The fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is drawing to its inevitable close. Though the U.S. will stay in Syria for as long as possible, it already appears to have essentially conceded to its Russian counterpart. There will be little else it can do except act as a buffer to the Syrian government along the strategic Al-Tanf border crossing.
As ISIS’ territory in Iraq and Syria is almost all but eroded, many commentators are wondering what will come next for the terror group. One Kurdish official predicted ISIS would morph from a territorial entity into something akin to “al-Qaeda on steroids,” which doesn’t seem unlikely. According to Foreign Affairs, there are ISIS members who are essentially defecting simply because the terror group is no longer extreme enough for their views.
However, in terms of finding new territory to inhabit, it seems convenient to the goals of America’s imperialist military that the Philippines is set to be ISIS’ next target. The U.S. has had its sights on the Philippines since 2017.
An ISIS-linked insurgency exploded in the country earlier last year, and the U.S. military assisted in the Philippines’ government crackdown (without President Rodrigo Duterte’s consent). However, the Military Times asserts that even while local forces — with American assistance — eventually retook areas of Mindanao, the insurgents “made them pay a heavy price” for over three months.
Duterte’s victory over the ISIS-linked insurgents, however, may be short-lived. From Foreign Policy:
“The situation on the ground in the southern Philippines is uncertain today. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte proclaimed Marawi ‘liberated’ on Oct. 17, one day after his security forces killed Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, the top two leaders of the jihadis in Marawi. However, looming insecurity and a humanitarian crisis will pose a major challenge to reconstruction efforts in Marawi, and extremism is likely to increase among the population in response to the bloody government counterterror campaign and threaten the peace process between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Meanwhile, experts suspect Duterte might have inflated enemy casualty statistics in order to declare Marawi liberated, making it possible for surviving fighters to return to localities where they enjoyed local support and to regroup for future combat.”
According to the Military Times, the Philippines is “ripe for ISIS recruitment, due to sectarian tensions between the country’s Muslim communities, primarily located on Mindanao, and its Catholic and Protestant populations in northern Philippines.”
But history shows that sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians do not necessarily lead to ISIS-inspired insurgencies considering Muslims have a long history of residing in the Philippines. Perhaps it takes something extra for the roots of Islamic extremism to take hold.
In an article for the Washington Post, CNN Host Fareed Zakaria wrote the following:
“In Southeast Asia, almost all observers whom I have spoken with believe that there is another crucial cause [behind the ‘cancer’ of Islamic extremism] – exported money and ideology from the Middle East, chiefly Saudi Arabia. A Singaporean official told me, ‘Travel around Asia and you will see so many new mosques and madrassas built in the last 30 years that have had funding from the Gulf. They are modern, clean, air-conditioned, well-equipped – and Wahhabi [Saudi Arabia’s puritanical version of Islam].’ Recently, it was reported that Saudi Arabia plans to contribute almost $1 billion to build 560 mosques in Bangladesh. The Saudi government has denied this, but sources in Bangladesh tell me there’s some truth to the report.”
The Week explained two years ago that Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars “investing heavily in building mosques, madrasas, schools, and Sunni cultural centers across the Muslim world.” According to the Week, these Saudi-sponsored “institutions and clerics preach the specifically Saudi version of Sunni Islam, the extreme fundamentalist strain known as Wahhabism or Salafism.”
This is more or less the same strand of Islam that ISIS has employed to hold the world ransom.
According to a leaked memo obtained by WikiLeaks signed by Hillary Clinton, “[d]onors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Other cables released by WikiLeaks explain how Saudi front companies are also used to sponsor terrorism overseas.
Dr. Yousaf Butt, a senior advisor to the British American Security Information Council and director at the Cultural Intelligence Institute, explains that the Saudis’ reach has extended far beyond the Middle East and into the Philippines, as well. Dr. Butt explains:
“In many places in poor Muslim countries the choice is now between going to an extremist madrassa or getting no education at all. Poverty is exploited to promote extremism. The affected areas include Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, India and parts of Africa.”
The link between Saudi Arabia’s overt support for terrorism and the Philippines is more than just a suspicion. One WikiLeaks cable, dated November 2, 2005, stated the following:
“Philippine officials noted their continuing concern about Saudi-origin terrorist financing coming into the Philippines under the cover of donations to mosques, orphanages, and madrassahs. Although three Saudi nationals suspected of being couriers had been detained on separate occasions, Saudi Ambassador Wali had intervened in each case to secure their release.”
In February 2017, Philippines’ Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told Reuters “there’s quite an amount of money being sent here from the Middle East,” specifically noting that large numbers of Filipinos regularly remit income from places like Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states.
Where ISIS goes, the U.S. military will surely follow. In fact, the U.S. now has a documented history of allowing ISIS to travel to the places that it is vying to bomb. Further, under the Obama administration, the U.S. was already secretly bombing the Philippines with little to no media coverage.
The U.S.’ renewed infatuation with the Philippines, however, has nothing to do with wanting to eradicate an Asian-Pacific jihad. In reality, the U.S. is currently locked in an intense battle for control over the region against longtime adversaries Russia and China, which have continued to strengthen their ties with Duterte.
Further, according to the Military Times, the Pentagon recently changed its assistance mission in the Philippines from Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines to Operation Pacific Eagle, a move that “highlights a new, ramped up counterterrorism focus in the region.” Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines is considered the largest U.S. counterterrorism effort in the Pacific theater. And it’s about to get bigger.
“The Philippines and United States governments remain steadfast in their alliance and are committed to countering radicalization and violent extremism in the Philippines and Southeast Asia,” said Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, according to the Military Times. “To support these efforts, and at the request of the government of the Philippines, we have enhanced our comprehensive counterterrorism cooperation that supports the Philippine Security Forces.”
As of September 30, 2017, there were approximately 100 U.S. troops, mostly Marines, in the Philippines, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center.