Philippine City is a Battleground in Global Fight Against Extremism by Will Edwards, The Cipher Brief
Last week, General Eduardo Ano, the Philippines Chief of Staff, said he hoped that the city of Marawi would be liberated from Islamist militants before June 12, the country’s Independence Day.
The deadline has come and gone, but the fighting continues. Islamist militants still hold about a fifth of the city of Marawi. Fighters from an ISIS-affiliated coalition formed from the Abu-Sayyaf and Maute groups, who seized portions of the city May 23, have dug in and are now repelling sustained air and ground assaults by Philippine forces. A military spokesman in Manila said that 58 soldiers and police officers and 26 civilians have died and that 206 militants have been killed. The spokesmen added that 100 more fighters may remain in Marawi, and though most of the city was evacuated weeks ago, 300 to 600 civilians may remain trapped within the city.
The Philippines has struggled with insurgencies for decades. Historically, its island geography complicated Manila’s centralized authority, particularly over the southern province of Mindanao where Marawi is located. Tensions between the Catholic majority and Muslim minority have generated religious strife. These conditions have produced several insurgent groups who ascribe to Maoist or militant Islamist ideologies. The latter have grown increasingly bold in recent years.
Several new factors now in play make the ISIS-linked coalition different. The ISIS drive to establish a global caliphate has given common cause to formerly unaffiliated groups. Richard Heydarian, a professor at De La Salle University and Cipher Brief expert, says that the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute insurgencies have rallied “under the flag of the so-called Islamic State.” More troubling, according to Heydarian, is the “internationalization” of these groups. Foreign fighters have poured into Marawi from as far afield as Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Chechnya and are now battling to establish a Wilayat, or foreign province, for ISIS’ global caliphate.
Experts have not assessed the strength of the relationship between insurgent groups in the Philippines and ISIS’s central command in Iraq. The Filipino insurgents may be paying lip service to ISIS, hoping to attain prestige through association. Or they may benefit directly by receiving funding, supplies, or fighters. Either way, ISIS has used the attack in Marawi as powerful propaganda to support its call for global jihad…