U.S. special operations forces in the Pacific have made significant progress in the past year battling the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Philippines.
“Abu Sayyaf [. . .] has been mitigated very successfully by the government of the Philippines and their security forces,” said a senior officer of the Special Operations Command-Pacific, known as SOC-PAC, which is supporting operations against the Islamist group.
“In the past year, several of their key leaders have been killed.”
The officer said during a background briefing in Honolulu, where the SOC-PAC has its headquarters, that the remaining Abu Sayyaf members are divided and fighting among themselves over who will replace leaders who have been killed.
Additionally, electronic “chatter” picked up from the group about plans for attacks against Filipino and U.S. targets revealed that “it’s just that, chatter,” the officer said, noting that in the past such chatter has led to actual attacks.
“So their ability to turn chatter into action has been substantially mitigated in the past year,” the officer said.
The officer would not say that the group has been defeated, but another sign of its growing weakness as an Islamist terrorist force is that many members of Abu Sayyaf are turning themselves in to Philippines authorities.
“This is a great success for the Philippine government,” he said, noting that many were disarmed, debriefed and reintegrated back into society. Some received cash rewards for giving up their Abu Sayyaf membership.
The success against Abu Sayyaf is an indirect result of U.S. special forces troops — Army, Air Force and Navy commandos — who helped train and assist Filipino security forces. A key element of the assistance has been the provision of military equipment and intelligence.
A second major U.S. special operations effort in the Pacific is support to the Indonesian government in battling another al Qaeda-linked group, Jemaah Islamiyah, that operates throughout Southeast Asia.
Jemaah Islamiyah “is a little tougher target because Indonesia, unlike Philippines, is a Muslim country,” the officer said.
“In Indonesia the difficulty is that the government is playing hardball against this group but at the same time is catering to the ideological bent of the society,” the officer said, noting that a lot of “empathy” for the group exists in Indonesia, making countering it more difficult.
Pacific Command-based special operations commandos currently are working with local forces in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.