippines' chairmanship memorable with several “first” activities held for the first time which included the convening of special ADMM Meeting on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism, which resulted to a ministerial meeting about this when Marawi broke out.

“Indeed, this year’s meetings have been productive and it would not have been possible without the cooperation of all my fellow defense ministers. It was a challenge to host such an event on such special occasion of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary given the pressing security concerns in the country, particularly in Marawi and duties as Secretary of National Defense,” Lorenzana said.

“With the support and full cooperation extended by my fellow ADMM-Plus ministers, we are able to mark ASEAN’s 50th anniversary with enhanced defense cooperations towards a peaceful and stable region under the theme, Partnering for Change and Engaging the World. I wish to express my appreciation for all your support for the Philippines, ASEAN chairmanship, particularly for the 11th ADMM and 4th ADMM-Plus,” he added.

He said cooperation and new guidelines have been enhanced with the more than 10 years of defense cooperation under ADMM as well as seven years of collaboration with the Plus countries through ADMM-Plus.

“With a decade of defense cooperation behind us, we deemed it timely to take stock all initiatives under the ADMM and came up with ways to streamline, rationalize and synergize these initiatives together and along with those under ADMM-Plus to ensure we do not duplicate our efforts. We have come up with parameters to determine how to streamline ADMM-Plus Experts, Working Groups under the ADMM-Plus,” Lorenzana said. 

The ADMM is the highest defense consultative and cooperative mechanism in the ASEAN.

It was established in 2006.

It aims to promote mutual trust and confidence through greater understanding of defense and security challenges, as well as enhancement of transparency and openness among 10 ASEAN member states namely: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The ADMM-Plus dialogue partners include Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States. It was established in 2010.


ISIS Threat in Philippines Spreads in Remote Battles

From The New York Times (Oct 23): ISIS Threat in Philippines Spreads in Remote Battles

Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front preparing to battle Islamic State-inspired militants in the southern Philippines last month. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times        

DATU SALIBO, Philippines — The leader of the Islamic State in the Philippines, Isnilon Hapilon, is dead. The city his forces seized, Marawi, on the island of Mindanao, is all but completely back in government hands after months of scorched-earth combat.

But the Islamic State’s influence in the Philippines is far from over, and communities on Mindanao are bracing for the next battles.

“I don’t like to fight. But this is our land and we will not let them take this like they destroyed Marawi,” said a veteran Christian militia fighter who goes by the nom de guerre Commander Ilangilang. (She named herself after the tree blossoms that bloom densely around her hometown.

She says it is only a matter of time before the Islamic State’s black flag flutters in the mountainous periphery on the outskirts of Kauran, the farming community where she grew up and where she talked to Times journalists recently, about 90 miles south of Marawi.

“That’s why I have these,” she said, gently tapping her .45-caliber pistol and a separate revolver, both holstered loosely around her thin waist.

The commander said she picked up her first gun when she was 13, in the early 1970s, and her family was embroiled in fighting Muslim separatist rebels in the area.

Arabian Denal, 28, with her 3-month-old son, Johore, inside a makeshift evacuation camp in Tagoloan, Lanao del Norte, last month. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

That separatist movement, and the sectarian and political resentment that drove it, never really went away. It evolved into Muslim militant groups that fought the government for decades, and in recent years proved to be fertile ground for the Islamic State ideology and recruiters, as that Middle East-based movement sought to extend its influence around the globe.

That the old and resilient militant cells here are now being strengthened by the brand and resources of the Islamic State’s international network has people worried all over Mindanao — including even some of the Muslim militants whose former comrades joined the Islamic State.

In a twist that would have been unimaginable even after they signed a peace deal with the Philippine government three years ago, members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, are now leading their former enemies in the army against what some believe could become the next big Islamic State uprising.

They are fighting in the forbidding marshlands of the town of Datu Salibo, about a 130-mile drive south from Marawi.

Local Islamist groups claiming to represent the Islamic State have been trying to recruit the young with promises of cash and adventure, according to Commander Asiong. He is the self-appointed spokesman of the same Christian militia unit that Ilangilang belongs to: Red God’s Army.

Asiong, 60, a former soldier turned community leader, said that even with the militants in Marawi close to total defeat, the Islamic State’s reach on Mindanao has spread. It has been aided by operatives in the Middle East who have posted well-produced videos of the so-called religious war, he said, and particularly by how the Islamic State loyalists in Marawi managed to fight off the government for months.

Navy Special Forces patrolling a lake near the main battle area in Marawi in September. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

Marawi after airstrikes against an Islamic State position in September. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

A Philippine soldier in Marawi last month. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

“They may be close to being defeated in Marawi, but they can spread out,” Asiong said in his tiny shed in Kauran.

His years of army service, spent fighting Muslim militants, have left him with deep scars in his neck and torso, and his left leg was all but cut away to save it after several bullets hit him there.

“They can regroup, join other I.S. allied groups here,” he said, using the initials for the Islamic State. “While we have guns, our community is no match for them. So we pray that the government finishes them in Marawi. If not, there is nothing we can do except to protect ourselves and fight to the death. We will defend our land until troops arrive.”

(On Monday, the Philippine defense secretary declared an end to the fighting in Marawi, saying that the “last group of stragglers” in the siege there had been killed.)

Asiong and Ilangilang spoke to journalists for The New York Times over goat meat stew in Asiong’s hut. As we talked, the sound of explosions kept coming across the distance — mortar fire from an army camp targeting local rebels in a swampy region miles away.

On Christmas Day two years ago, a breakaway faction from the MILF called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, or BIFF, attacked several areas, including Kauran, and killed 11 Christian farmers, Asiong said.

While BIFF says it is not officially affiliated with the Islamic State loyalists who fought in Marawi, the local authorities think otherwise.

The body of an Islamic State fighter killed in a firefight with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Datu Salibo. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters traversing a swamp to fight Islamic State-inspired militants in Datu Salibo. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

The borderlands of Cotabato, Maguindanao and Bukidnon form the heart of Mindanao. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

The rebel force has welcomed the Marawi offensive and has helped divert the army’s attention by attacking nearby civilian communities. In June, as heavy fighting was going on in Marawi, BIFF militants briefly held more than 30 students in the remote town of Pigkawayan, about 50 miles south, forcing the military to spread its forces even more thinly.

A spokesman for the group, Abu Misry Mama, said in a brief telephone interview: “The fighting in Marawi is a good distraction. All I can say is, they do not belong to our group, which continues to fight for a separate homeland. But the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Another of those jihadist friends, a group that has explicitly pledged loyalty to the Islamic State, is fighting government and MILF forces in the marshlands near Datu Salibo.

The Islamic State militants here are headed by the militant commander Abu Turaipe and are believed to number a few hundred. He was once allied with MILF, but broke away in protest over the peace deal with the government.

The swamp battle with the Islamic State militants has been going on since August, but has gotten little press coverage, largely because the area is inaccessible and much of the attention has been focused on Marawi.

Von al-Haq, the MILF’s military commander, said that his fighters were “swimming while attacking, because the swamp waters are very deep.”

But the MILF and army alliance has slowly been winning, and in one offensive last month reported that it had recovered at least 20 improvised bombs and a number of black Islamic State flags.

Nassrolah Gani, a 35-year-old police officer whose unit is helping the military in recovering casualties from the crocodile-infested marshland, said his men would be easily lost in the swamps were it not for their MILF guides.

Boots get sucked off by the mud, and thorny bushes are a natural impediment to moving faster. Their assault rifles often get wet, making them less reliable.
“It’s an open mostly flat marshland, where you are open to sniper fire,” Mr. Gani said. “When you enter the swamps, you’ve already dug your own grave.”

Muslim farmers gathering sweet potato leaves in Amai Manabilang town, Lanao del Sur. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

Villagers discussing the threat of Islamic State terrorism in their town, Midtimbang, in Maguindanao. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

A mosque after Friday prayers in Cotabato city last month. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times

Mr. Gani said the latest intelligence data they received indicated that there were several Malaysian fighters who had joined Abu Turaipe’s group.
Whether they had escaped from Marawi to this new front was hard to tell, but he believes their presence has bolstered the enemy force.

“We used to fight the MILF, but they are now fighting alongside us. So what is the bigger enemy? It is the Daesh-inspired groups,” he added, using another name for the Islamic State.

Rommel Banlaoi, a security analyst who heads the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, says that other southern cities are at increased risk of attack by energized Islamic State loyalists.

“They have won the battle strategically, as they have proven how long they can endure the fight against government forces,” he said, adding that the Marawi battle will stand as an example of “martyrdom that can inspire others."

After the spectacle of the Marawi siege, more foreign fighters will be attuned to the fight on Mindanao, where past government efforts had aimed at ousting Muslims in favor of the Christian majority.

“Mindanao will continue to suffer the challenges of armed conflicts and violence because of many issues associated with the struggle of the people there for self-determination” being advocated by the Muslim forces, Mr. Banlaoi said. “It has simply become the new land of jihad.”

A machine gun mounted by government soldiers to guard Lanao lake near Marawi in September. Credit Jes Aznar for The New York Times       


Lessons learned from Marawi

From Malaya Business Insight (Oct 24): Lessons learned from Marawi

ARMED Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said the military could have done better in the just-concluded battle against the Maute Group in Marawi City had it better appreciated intelligence information about the plan of the Islamic State-inspired group to attack and take control of the city.

He said the military had been so focused on going after the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters Maguindanao prior to the attack on May 23 that it failed to fully appreciate information that reached it.

“It’s in appreciation of intelligence information,” said Año on the area where the military could have improved. “Information reached us but we’re busy running after terrorists in Sulu, in Basilan (and) in Maguindanao,” he said.

Año had targeted to defeat the Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist groups within the first six months of the year. That objective was not attained, partly because the military had to shift focus in containing the Marawi crisis.

“We lacked appreciation (of intelligence information) that these bunch of Maute ISIS holed somewhere in Butig and Piagapo (towns in Lanao del Sur) will do the unthinkable -- which is occupy Marawi,” said Año.

The Marawi siege was led by senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, said to have been named by the Islamic State as its leader for Southeast Asia, and brothers Abdullah and Omar Maute. The three died in the operation.

“It was there where we lacked appreciation. We could have prepared and deployed more troops and we should have assigned commanders with high-level of appreciation of intelligence,” said Año

Año said had the military appreciated the intelligence information, “we could have developed and deployed more intelligence assets in those areas (in Marawi).”

Año, who is due to retire from the service on Thursday, would not acknowledge that the feat in Marawi is the defining moment of his 37-year military career. He assumed the top military post in December last year.

“Not really, this (feat) is team effort. This is still AFP (effort), it so happened that I am the chief of staff and I’m happy that during this critical time, I’m the one at the helm of the AFP,” he said.

Año last month said the conflict would be over before he retires.

Año also said the Marawi conflict should serve as a lesson to the people.

“For so many years that the Maute Group built up in Marawi, not even one gave information to us. Who is at the losing end here? It’s the people of Marawi who did not give us information and didn’t cooperate,” he said.

Videos and documents found by the military showed the Maute had planned for the attack.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced the end of the operations  in Marawi yesterday, after five months of fierce and unfamiliar urban war that has marked the country’s biggest security crisis in years.

The Maute occupation stunned a military inexperienced in urban combat and stoked wider concerns that Islamic State loyalists have gained influence among local Muslims and have ambitions to use Mindanao as a base for operations in Southeast Asia.

Those fears are compounded by the organization of the Maute and its ability to recruit young fighters, lure foreign radicals, stockpile huge amounts of arms, and endure 154 days of ground offensive and air strikes.

President Duterte declared Marawi City liberated six days ago, even though fighting was not actually over.


PNP captures suspected Maute group funder

From Rappler (Oct 24): PNP captures suspected Maute group funder

Aminkisa Macadato is included in the Martial Law Arrest Orders of the Department of National Defense   

 [Video report]

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has captured a suspected funder of the Maute terror group.

Chief Inspector Joselito Brioso , PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) spokesperson, shared to media the initial report on the capture of Aminkisa Macadato on Tuesday, October 24.

According to the report, authorities arrested Macadato in Barangay Paso de Blas, Valenzuela City, on October 7, for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Operatives of the PNP CIDG and Eastern Police District (EPD) found Macadato with a gun and a grenade.

Macadato is included in Martial Law Arrest Orders 1 and 2 of the Department of National Defense (DND) for his supposed connection to the Maute group.

Macadato is a nephew of Farhana Maute, the matriarch of the homegrown terrorist group. (READ: Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi)

According to an ABS CBN News report, Macadato is also suspected of involvement in previous Maute attacks and was in contact with enemy combatants from the Marawi battle zone. (READ: Marawi: 153 days and more).


Alleged Maute terror financier arrested in Valenzuela (Photo)

From ABS-CBN (Oct 23): Alleged Maute terror financier arrested in Valenzuela

Maan Macapagal @maan_macapagal
Aminkisa Romato Macadato, alleged financier & member of the Maute group, arrested by PNP CIDG-NCR operatives in Valenzuela City. @ABSCBNNews