When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

17 February 2007

Jihadists in Paradise

Mark Bowden's new article, "Jihadists in Paradise," is behind the subscription firewall at The Atlantic, which is a damned shame.

It tells the story of how the Philippine military -- with plenty of technical and financial assistance from the United States -- hunted down and killed Muslim insurgent guerrillas who were kidnapping both locals and foreigners and holding them for ransom:
Over the next year and a half, [terrorist ringleader] Aldam Tilao would in fact be hunted down and cornered, in a Philippine military operation that involved the CIA and the American military. Eliminating him was a small, early success in what the Bush administration calls the “global war on terror”; but in the shadow of efforts like the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it went largely unnoticed. As a model for the long-term fight against militant Islam, however, the hunt for Tilao is better than either of those larger engagements. Because the enemy consists of small cells operating independently all over the globe, success depends on local intelligence and American assistance subtle enough to avoid charges of imperialism or meddling, charges that often provoke a backlash and feed the movement. [italics added - bc]

The United States would play a crucial but almost invisible role in finding and killing Tilao, enlisting the remarkable skills of the Philippine marine corps for the most important ground work, and supplying money, equipment, and just enough quiet technological help to close in for the last act. Such an approach does present problems; the Philippine operation exposed some of the legal, logistical, and moral challenges of this kind of work. For one thing, the Americans worked hand in hand with Philippine forces who almost certainly murdered people standing in the way of their intelligence operation.
This is a long, terrific and tremendously important article; it describes an operation that could serve as a model for a long-term, sustainable strategy in the fight against terrorism (not "the" strategy, but "a" strategy.)

P.S. There's plenty of good stuff in the March 2007 edition of The Atlantic; if you don't subscribe, this story alone makes it worth picking up at the newsstand. (I think The Atlantic is one of the most consistently interesting and fair-minded publications on the market right now, and $24.50 for an annual print + online subscription is a bargain; it's the only monthly we subscribe to that I more or less read cover to cover every month.)

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