Escalating war on terrorism

Philippines: High-risk assistance to a valued ally is justified and probably not the end of it.

January 19, 2002

THE AWAITED first expansion of the U.S. war against terrorism turns out to be limited training assistance to a longstanding U.S. ally, the Philippines.

Dispatch of several hundred Special Operations troops is both fully justified and full of risk.

Their mission is to help the Philippines destroy a vicious small group called Abu Sayyaf, which has links to al-Qaida, and commits kidnappings, beheadings and other atrocities.

Abu Sayyaf flourishes on Basilan and other small islands between the large island of Mindanao and Malaysia's portion of the great island of Borneo.

The risk for the United States is the lives of young warriors and quagmire possibilities, including conflict with the larger insurrectionist force on Mindanao, the Moro National Liberation Front.

This intervention, sought by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, comes close to violating the Philippines constitution, which she may wish to amend.

It offends the nationalist sensibilities of some Filipinos, who celebrated the closing of the last U.S. base in 1991. This is grist for the mills of President Macapagal Arroyo's ill-wishers.

So the Philippines comes before possible small-scale interventions in friendly Yemen or anarchic Somalia. It puts off talk of invasion of a substantial country that would resist, such as Iraq.

Helping the Philippines suppress terrorism is right.

It does not negate the need of that primarily Catholic country to come to terms politically with aspirations of the Muslim minority on Mindanao.

The policy fits into the anti-terrorist cause throughout Muslim Oceania. Malaysia has thwarted an al-Qaida plot attack on U.S. targets in Singapore. Indonesia struggles with Islamist insurrection and violence against Christians. East Asian Islam has a tradition of tolerance that al-Qaida's export of religious war offends.

Assistance to the Philippines against this enemy is in the U.S. national interest. It is in the spirit of the war against terrorism that President Bush articulated and that most U.S. citizens approve.

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