Saturday, March 17, 2018

'Governments crawling, ISIS sprinting on social media' – expert

From Rappler (Mar 18): 'Governments crawling, ISIS sprinting on social media' – expert

'The Islamic State has shrunk in the physical space, but in the cyberspace, it is still very capable,' says terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna on Rappler Talk
FIGHTING ISIS. Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna underscores need for governments to collaborate against ISIS. Rappler photo
FIGHTING ISIS. Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna underscores need for governments to collaborate against ISIS. Rappler photo

"Governments are crawling when the Islamic State is sprinting when it comes to social media. Governments must invest more in controlling and containing the spread of terrorist propaganda in cyberspace."

Terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna said governments should double down on the propaganda war, and shouldn't be complacent because of ISIS defeats in battlegrounds in the Middle East and even in Marawi City in the Philippines.
"The Islamic State has shrunk in the physical space, but in the cyberspace, it is still very capable. This issue has not been addressed by governments," Gunaratna said in a Rappler Talk interview with Maria Ressa.

Gunaratna is the author of the 2002 book Inside Al Qaeda, which examines the history and the leadership of the precursor of ISIS.

Today, Gunaratna said encryption is a growing challenge as terrorists organizations move to more secure social media applications.
"While taking care of privacy issues, it is important to address the terroristm issues of the internet," Gunaratna said.

Governments collaboratio vs expanding ISIS

Gunaratna said ISIS is expanding globally as the battle space shrinks in Iraq and Syria. He noted the spate of attacks in Indonesia and Malaysia and warned against more terrorist attacks in the Philippines.

Gunaratna said the Philippines remains an important battleground in Southeast Asia, and governments must learn to collaborate with each other to defeat the extremist ideology. (WATCH: Marawi: 153 days of war)

"Terrorism will remain the Tier 1 national security threat in 2018," he said. "Right now, the single biggest terrorist in the region is located in Mindanao. Although ISIS structures were dismantled in Marawi at great cost, IS still maintains very significant training and operations in the southern Philippines. It is imperative for governments in the region to work with the Philippines to contain and eliminate threat," he said.

Gunaratna said governments must learn to share intelligence information and collaborate to effectively fight terrorism. He said there should be command data bases, exchanges of personnel, and joint trainings.

"Unless there is movement from cooperation to collaboration, the threat in this reigon will grow," he said.

Work with Facebook, Twitter
Gunaratna said governments should work closely with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which have made headway in recent years in containing extremist posts on their platforms.
"We used to blame them in th past. Now they have taken the threat seriously. They have created huge capabilities because they understand that their platforms were used to kill people. They were used to spread hatred. Today they are onboard. Governments should continue to work with them," said Gunaratna.

"This partnership is essential between media and government. Without such partnership, I believe the the threat of ideological extremism and terrorism will persist and may even grow," said Gunaratna.

Sparing ‘lumad’ from terrorist tag not absolute – DND chief

From the Manila Times (Mar 18): Sparing ‘lumad’ from terrorist tag not absolute – DND chief

The Department of National Defense (DND) over the weekend said lumad (indigenous peoples) will not be affected in the government tagging of members of rebel groups as terrorists.

In a statement released on Saturday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana clarified that the label will only apply to leaders, regular fighters and supporters of rebel groups such as the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed wing.

The statement came a day after a group of lumad rallied in front of Camp Aguinaldo, the national headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in Quezon City.

The group said the tagging of the members of the CPP and the NPA as terrorists will result in massive operations targeting them.

“Only lumad who joined the NPA regular ranks and those who actively support the CPP/NPA in whatever form will be included [in the labeling]as terrorists and will be the object of security operations. The rest of the peace-loving lumad need not worry,” Lorenzana said.

The Defense secretary vowed that the indigenous peoples will be protected by the military and police as long as they are not members of the communist rebel groups.

According to non-government organization Save Our Schools Network, 3,000 lumad have fled their communities because of armed conflicts between the Philippine Army and the NPA.

Lanao Sur execs turn over high-powered firearms to authorities

From the Philippine Star (Mar 17): Lanao Sur execs turn over high-powered firearms to authorities                          

LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines — Local officials in a former bastion of the Maute terror group turned in 43 firearms and crew-served military-type weapons to authorities on Friday.

The arms cache, comprised of assault rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers, were turned over by Mayor Ali Sumandar of Piagapo and his constituent-leaders to representatives of the Army’s 103rd Brigade and the provincial police during a simple rite in Marawi City.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. of the Western Mindanao Command said local officials in Piagapo, a component-town of Lanao del Sur, surrendered the weapons through the joint intercession of the Army’s 51st Infantry Battalion and members of the provincial peace and order council, among them Lanao Sur Vice Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr.

Piagapo was one of five Lanao del Sur towns where the Islamic State-inspired Maute terror group first recruited and organized small groups espousing public animosity to non-Muslims and to the government using poverty and underdevelopment as talking points.

Galvez said many other local officials in Lanao del Sur’s 39 towns have sent them feelers to comply willingly with the ongoing firearm reduction campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Senate approves job security, benefits for military reservists

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 17): Senate approves job security, benefits for military reservists

The Senate has passed a measure that would provide job security and other benefits for military reservists.

In a 16-0 vote with no abstention, the Senate approved on third and final reading Senate Bill No. 1698 (The Reservist Employment Rights Act) which promotes the welfare of military reservists in return for their service to the country.

Senator Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV (Bam Aquino Facebook page / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, author of bill, said the Senate recognizes the help of reservists to the military, particularly during calamities in the fight against terrorism.

Aquino said reservists played a key role in the fight to free Marawi City from the clutches of the terrorist Maute Group and in rescue and rehabilitation efforts during calamities.

He said he pushed for the passage of the measure after he was informed during dialogues with members and officials of the Army Reserve Command that some reservists are in danger of losing their jobs as they perform their duty to the country.

“While they risk their lives for the country, they are at risk of losing their livelihood, which should not be the case,” he said.

He was referring to reservists who are entrepreneurs, I.T. professionals, teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, sales agents, security guards and employees of different government agencies.

If enacted into law, the Reservist Employment Rights Act will ensure proper training and compensation for reservists, on top of protection from discrimination in job hiring, reintegration, promotion, or any benefit of employment.

The measure also protects reservists who suffer any injury or disability during their service, ensuring their reintegration to the civilian work force, so long as they can perform the essential function of their original employment.

“Our reservists chose to put their lives on the line for our safety and security. We owe it to them to professionalize the Reserve Force and assure them their employment rights,” Aquino explained.

Strategist Six: Danilo Pamonag

From the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) "The Strategist"(Mar 17): Strategist Six: Danilo Pamonag


Welcome to The Strategist Six, a feature providing a glimpse into the thinking of prominent academics, government officials, military officers, reporters and interesting individuals from around the world.

What are the lessons from the Marawi siege and how did it differ from the siege of Zamboanga City by the Moro National Liberation Front in September 2013?

The Marawi Siege was bigger in both scope and magnitude with more enemies, a larger urban battle ground with tall concrete buildings and many more IEDs and snipers. Tactics, techniques and procedures became more sophisticated with the use of quadcopter drones for ISR. More civilians were affected and many more structures destroyed. The Maute Group and ISIS became increasingly barbarous and brutal, lacking any reasonable comprehension of humanity and compassion.

Gaps in urban warfare skills were identified by both the Secretary of National Defence, Delfin Lorenzana, and President Rodrigo Duterte. Training and reconnaissance assistance, provided particularly by Australia, was based on experience gained in Iraq and Afghanistan. How has the capability of the Philippines military improved?

It has improved a great deal. We now have better equipment than in Zamboanga— more protective armour and better fighting and defence techniques for combat on the ground and in the air. The use of drones in a highly urbanised battle was a particular challenge. Our technical improvements did not guarantee success as our enemies sought refuge in concrete buildings. Both sides learned lessons from the Zambo Siege. I felt the improved logistics process flowing down to our soldiers who were often required to enter tunnels and foxholes.

But more than the hardware, our men showed much greater leadership skills on the front lines and the audacity and determination to prevail at all costs. Ground commanders led from the front and morale was high. There were shortcomings but most were offset by initiative, innovation and ingenuity and the determination of our soldiers to get the job done.

What’s the risk of an ISIS caliphate being established in the Philippines or elsewhere in the region, given that combatants who escaped Marawi could regroup?

The Philippines is strategically located and transit through the region is relatively easy. Had ISIS succeeded in establishing a Caliphate in Marawi, neighbouring countries with large Muslim populations would more easily become prey. It will now take years for these groups to pose such a threat again considering their losses of fighters, leaders and high powered weapons. They also fought without our convictions. Many were paid to fight.

What was significant about their weapons and tactics, and with 165 soldiers and police killed and 1,767 wounded, along with 87 civilians and 920 militants, do you feel that casualties in Marawi were high?

They forced hundreds of hostages to dig tunnels, they used sewerage systems and placed IEDs everywhere. They forced civilians to steal food and money for them, to ransack stores and to find medicine. They used them as medical assistants and nurses for their wounded. They converted captives to Islam and forced them to fight on the front line. If they refused, they’d be killed.

They used people as shields. They used a vast network of tunnels, including the sewerage system and septic tanks. Elderly hostages were forced to make IEDs. Younger hostages were used to run their errands. Many women were physically abused and violated. The Maute Group used illegal drugs as evidenced by the 12 kilos of shabu we recovered. They targeted Christians as hostages while Muslim prisoners were released through a ‘corridor of Peace’ during a truce used to open the way for negotiations.

The aim of this psychological warfare on a civilian population was to establish Wilayat (religious authority) to gain more money, finance and resources. We strive to protect the lives of our soldiers and of civilians trapped in a battle zone which is the main reason the siege lasted five months. We were determined to minimise the number of lives lost and the amount of property destroyed.

Otherwise, we could have drawn it to a conclusion much earlier. The siege was the bloodiest battle our armed forces have faced in recent history. But more than half of our wounded volunteered to return to the fighting. We rescued 1,777 civilians and recovered around 900 high powered firearms. The 920 terrorists we neutralized included 32 from Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and India.

How are these groups funded?

Monitoring and policing terrorist financing is very difficult in a country like ours where borders are porous and where the immigration system is weak. However, our eyes are focusing on the madrasas where recruitment and radicalization could occur. Also, Filipino workers working at Middle East are vulnerable to radicalization. We have some two million Filipinos working there. Many are poorly paid and treated and the environment is conducive to recruitment.

Can Marawi happen again?

Yes, if we refuse to learn its lessons. Support and cooperation from the local populace is important so that we can gather information on extremist activities to properly track their activities and locations. Marawi will happen again if we fail to understand the culture of Muslims in our country. We need to know why some Muslim citizens easily fall prey to recruitment and radicalization.

This, unfortunately, is the result of a long history of struggle and social treatment and a need for recognition. The future hinges on rectifying this. (Muslim traders first reached the Philippines in the 13th century before Islam established itself in the 14th century at least 200 years before the Spanish introduced Christianity).

There’ll be another Marawi-style siege if we don’t strengthen our immigration procedures, our maritime border patrols and regional cooperation. It will happen again if our political leaders do not stand firm, committed and strong in the fight against this extremist ideology. Thwarting the ISIS threat is not for the military alone. Everyone has a role to play, and a task to perform—politicians, youth and religious leaders, teachers, students, social workers, family and friends working together and fighting back as one.

The Maute Group is trying to recover by recruiting new members, mostly relatives and orphans of those killed. It is unlikely to repeat the Marawi attack elsewhere in Mindanao soon as they have yet to recover their capabilities in terms of manpower and firearms. By and large, the Philippines may still be viewed as a centre for jihad in Southeast Asia, as proclaimed by the ISIS, in the context of its objective of establishing a religious state. Foreign militants provide the opportunity to obtain funding from foreign terror organizations. This is evident with the influx of foreign fighters arriving from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Syria and other countries in the Middle East to join with ISIS-inspired recruits in the Southern Philippines. Thus, the influx of foreign fighters to the southern Philippines is likely to persist.

Rebuilding Marawi, is a priority. The government’s commitment to infrastructure building across the nation, including in the south, reconstituting a new Bangsamoro Transition Commission to allow for more voices in drafting basic law for more autonomy, and support for community rebuilding efforts to strengthen local capability are all non-defence initiatives designed to combat militant extremism. Since the siege, many, ongoing assistance programs have been offered by private individuals, corporations and government agencies to the victims and families of the soldiers. All soldiers involved in the battle have been given post-trauma assistance and war-related stress debriefings.

[Author: Lieutenant General Danilo Pamonag was the ground commander in Marawi during the Marawi siege. Nicole Forrest Green is a director of the Australia–Philippines Business Council and Defence Committee chair. Image courtesy of Rappeler via YouTube.]

Soldier, civilian hurt in BIFF attack in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 17): Soldier, civilian hurt in BIFF attack in Maguindanao

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao – A soldier and a civilian passerby were injured when suspected Islamic militants bombed a military outpost here Friday night, police said.

Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, Maguindanao Police director, identified the victims as Corporal Ebrahim Meto of the Army’s 57th Infantry Battalion (IB) and a certain Kamarudin Malang, who was passing by the military outpost at about 9 p.m. in Barangay Pobacion here.

Both are confined at the Maguindanao Provincial Hospital in this town.

Citing police investigation, Tello said two men, believed to be members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), zipped by the area on board a motorbike and tossed a fragmentation grenade towards the roadside detachment.

The two attackers sped away as the grenade exploded at a bamboo fence of the 57th IB outpost.

Tello said the blast also caused panic among residents living near the military detachment.

“Obviously, it was a harassment perpetrated by the BIFF in retaliation for the losses they incurred during air and ground assaults by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) in the SPMS box,” Tello said.

The SPMS box refers to the adjoining towns of Shariff Aguak, Pagatin (Datu Saudi), Mamasapano and Datu Salibo, the areas where BIFF bailiwicks are located.

More than 40 BIFF members were killed during this week’s intensified law enforcement operations by the Army’s 6th Infantry Division with the 57th IB as among the operating ground troops in the SPMS box.

Three soldiers were also injured when the Islamic State-linked BIFF launched diversionary tactics by harassing Army and police stations in the area.

Following the grenade attack, Tello placed all police units in Maguindanao on full alert for possible retaliatory attacks from the BIFF.

PMA grads: Soldiers not just for war, we'll help rebuild Marawi

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 17): PMA grads: Soldiers not just for war, we'll help rebuild Marawi

PMA GRADUATES 2018. The topnotchers of the "Alab-Tala" graduating class 2018 of the Philippine Military Academy when they were presented to media this week. (Photo by Liza T. Agoot)

This year's graduating class of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) is one in saying that soldiers are not just for war, but also for rebuilding communities like war-torn Marawi City in Mindanao.

Cadet Jaywardene Balilea Hontoria, topnotcher of the graduating class collectively called "Alab-Tala", said they have been academically and physically trained by the academy in their four years of rigid studies, preparing them for the real job of a soldier.

Ricardo Liwaden, who is graduating number 2 in the class of 282 cadets, said that while he is a Cordilleran, he would not resist an assignment in Mindanao, where his services are needed.

Brigadier General Jose Faustino Jr., who was recently assigned to the country’s premier military institution after a tour of duty in Mindanao, said the rehabilitation in Marawi is something that the soldiers could actively involve themselves in.

“I am confident that the cooperation of the battalions who will come together, their leadership, their character, will be put to good use and will be a great help for Marawi,” Faustino said.

Faustino said during the Marawi crisis, he had sent battalions of soldiers to the terrorist-gripped city. He said the soldiers' character as public servants and military servicemen served as the model for the graduating class.

The military officer added the problem of Marawi had not stopped, but continues even after rehabilitation.

He said the new PMA graduates now play a big role in helping bring back Marawi on its feet and protecting the country from all forms of security threats.

“There is hope in that region. We just need to immerse with the people to know what they need and want,” said Cadet First Class (C1CL) Mark Dacillo, the 2018 class' number 5 and who hails from Zamboanga City.

Dacillo said they could help in the rehabilitation of Marawi and other“war-stricken areas in the country by immersing themselves in the community.

He said immersion would help build the community's trust in the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and keep peace and order.

C1CL Leonore Japitan from Butuan City, who is graduating number 4, said as a native of Mindanao, she should help address the issues of their community.

Japitan added the AFP must also gain the trust of the poor communities to help keep peace and order.

Sulu town village chiefs yield firearms

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 17): Sulu town village chiefs yield firearms

Photo shows the assorted firearms that were surrendered to the Marine Battalion Landing Team-1 by six barangay chairpersons of Siasi, Sulu. (Photo courtesy: Navforwem PIO)

The heads of six villages in Siasi, Sulu surrendred assorted high powered firearms to troops of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-1 (MBLT-1), the military reported Saturday.

Rear Adm. Rene Medina, Naval Forces Western Mindanao (Navforwem) command chief, said the firearms were surrendered to the 1st Matine Company on Wednesday in Barangay Poblacion, Siasi, Sulu.

Medina said the firearms that were surrendered included the following: four caliber .30 M1 Garand rifle; one M-14 rifle; and, one US-made M1 Carbin rifle with ammunition.

Medina did not identify who were the village heads who surrendered the unlicensed guns.

He said the other barangay chairs in the town of Siasi have also signified intention to turnover their unlicensed firearms.

Siasi, which is a second class town in Sulu, comprises of 50 barangays. The town has a population of 67,705 based on the 2015 census.

Medina said the continuous surrender of firearms is the outcome of the series of community dialogues by the Philippine Marine Ready Force-Sulu.

He said they are confident that more firearms would be laid down by barangay leaders and their constituents in Sulu.

He added the continued cooperation of the military and local government units is beneficial in attaining a peaceful and developed Western Mindanao.

ASEAN, Australia ink pact on counter-terror cooperation

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 18): ASEAN, Australia ink pact on counter-terror cooperation

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney, Australia on Satuday (March 17, 2018) . (Photo courtesy of DFA-Office of Public Diplomacy.)
MANILA – The Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) and Australia on Saturday sealed a historic agreement seeking to bolster regional security, with the joint signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on a Cooperation to Counter International Terrorism on the sidelines of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.

Leading the Philippine government delegation was Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, who represents President Rodrigo R. Duterte for the two-day leaders' dialogue in Sydney.

The MOU is aimed at strengthening the cooperation between the two parties in combating terrorism, counter-terrorism financing, and in the fight against violent extremism.

In a joint statement, the leaders stressed that the crafting of the MOU demonstrates their "joint resolve to stand together" against those who seek to divide communities.

The document intensifies Australia’s annual engagement with the bloc and enshrines practical measures to deepen dialogue across governments and security and law enforcement institutions.

The MOU is supported by programs on technical and regulatory assistance to develop best practices in aid of counter-terrorism legislation, and regional dialogues and workshops on topics, such as electronic evidence, financial intelligence, and countering online radicalization.

"ASEAN nations have a strong record of working together to confront violent extremism and defeat terrorist organizations," the joint statement read.

"In recent years the threat posed by returning foreign fighters and ISIL-linked extremists has grown. It makes today’s cooperation all the more important," it added.

The MOU signing adds to the numerous peace and security cooperation between the two parties, which ranges from cyber and maritime cooperation, in their fight against people trafficking.

Turnbull reaffirms support for Marawi rehab, collab with PH vs. terror

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 18): Turnbull reaffirms support for Marawi rehab, collab with PH vs. terror

STRENGTHENING COOPERATION. Philippine delegation headed by DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano discusses with Australian officials how Manila and Canberra could further strengthen cooperation during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney on Saturday (March 17, 2018). Photo courtesy: DFA-Office of Public Diplomacy
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reiterated Australia's commitment to fully support the government's Marawi rehabilitation efforts as he agreed further to strengthen cooperation with the Philippines against terrorism, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Saturday.

The reaffirmation was made during Turnbull's bilateral meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Australia Special Summit in Sydney.

Saying the war against terror could only be won by working together, Cayetano said Manila is looking forward to develop its counterterrorism cooperation with Canberra.

During the crisis in Marawi City, Australia was among the country's partners who extended assistance, by providing surveillance aircraft that allowed government troops to flush out Islamic militants from the city.

“Prime Minister Turnbull has reiterated Australia’s commitment to help us counter terrorism and asked us what they can do to help in the rebuilding of Marawi,” the official bared.

Aside from counterterrorism, Cayetano and Turnbull discussed human rights and rule of law as well as the West Philippine Sea, and people-to-people relations.

Cayetano then extended gratitude to Turnbull for "Australia’s fair approach to the human rights issue."

On talks regarding the West Philippine Sea, he welcomed the Australian leader's offer to assist the Philippines in further strengthening its rule of law efforts.

During the meeting, Cayetano also expressed the government's appreciation to the humanitarian assistance that Canberra had extended in the aftermath of several natural calamities in the Philippines.

Cayetano later joined the prime minister and other ASEAN leaders in witnessing the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation to Counter International Terrorism between ASEAN and Australia.

The agreement contains practical measures to strengthen counter terrorism efforts among ASEAN member states and Australia that include capacity-building in detecting and disrupting terrorist technology and financing.

In his remarks during the signing ceremony, Turnbull underscored the need for ASEAN and the rest of the region to work together to address the threat posed by violent extremism.

“Prime Minister Turnbull said that it is the responsibility of a leader to protect his people and this is just what President Duterte has been doing by going after not only drug lords and other criminal elements, but also terrorist groups,” Cayetano said.

Joining the DFA secretary in the bilateral meeting were Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo, Ambassador Minda Cruz and other officials from the DFA, DTI and the Philippine Embassy in Canberra.

No offensives vs. Lumad groups: Lorenzana

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 18): No offensives vs. Lumad groups: Lorenzana

The terror tag of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) does not automatically mean massive offensives will be conducted against Lumad groups.

This was emphasized by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a statement released Saturday.

Lorenzana made the clarification after Lumad groups from unknown places demonstrated in front of Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Friday as they expressed fears that they and their communities will be targeted once the CPP-NPA is officially branded as a terrorist group.

"That is not true at all. If and when the CPP-NPA are tagged as terrorists by the court, it will apply only to their leaders, regular fighters and supporters," Lorenzana said.

He also clarified that only Lumads who joined the NPA ranks and those who actively support the rebel group in whatever form will be included as terrorists and will be the subject of security operations.

"The rest of the peace loving Lumads need not worry. They will be protected by the military and police," the DND chief added.