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Abstract: A Diamond in the Rough: the Basilan counterinsurgency Model. Referred to as the “Basilan model” due to its success on the Abu Sayyaf stronghold on Basilan Island, Philippines, the indirect “Diamond Model” of counterinsurgency establishes a comprehensive framework between the host-nation government, the insurgents, the local populace and international actors.
Global War on Terror (GWOT)
A common theme of recent American presidential candidates has been to end our military presence in Iraq as quickly as possible. When pressed for specifics, most candidates casually mention leaving Special Forces (SF) and other specialty units to continue nation building and the training of Iraqi forces that are expected to fill the void of departing coalition forces. Of greatest necessity is to eliminate the ongoing insurgency that has continued to plague the coalition and Iraqis by reducing insurgents’ warfighting capabilities. The classic guerrilla strategy is not necessarily to win, but to hold out and keep the other side from winning. Nowhere is this stratagem more prevalent than the ongoing war in Iraq.
As the Iraq War and the Global War on Terror enters its fifth year, greater attention has been paid to the long term effects of American involvement in Iraq. Despite the muddled reasons for entering into war to depose Saddam Hussein and now combating the insurgency, there remains the moral obligation to return the country to some form of normalcy and to create an environment to allow the nascent democracy to take root. However, in order to provide an improved opportunity to bring peace to Iraq, a better methodology is needed to stabilize the country. This paper will illustrate a method of defeating insurgency by using a synergistic approach that depends not only on combat operations and diplomatic negotiations but, more importantly, on building the trust of the civilian population to support their government against an insurgency.
9-11, al Qaeda and Abu Sayyaf
Despite their initial success in attacking America on September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network had to adapt their organization significantly due to US and coalition forces’ dramatic successes in Afghanistan, and later, during the continued occupation of Iraq. As an expected reaction to the overwhelming firepower brought to bear by the United States and coalition forces, al Qaeda transformed itself into a far more cellular and “flatter” organization, creating coalitions of its own in order to help spread violence throughout Iraq and ultimately globally as well. In part, this renovation has led to insurgency becoming a priority in rhetoric, recruitment and funding for the terrorist organization’s efforts to wed insurgencies to terrorism worldwide.
In the southern Philippines, al Qaeda operatives discovered a fertile field in the smoldering schism between the Christian majority and Muslim minority in the archipelago nation of the Philippines. Due to the previous lack of administration of the southern islands, this benign neglect helped fuel the Muslim/Christian divide that has continued in the Philippines for over 400 years. Furthermore, the advent of international travel and modern communications has helped link radical groups in what has become a worldwide network of terrorism. As al Qaeda discovered in the 1980s, long standing efforts to form a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines was a likely place to recruit and sustain radical Islamic extremists from already established Islamic separatist groups. Al Qaeda began recruiting jihadists in earnest from such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and then the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the only insurgent group solely modeled on the al Qaeda model in 1991.
Along with training Muslim Filipinos in the ways of terror, al Qaeda also helped them set up a series of safe houses and support cells throughout the country that would later aid them in attacking Christian and American interests in the Philippines. Al Qaeda operative Ramsey Yousef was responsible for funneling millions of dollars into the Philippines to fund jihad against the West. The terrorists reached a very receptive audience in the Philippines both from a religious and nationalist point of view.
As the largest colony ever acquired by the United States, nationalist Filipinos had continued the call for an end to American involvement in Philippine affairs for over a century. Despite the large amount of American financial aid funneled into the country, many patriotic Filipinos chafed at the overwhelming power America has had on their homeland, a source of irritation that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were only too willing to exploit in their move towards worldwide terrorist activities to embarrass if not ultimately usurp Western read American power.
This exploitation and the transfer of skills and fighters throughout the al Qaeda-linked insurgencies around the world increased the level and sophistication of violence throughout the 90s. Although this movement has been curtailed somewhat due to heightened security in international travel, bomb-making skills have migrated to Southeast Asia with deadly results by the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyya and to a slightly lesser extent by Abu Sayyaf. Expanding Filipino capabilities to combat this threat was of paramount importance to future GWOT efforts.
Largely ignored throughout the 1990s, Abu Sayyaf was unlikely to become as strong as it did in the late 1990s had it not been for the efforts of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda (US State Department, 1994). Kidnappings for ransoms became the order of the day as ASG became well known throughout the Philippines and the rest of the world as a violent threat. Although the “religious heart” of the group was largely snuffed out when its founder Abdurajak “Jack” Janjalani was killed in a shootout with police in 1998, Abu Sayyaf continued being more gangster than guerrilla as kidnappings for ransoms increased dramatically throughout the southern islands.
Although the Philippine government officially opposed paying ransoms for any reason, they turned a blind eye to others who were willing to pay to repatriate kidnap victims. Thus a cottage industry of sorts began as families, international corporations and foreign governments paid off kidnappers by using third-party groups such as Libya intermediaries.
International Response – Post 9/11
As the worldwide terrorist threat has grown, governments and military forces have slowly adjusted to combating terrorism in a more holistic manner than before 9-11. In 2001, after finally becoming exasperated with the mounting violence especially in the south, the Philippines entered negotiations with Indonesia and Malaysia to form a trilateral agreement to cooperate with each other to combat terrorism and the resurgence of piracy in the waters surrounding the Asian neighbors.
During her historic visit to America in December 2001, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal–Arroyo reaffirmed her country’s support in the Global War on Terror by allowing unprecedented access to American military forces. In turn, President Bush extended $93 million in military aid to the Philippines and offered a direct US military role in combating Abu Sayyaf. Although President Arroyo gladly accepted the monetary assistance, she declined the offer of combat troops, insisting rather that American soldiers remain in the advisory role and that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) would retain full operational control of any counterinsurgency operations. Nonetheless, the unprecedented return of American forces to the Philippines opened a second front in the Global War on Terror (GWOT). American and Filipino forces united to win a decisive victory against radical fundamentalism in the southern Philippines and developed a counterinsurgency model to export to other trouble spots.
Counterinsurgency (COIN) Operations
As defined in the US Army & Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual (2006), Counterinsurgency, or COIN operations differ from peacekeeping operations in that offensive and defensive operations are integral to COIN operations whereas with traditional peacekeeping, combat is not expected and the goal is an absence of combat by putting a military force between belligerents. FM 100-23, Peace Operations, (1994) stresses that settlement, not victory is the goal of peacekeeping and that overwhelming firepower is usually counterproductive.
Doctrinally, COIN operations vary little from standard combat operations except that they are of necessity short notice missions. With little preparation time between operations, COIN Ops are potentially a burden to conventional forces whose doctrinal templates are far more rigid and inflexible than SOF. However, the smaller SOF units lack the internal firepower to disengage from the enemy should the insurgents gain the upper hand. Thus, a high value is placed on multi-tiered, joint-combined operations, which ironically become less necessary as COIN operations gain success. Nonetheless, some of the best weapons used against insurgents do not shoot. Successful counterinsurgency operations emphasize Intelligence Operations (IO) and Civil Military Operations (CMO) conducted in concert with combat operations. These ancillary missions help build credibility of the Host Nation (HN) forces by addressing the needs of the populace in such a way as to pull support away from the insurgents.
Winning Hearts and Minds
According to Asian Development Bank statistics, the Asian-Pacific region is home to two-thirds of the world’s poorest citizens, many of whom live on less than $2 USD per day. Much like Iraq, the Philippines has a high unemployment rate and large percentage of their population living below the poverty line. It is this demographic that is so susceptible to exploitation by an insurgency and must have their needs addressed by the state to earn their support. The key to success is not just to identify their needs, but to end their disenfranchisement.
By developing a “map of disenfranchisement” to determine where the likeliest support for a COIN operation could be found, joint Filipino/American assessment teams gathered and evaluated information long before the first American combat soldier set foot on the island of Basilan. These specialists investigated not only the enemy situation but also education levels, infant mortality rates, per capita income as well as the presence (or absence) of government programs and their effectiveness. The teams continued to monitor these factors throughout the operation and, more importantly, after “mission accomplished.” These detailed assessments were an integral part of developing a course of action and as military analyst, Kalev Sepp, pointed out:
“The security of the people must be assured as a basic need, along with food, water, shelter, health care and a means of living. The failure of COIN and the root cause of insurgencies themselves can often be traced to government disregard of these basic rights.”
During a counterinsurgency, the absence of combat has the potential, and more so, the likelihood of masking preparations by the insurgency, to renew or redirect combat operations as was the case in Sadr City in Baghdad in 2003. The explosion of violence after a short hiatus resulted in a severe retaliation by American and allied forces, which further aggravated the situation, negated any advances made by coalition forces, and helped to alienate the Iraqi people even more. American forces responded to the spike in Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) by implementing force protection measures that protected troops but continued to exacerbate the ever widening chasm between coalition forces and Iraqis by withdrawing into strategic fortified positions, rarely venturing outside “the wire” to do more than conduct security patrols.
“… By Any Other Name….”
Finally acknowledging some of Special Force’s successes in the Global War on Terror, conventional forces in Iraq began to leave their bunkers for more than combat patrols in an effort to extend their influence in the populace. Mingling with locals to establish rapport became a very valuable intelligence-gathering asset and with an increasing level of familiarity with the occupation forces, Iraqi citizens who until recently would not speak to Americans were now warning them of hidden threats and reporting heretofore “invisible” insurgents. With unilateral American missions frequently a mixed bag for success despite the recent lessening of attacks, a significant factor in these results that cannot be discounted is the growing numbers of Iraqi soldiers and police participating in joint patrols with American forces or conducting unilateral missions of their own. Nonetheless, a large foreign military presence or occupation in any country would undermine the legitimacy of its government by both its citizens and the international community.
When asked in a recent television interview about improvements in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, former Multinational Corps-Iraq Commander pointed out that, “… Iraq underwent societal devastation…” during the Hussein regime and the ongoing fight against insurgents, but [that] the coalition efforts of interacting with the Iraqi people to build trust and confidence have begun to pay dividends in reports of insurgent activities, weapons caches and cooperation during military operations.
Despite these improvements, the continued American presence remains an undesirable option for Iraq and America. Without more trained Iraqi security forces, American forces will continue to have problems despite recent successes based in part on the “surge” but more so on the recent revision of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and stringent Rules of Engagement (ROE) for conducting operations. A large US occupation force will continue to create long range and far reaching problems not only in Iraq but also throughout the world. A senior British officer fresh from a tour in Iraq commented that the US Army there has acted much like “fuel on a smoldering fire,” suggesting that it is “as much owing to their presence as their actions”. This American presence in Islamic countries continues to be the nexus for Osama bin Laden’s call for a global jihad against the West and especially the United States.
Despite the departure of American forces and base closures in 1992, American Special Forces (AKA Green Berets) continued to conduct joint operations with their Filipino counterparts. However, with the decline in the threat by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and the increasing threat by the al Qaeda-supported Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a second front of sorts to combat Islamic terrorism was needed. The longstanding relationship between Filipino and American Special Forces during the annual “Balikatan” (“shoulder to shoulder” in the Tagalog language) training exercise would be an ideal vehicle to confront the growing terrorist threat in the Pacific region. By moving the Balikatan from the traditional training area in Northern Luzon to the more remote and volatile island of Basilan, Joint Fil/Am forces would finally fight the enemy in its own backyard.
Although some aspects of the 2002 counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines resemble a complex peacekeeping mission, a significant difference is the involvement of host-nation forces in actively pursuing the insurgents. Since unilateral US combat operations were strictly prohibited during the original negotiations to implement operations, the primary strength of Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines was Filipino-directed missions with American support and assistance. Due in part to the unintended blowback unilateral American missions have caused worldwide, the success (or failure) of counterinsurgency operations in Southern Philippines would hinge on Filipino efforts.
Green Berets and GWOT
After a long hiatus from the primary military force structure during the Cold War, Special Operations Forces (SOF), and in particular US Army Special Forces (SF) have made huge inroads in an active membership in today’s combat operations against terrorists. One area in particular is the traditional role of Green Berets as force multipliers whereby they develop indigenous forces of Host Nations (HN) into viable combat forces. Special Forces have expanded the Counter-Insurgency (COIN) missions in numerous endangered countries as directed by the National Command Authority. To combat the threat of global terrorism America’s position as the singular super-power has forced a change in doctrine, with traditional SF missions coalesced into newer and more effective methodologies. Instead of the Vietnam-era unilateral efforts to combat an insurgency, today’s Green Berets have embraced the diamond model of counterinsurgency with significant successes.
"It is better that they do a thing imperfectly than for you to do it perfectly: for it is their country, their war, and your time is limited."
– T. E. Lawrence, 1919
Working “by, with, and through” indigenous forces has always been the methodology of American Special Forces throughout its relatively short history. A consistent lynchpin for unconventional or indirect operations conducted in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), the indirect method of counterinsurgency has proven to be especially effective for Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines (OEF-P).
The Diamond Model
Using principles based on Gordon McCormick’s strategic counterinsurgency process called the Diamond Model, OEF-P planners developed a holistic approach to cut off local support for insurgencies like Abu Sayyaf and Indonesia’s ultra-violent Jemaah Islamiyya. By joining the efforts of the host nation government, the local populace and international actors, the resulting synergistic efforts act upon the fourth player; the insurgents, by isolating, capturing or killing their members and leaders (see figure below).
It is important to note that the Center of Gravity or COG of the Diamond Model is the people of the particular region affected by the insurgency. Thus, instead of treating the citizenry as a nuisance or hindrance, a perceptive commander embraces the community and is attuned to their quality of life needs as well as his COIN mission, because without the support of the citizenry, his efforts will be wasted. Thus to develop an effective counter-strategy to an insurgency, the state must evaluate its strengths and weaknesses along with analyzing those of the insurgents.
Regardless of rhetoric, an insurgency’s goal is to grow strong enough to destroy the state’s control mechanisms and replace its government or to force political concessions that meet the insurgents’ objectives. In the case of Abu Sayyaf, its original charter was to create an autonomous Islamic caliphate or state centered in the southern Philippines.
Normally, the state’s armed forces and police forces are better armed than the insurgency. This force advantage is a significant asset IF properly deployed. However, what the insurgents lack in force, they make up for in a marked advantage in information. Being dispersed and able to move freely within the populace, insurgents are difficult to identify and even harder to target. Another advantage for the insurgents is the visibility of the state’s security apparatus, which makes targeting far easier for them. The ability to strike from hiding and to blend back into the populace gives insurgents the element of surprise, and if the state blindly (or overwhelmingly) retaliates against the attackers, they gain the additional benefit of an enraged populace if the state’s counter attack results in civilian casualties. Time is another asset normally enjoyed by the insurgents, who can ordinarily attain their objectives by simply surviving and exhausting the state’s political will to continue the fight. Thus as McCormick asserted, “The winner of this contest will be the side that can most quickly resolve its disadvantage.”
Diamonds are Forever
The Diamond Model helps the state optimize its strategy in countering the insurgency by integrating the efforts of the Philippines military and government with those of the American country team and US forces. As depicted in figure 1, the state must initiate legs 1 through 3 sequentially to strengthen its influence and credibility with the populace. By extending its influence over the internal environment, the state improves its ability to overcome the insurgents’ information advantage. Thus by actively interacting with the populace, the state identifies threats to security and begins to increase its ability to counter those threats. However, in order to attain those goals an extensive human intelligence (Humint) network is required since technological means cannot gather the needed information. In order to accomplish Information Operations (IO) the legitimacy of the state must be firmly established with the citizenry.
The lower quadrant of the diamond is the external environment or the international relations aspect of an intrastate conflict. An accepted fact about most insurgencies in the modern era is they must have external support from either a state or diaspora who supply the insurgency with money, materiel and sometimes fighters. This aspect of counterinsurgency (legs 4 & 5) are primarily diplomatic efforts at the negotiation table where the state works through diplomatic channels to eliminate funding and arms shipments to the insurgents as well as gaining support by partner nations and other international actors to help pressure the insurgency’s partners to stop supporting the conflict.
Frequently, most military forces conducting COIN operations have tended to ignore rapport-building with the populace and target the insurgency as soon as they can. Therefore, any momentum gained against the insurgency by COIN forces is typically lost because these operations consist of massive troop movements, clearing operations and bombardments that the insurgents easily avoid and that more than likely will cause excessive and unnecessary civilian casualties. Large-scale search-and-destroy missions conducted during the Vietnam War were largely ineffective in countering the Viet Cong insurgency, continually alienated the Vietnamese people and most assuredly eliminated any chance of gaining the information advantage vital in counterinsurgency operations.
The intelligence provided by local citizens and soldiers who understand the local customs and language is an invaluable asset that will eliminate the information advantage of the insurgents. Gaining popular support is, by necessity, a zero-sum game, with one side’s loss the other side’s gain and vice versa. This give-and-take gambit is critical to the indirect method of counterinsurgency and requires the state to actively focus on the needs of the populace in order to re/gain their confidence and trust while the insurgent does much the same.
The basic methodology of the Diamond Model is not new to the Philippines. During the Hukbalahap insurrection (1946 – 1950) Ramon Magsaysay, then-Secretary of National Defense for the Philippines and later President, used a very similar approach to defeat the Islamic guerrillas. Better known as “Huks,” the insurgents had gained popular support by exploiting the cronyism and thuggery rampant in the Philippines military forces along with the equally dirty government. Magsaysay used dramatic measures to improve the AFP’s reputation by dismantling the corrupt force structure, relieving inept commanders and swiftly punishing criminal acts. Slowly, the state won back the respect of the citizenry and eventually defeated the insurgency. A similar approach was needed in Basilan.
Soon after the assessment teams had developed their initial reports, American SOF began to arrive on Basilan in February 2002. What they discovered upon arrival was an army in disarray. Through neglect and lack of initiative, the AFP on Basilan had deteriorated to the point of mission ineffectiveness. By using their language and cultural skills, Special Forces detachments set to their task of winning the trust of soldiers and villagers alike by first reestablishing a secure environment and honing the basic combat skills of the AFP.
As the training progressed, the AFP became more confident, began aggressively patrolling throughout the region, and began to deny traditional safe havens to Abu Sayyaf. As the Filipino soldiers’ and marines’ confidence rose, so too did that of the villagers. They began to warm up to the efforts of their government and to the Americans as well. Medical teams fanned out into the barrios and began providing treatment to people, who in some cases had never seen a doctor. US Army and Navy engineer units began digging wells to provide fresh water and soon roads were carved out of a jungle where only footpaths had been before. As the construction continued apace, a concerted effort was made to use locally procured materials and workers in order to put money directly into the local economy as well as build or repair schools, mosques and government buildings. Although the construction teams focused on building the structures and roads necessary to support combat operations against the insurgents, the long term goals of construction was to improve the infrastructure of the civilian community.
With the AFP consistently taking the lead in all projects, the villagers began to see their government and military as allies rather than enemies. With specifically targeted CMO projects, the Philippines government began to drive a wedge between the Abu Sayyaf and the villagers of Basilan. In what was once a safe haven, Basilan became less hospitable to the insurgents as villagers began to share information on the local situation. By gathering this information and fusing it with intelligence gathered by other, more sophisticated means, the AFP and their SF counterparts began to develop a more concrete method of fighting the insurgents.
Success on Basilan
The Diamond Model’s success on Basilan helped reduce Abu Sayyaf’s influence, but the return to a more peaceful environment encouraged professionals like doctors, teachers and others who had fled the island to return. Furthermore, with these tremendous first successes militarily and economically, the Philippines government, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and numerous NGOs were encouraged enough to continue to expand on the gains made over the last seven years to prevent a resurgence of the insurgency. Religious and village leaders on other predominately Muslim islands in the archipelago nation have heard about the successes of Balikatan ’02 and subsequent missions, and therefore have petitioned for US Special Forces and AFP to come to their islands to help improve their quality of life as well. These invitations demonstrate how the low-key indirect approach to counterinsurgency helps to give a favorable impression of the American military and reinforces the Philippines government’s commitment to promoting long-term peace and development.
Balikatan in Iraq?
Considering the success of the “Basilan Model” there is a possibility that a variation of the model could be used in Iraq. Unilateral or American-led missions in Iraq have often been ineffective or even counterproductive, Special Forces advisory teams working with the reorganized Iraqi army, police and local governments might be able to create the results desired to stabilize the country and return it to a level of normalcy.
Of major concern for post-war Iraq is the potential for genocide between the disparate ethnic and religious groups should coalition forces depart too soon. According to a study conducted by political scientists R.J. Rummel, Barbara Harff and Ted Garr, like many other disrupted states, the likelihood of genocide or politicide has increased dramatically in post-war Iraq due to ethnic and religious differences. This likelihood increases because a depressed interior economy predisposes a society to intense social conflict especially when there is a question of legitimacy or efficacy of the government. Conflicts between sub-groups are never far from the surface and these “minorities at risk” will be the likely recipients of violence should the newly created Iraqi government fail. Moreover, as it has been demonstrated in the Philippines, Afghanistan and in Iraq, Special Forces, with their language, culture and regional skills are ideally suited for the task of stabilizing the country and helping the new Iraqi government and military gain legitimacy in the eyes of their fellow Iraqis.