ISIS in Mindanao: A Threat to the U.S.?

ISIS in Mindanao: A Threat to the U.S.? By Dave Maxwell - Hoover Institution The Caravan

We should be clear: Mindanao is not Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan.  We cannot approach a province of our longest standing treaty ally the same way we do in Syria or any of the other 18 or so countries to which the ISIS virus as spread.

As ISIS nears defeat in Syria and Iraq it is trying to keep its ideology alive by spreading to other countries where it is taking advantage of conditions of political resistance that weaken governments and provide safe havens for training, recruiting, and eventual resurrection of its quest for the Caliphate.  This is what appears to have attracted ISIS to Mindanao.  The attraction is mutual, as threat groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Maute Group have embraced the ISIS ideology to enhance their legitimacy and gain recruits, resources, and respect.  

Does this phenomenon in the Philippines and its neighboring countries pose a significant security threat to the U.S. that requires a U.S. military response? …

Read on.

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This was an informed commentary by a former JSOTF-Philippines Commander, but his argument that ISIS in Mindanao does not present a direct threat to the U.S. homeland needs to be put in context. This is a true statement now, but the situation can evolve rapidly. A large number of Filipinos travel and reside in the U.S., so it is not unreasonable to believe that ISIS in the Philippine will be able to conduct operations external to the Philippines, to include in the U.S., in the future. It is generally best to mitigate the problem left of bang, and working with our partners in the Philippines is the best way to do this, and Dave presents a number of solid recommendations for doing so.

One very important point explained in this piece, is that the Philippines must deal with a number of threat actors that collectively challenge the capacity of their security forces. A U.S. approach that focuses on specific Islamist organizations versus the collective security challenge is ineffective, and ultimately self-defeating. We do this in other countries also, which is why I forecast we will see these partners turn to other countries for support, to include Russia.

Another key point in his commentary, is we will not have long term success unless the Philippines provide effective governance in these affected areas. I think we are too quick to take full credit for the success of our partners in our own revisionist history. In El Salvador, U.S. advisors provided critical assistance, but ultimately it was changes in their government and the loss of Soviet support that resulted in the insurgency being defeated. The much hyped Columbian and Philippine counterinsurgency models were not in themselves successful, they were part of a larger overall context. In Columbia, success didn't materialize until a few significant events motivated the government to make needed reforms and aggressively pursue the insurgents. In the Philippines, our advisor support has been helpful, but there will be no light at the end of the tunnel until the Philippine government implements certain reforms and treats their Muslim population as brothers and sisters as fellow Philippine nationalists.

What the Philippine and Columbia U.S. FID/COIN models do is limit our role to a supporting role (unlike Vietnam). Ultimately, it is up to our partners to win, and for Type A Americans that can be a hard pill to swallow at times. That doesn't mean we can't and shouldn't act unilaterally to pre-empt an attack against U.S. interests. It does mean we need to patient, and work collectively with our interagency partners to help our partners implement needed reforms.

From COL Maxwell's article above:

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As ISIS nears defeat in Syria and Iraq it is trying to keep its ideology alive by spreading to other countries where it is taking advantage of conditions of political resistance that weaken governments and provide safe havens for training, recruiting, and eventual resurrection of its quest for the Caliphate. This is what appears to have attracted ISIS to Mindanao. The attraction is mutual, as threat groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Maute Group have embraced the ISIS ideology to enhance their legitimacy and gain recruits, resources, and respect.

Does this phenomenon in the Philippines and its neighboring countries pose a significant security threat to the U.S. that requires a U.S. military response?

END QUOTE

Re: the question -- posed immediately above by COL Maxwell -- how might we answer same; this, in consideration of, shall we say, the "containment threat" ideas being presented in the report below?

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A New Era of Competition: The Growing Threat from Authoritarian Internationalism as a Global Challenge to Democracy. By Christopher Walker, July 13, 2017:

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that democracies long failed to realize that a new era of competition was underway between autocratic and democratic states. Such competition is visible in a number of spheres, including geopolitics. But it is massive investments in their own autocratic forms of “soft power” that have enabled regimes in Russia and China to make dramatic inroads in challenging the integrity and prestige of the democratic systems of the West. ...

The forces working against democracy are not limited to any single country or region but instead have multiple sources. First among these is a group of influential and ambitious authoritarian states that have organized themselves to directly contest democratic development and ideals. Regimes in Russia, China, Iran, and elsewhere are devoting vast resources and a good deal of thought to making the world more agreeable to their interests, which favor governance systems based on the monopolization of politics and state control. Another way of looking at this is that trendsetting authoritarian powers have made a priority of containing democracy, applying a twist to the ideas expressed in George Kennan’s “X-Article” that argued for a policy of containment to combat the spread of Soviet influence. ...

At the same time, illiberal non-state actors, including ISIS and other Islamist extremist groups, are pursuing a complex, global strategy to disrupt the current political order. Democrats are front-line targets of these radical groups, whose violent vision and actions pose a threat to the governance structures in settings that have already been made fragile by decades of authoritarian misrule, including many countries in the Middle East and Africa.

The wider erosion of democracy is also visible in countries that not long ago were seen as democratic hopefuls. The swift decline in democratic accountability in countries as diverse as Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary, South Africa, Bangladesh, and Tanzania is indicative of the global scope of what could be called a spreading “authoritarian virus”. ...

A perception is now taking hold that raises doubts about the global balance of power, and we may be approaching a tipping point at which the balance shifts toward authoritarian forces. If such a swing in the balance were to occur, it would dramatically change the world we live in into one that would no doubt be more corrupt, unstable, and hostile to the interests of EU members, as well as the United States. The new competition from the forces hostile to democracy requires a more serious, concerted, longer-term response. ...

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http://www.kas.de/wf/en/33.49464/ (Note that this article by Christopher Walker is listed in the September 15, 2017 "Congressional Research Service" report entitled: "A Shift in the International Security Environment: Potential Implications for Defense — Issues for Congress," by Ronald O'Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs." https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R43838.pdf. Therein, see Appendix "A," and the section which lists "citations from January through June 2017" on Page 21.

Bottom Line Question -- Based on the Above:

Thus, as to the "containment threat" -- the "new competition from the forces hostile to democracy" point-of-view -- provided in the Christopher Walker report above -- how do we answer the question that COL Maxwell's poses at the beginning of his article here, to wit: "Does this phenomenon in the Philippines and its neighboring countries pose a significant security threat to the U.S. that requires a U.S. military response?"