Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2002 / 29 Shevat, 5762
Thomas H. Lipscomb
Less than a week after the first American troop advisers arrived, and despite assurances from American Adm. Dennis Blair that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was not a target for U.S. action, the radical Moros have effectively declared war on the United States.
In a statement Tuesday, the Moros declared that they "will not hesitate to open fire on American troops if Americans intrude on MILF territory." The avowed purpose of the Moros has always been the liberation of Mindanao, the large south island of the Philippine archipelago, from the central government in Manila.
The Philippines, under President Gloria Arroyo, is officially America's ally against the al-Qaida supporters of Abu Sayyaf. But it now appears that the fragile truce between Arroyo's government and the separatist parties in Mindano has been broken by her acceptance of American intervention against the allies of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida.
And more important issues concerning the existence of the Philippines itself will be decided in this campaign than the destruction of the Abu Sayyaf.
The Moros of Mindanao are adherents of Islam whose fights for independence bedeviled the Spanish colonial government and sparked a war that American troops under Gen. John Pershing and others had to put down almost a century ago. They have been a problem long before the Abu Sayyaf.
Since the Moro territory is only a few miles from perhaps the most radical Islamic power center in troubled Malaysia, the Moros can be supplied with arms and equipment from outside sources as well as from their dealings with the corrupt Philippine army. While carrying firearms in other parts of the Philippines is illegal, heavily armed Moros walk freely in Mindanao.
If the Philippine government gets bogged down in Mindanao against the newly insurgent separatist forces, it is even more vulnerable to an attempt at a coup by the larger New People's Army, a communist-led movement, on the island of Luzon where the capital Manila is located.
And the 650 American "advisers" intended to deal with a few hundred Abu Sayyaf will have to be substantially reinforced if they have to take on the challenge of thousands of Mindanao Moro separatists, much less the communist army, in a campaign 500 miles north that might endanger Manila, Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base.
U.S. forces are aware of current developments. There has been nothing secretive about the troop movements or declared purposes of the separatists in Mindanao, and the communist army has already shot up an American plane landing at Clark.
The rumor mill on Mindanao predicts a concentration of thousands of Moros on the small island of Basilan, where the Abu Sayyaf are thought to hold three hostages, including the American missionary couple the Burnhams. But it is unlikely they will be that stupid. The worst mistake the Viet Cong guerrillas made against American forces in Vietnam was trying to take them on in direct engagements during the Tet offensive.
They were virtually annihilated.
Military historian Victor Davis Hanson views the question as one of American resolve: "If the Mindanao separatists do fire on American troops, it will be another test like Somalia. Is the U.S. political will up to this kind of confrontation?" But he has few doubts that the United States would ultimately prevail.
What are the odds on a last stand by the most highly motivated Moro light
irregulars? A French officer observing the courageous British cavalry in the
Crimean War's "charge of the Light Brigade'' being blown to pieces by Russian
artillery may have it about right: "It's magnificent, but it isn't
Thomas H. Lipscomb is the director of the Center for the Digital Future in New York. An an editor and publisher for many years, most recently as head of Times Books, he is also the founder of two public companies in digital technology. To comment, click here.