Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Bowden on Hunting the Abu Sayyaf

Mark Bowden has a long feature in the Atlantic on hunting the Abu Sayyaf, entitled Jihadists in Paradise . He details the search for one of the kidnappers of the Burnhams. Abu Sabaya. He has cool video interviews, including UAV surveillance footage. Unfortunately the article is requires a subscription, but if you read Bowden's opening and compare it to my piece on the Islamic insurgency at Pajamas, you will see that both of us regard the Sulu Sea frontier, if not the most famous theater of the terrorist war, as certainly among the most picturesque. Here's an excerpt from Bowden, but read the whole thing:


The Sulu Sea is a dazzling and distinct maritime domain, a roughly rectangular patch of Pacific Ocean defined by two chains of small islands—the peaks of volcanic ridges—that parallel each other at a distance of about 300 miles, reaching northeast from the coastline of Borneo to the main body of the Philippine Islands. Tracing a line along the northwestern end is a long, thin island called Palawan. The southeastern boundary is more punctuated, a chain of nearly a thousand small islands called the Sulu Archipelago. The enclosure creates a kind of oceanic lake, sheltered on all sides from strong currents. Its waters are generally calm and stunningly clear. The conditions are ideal for the formation of reefs, which attract scuba divers from all over the world. ...

It was from one of the area's rebel bastions, the island of Basilan, that twenty-one gunmen in military fatigues and long-sleeved black shirts boarded a flat wooden speedboat and embarked on a daring overnight run across the entire 300 miles of the Sulu Sea. The date was May 27, 2001. With three huge outboard motors, the thirty-foot craft was built for velocity, not comfort, bounding at high speed from crest to crest, its flat bottom occasionally slapping down hard in the troughs. The men were all members of a relatively new Islamist faction called the Abu Sayyaf, which roughly translates to "The Bearer of the Sword." They carried machine guns and the traditional long, single-edged machetes known as bolo knives. The larger world was as yet ignorant of their cause—Mohammed Atta was still polishing his flight skills in Florida, three months away from 9/11—but these Filipino guerrillas were already veteran jihadists.

Read about their attack and the inexorable vengeance that followed.

9 Comments:

Blogger sam said...

General Hermogenes Esperon said that the Southeast Asian nation’s military had largely neutralised the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic rebel group with links to the regional Jemaah Islamiah militant network.

“The biggest threat is the New People’s Army (NPA), the communist organisation,” he said in an interview in his office at military headquarters.

“We consider them as the long-term threat to national security. They want to subvert our democratic way of life by using our democratic space.”


Communists Main Threat

2/06/2007 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The Abu Sayyaf as a splinter group has probably been mortally wounded. No matter. The Islamic insurgency will probably throw up another "splinter group". They are waves on the sea. The waves vanish. The sea remains.

As to the NPA, note the words Esperon used: "They want to subvert our democratic way of life by using our democratic space." The translation is this. The Communists and the National Democratic Front (their political arm) have dominated the Sectoral Representive nomination process. Under the Philippine Constitution, a certain number of Congressmen are nominated to the House. Many of these are Communist front men. They then take the Congressional allocations for their districts, which amount to millions of dollars, and essentially launder them into rebel coffers. The Communists, though few in number, have a disproportionate hold on the media, the academe and the NGOs. Today, they levy a "campaign tax" on all candidates for the privilege of running for office within their areas. Their spokesmen are on TV practically every day. Most recently they have tried to turn the trial of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who may or may not be guilty, into a lynching. I have it, on good authority, that the Philippine military is about to be charged with extrajudicial killings of Communist cadres. No doubt some of these are true charges. But I have it on equally good authority that the Left has inflated the lists and that they will present a list of about 800 persons as having been "murdered" whereas the real number may be smaller.

That's the background.

2/06/2007 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger sam said...

Thanks, Wretchard. Interesting stuff.

2/06/2007 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger Elam said...

I'm considering subscribing to read this. Is The Atlantic a good read?

The subscription page has a pic of GW with the words "Why Presidents Lie". hmm. I'd hate to waste $24.00 to read one good story.

2/06/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

elam,

I wouldn't spend $24 to read one story. If you've already got the subscription, then ok. I guess I should say that the Bowden article consists largely of interviews and video footage with dramatic connecting paragraphs.

The main points of interest are how Osama Bin Laden was known to the Abu Sayyaf, and in fact they wanted to describe themselves as his minions, before 9/11. The other aspects of the story which are fascinating to me, at least, are the ways in which the local operators and the US personnel interfaced. In one interview, for example, a local officer ruefully describes how he learned, by experience, what things US agencies could and could not do. What things they could or could not "say". But being a perceptive man, he took the situation for what it was and made the disparate parts work.

From my own limited experience I will add that it is the people in the field that make things work, the organizational niceties be damned. It is individuals who are committed to the mission that keep things turning over. The Red Tape, left to itself, would strangle an elephant. So, we see the Philippine Marines running intelligence ops without money. Americans doing whatever they "can", careful not to overstep their bounds; hoping it will be enough and probably doing more than we will ever know. And then we have the astounding story, dramatically told by Bowden, of the Filipino Marines deciding not to take any chances but to ram the Abu Sayyaf speedboat on the darkened waters of the Sulu Sea. None of this they had to do; they did it for the most unfathomable things: patriotism, loyalty and yes, for love.

2/06/2007 09:32:00 PM  
Blogger 2164th said...

This is OT, but a real treat, well written and light take on our astroturfed scorned inspaced-out chick attack. Bobw over at Wilsonizer advice on Astro-nots.

2/06/2007 11:27:00 PM  
Blogger Anointiata Delenda Est said...

W said...

None of this they had to do; they did it for the most unfathomable things: patriotism, loyalty and yes, for love.


Oh dear, now the lawyers know. The love won't count.

ADE

2/07/2007 12:50:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

The US state dept is contemplating letting in a flood of Iraqi refugees.

Please God do not let more moslems into the USA.

2/07/2007 06:59:00 AM  
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2/19/2007 02:28:00 PM  

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