Jewish World Review May 31, 2002 / 20 Sivan, 5762
Thomas H. Lipscomb
The U.S. commander in charge of US operations in the Southern Philippines, General Donald Wurster, claims "we're looking for them." But outside of passive reconnaissance by overflight and electronic means, US Forces have been directly prevented from "looking for them" by the Philippine Government. On a trip to Basilan Island where the Burnham's are reportedly still being held by the Abu Sayyaf terrorists who kidnapped them, Wurster's commander, the new PACOM chief General Thomas Fargo stated two weeks ago that he was "happy with what the US forces have been doing down here."
What US forces have been doing under the tight restrictions of the agreement with the Philippine Government is marginal at best. They were supposed to train 5,000 Philippine Armed Forces so that they could operate more effectively against the Abu Sayyaf terrorists and other Islamist separatist groups like the MLF (Moro Liberation Front) and MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) as well as other US troops doing engineering construction work on Basilan Island. But since the arrival of the American forces there has yet to be a confirmed casualty of an Abu Sayaaf or any other terrorists by Philippine Armed Forces and the construction work on Basilan Island may require American military engineers to continue working after other forces are withdrawn when the agreement expires in mid-July.
In the meantime the groups targeted for special attention by this joint agreement, such as the Abu Sayyaf, have been remarkably quiet, almost as if they are waiting out the clock for the agreement to expire and the Yankees go home. This is not the fault of the US military. They have been operating under an agreement negotiated between the United States government and the Philippine government. But there has been serious disagreement between the Department of State and the Department of Defense over key issues as time runs out.
In an attempt to free the Burnhams last month, the Department of State insisted that the Abu Sayaaf terrorists be paid $300,000 ransom against strident Pentagon objections. The money was carried to Basilan Island by Philippine President Gloria Arroyo's personal representatives and split between them and Abu Sabaya, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf. Abu Sabaya never paid the ransom money he received to the Abu Sayaaf and has been hiding out from his former comrades on Mindanao ever since.
The links between the Islamist separatists and terrorists on Mindanao and the Al Qaeda have only become more apparent from the intelligence information accumulated and collated in the aftermath of 9/11. Under the direct sponsorship of Osama bin Laden's close friend, Saudi Arabian Sheik Hamad, the Mindanao-based Haraka group has distributed millions of dollars of Saudi and Libyan funds through bin Laden's Philippine brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa,to Abu Sayyaf and others. The support of this insurrection has continued in the face of American involvement. Osama bin Laden's Philippine brother-in-law, wife and son are believed to have been secretly flown from Santos on Mindanao to Saudi Arabia last fall and currently living there.
But with only six weeks left in the American-Philippine military agreement it is hard to find any material difference in the power of the Al Queda-supported forces there or improvement in the stability of the fragile Philippine central government under President Gloria
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.