Peter Spiegel has a really good piece in the Los Angeles Times today about Special Forces in the Philippines:

Weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, a small team of Green Berets was quietly sent to the Philippine island of Basilan. There, one of the world’s most virulent Islamic extremist groups, Abu Sayyaf, had established a dangerous haven and was seeking to extend its reach into the Philippine capital.

But rather than unleashing Hollywood-style raids, as might befit their reputation, the Green Berets proposed a time-consuming plan to help the Philippine military take on the extremist group itself. Seven years later, Abu Sayyaf has been pushed out of Basilan and terrorist attacks have dropped dramatically.

"It’s not flashy, it’s not glamorous, but man, this is how we’re going to win the long war," said Lt. Gen. David P. Fridovich, the Army officer who designed the Philippine program.

Spiegel sensibly describes this "indirect approach" — in which U.S. forces partner, support and mentor frontline counterinsurgents rather than fight wars for them — as the military’s preferred future strategy for counterterrorism. Certainly last week’s Stability Operations field manual suggests as much.

What’s so surreal about this is that… it was supposed to be the way the military was going to go all along. Remember a few months after 9/11, when counterterrorism experts figured the logical next phase of the war on terrorism would be indirect action against Al Qaeda-linked insurgent groups in Indonesia and the Philippines? Foreign Affairs, the august establishmentarian journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, even published an article titled "Is Southeast Asia The Second Front"? Sure enough, of course, the "second front" turned out to be the unnecessary-then-counterproductive invasion of Iraq. But Spiegel’s piece demonstrates the wisdom of Plan A.

Crossposted to The Streak.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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