The Philippines, Insurgency, & Implications for the Future

October 12, 2011 | By Robert Murrett

One of the realities of international security is that we tend to pay scant attention to less dramatic, but successful efforts to bolster security overseas.  There are several examples of this, ranging from Latin America to Africa to South Asia.  Among all of these, efforts by the Philippine government and regional allies in Mindanao over the past ten years represent a worthwhile case study.

While there have been shifts in the operational tempo in the southern Philippines since 2002, the operational environment has been illustrative.  The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), in company with roughly 500 U.S. military personnel, have conducted counterinsurgency (COIN) operations with an emphasis on “creating conditions necessary for peace, stability and prosperity.”  Over time, they have largely countered efforts by the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberation Front, and Jemaah Islamiyah to mount terrorist attacks and establish an independent state stretching from Mindanao through the Jolo Islands and beyond.

As AFP and U.S. forces have successfully conducted COIN and Foreign Internal Defense operations (respectively), an important element has been that the Philippine troops have remained genuinely in the lead.  This has been accomplished by a small number of selectively-placed U.S. military personnel focused on building capacity, gathering and sharing information, and civil-military operations.  Specific efforts in these categories have included rule-of-law engagement, medical/dental assistance teams, intelligence sharing, military training and civil infrastructure projects.

In addition to the relative success evident in security gains throughout the southern Philippines, a more important point is that operations conducted there have been more representative of the types of counterinsurgency and internal defense engagement that will be needed in the future.  As we have seen in Columbia, Sierra Leone, Libya, the Balkans, across the Malay Archipelago, and elsewhere, a relatively modest number of U.S./allied troops working hand in hand with credible indigenous forces makes for a powerful combination.  It is also a template for international security engagement that the majority of our close allies and partners will support.  Because of this, the lessons from the southern Philippines are likely to be used as a valuable reference for a variety of security challenges in the future.