Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Soft War On Terrorism

One of the first things to keep in mind when talking about violence and particularly organized violence is that it exists for reasons. Particularly regarding organized violence it is not a mindless irrational happening; whether we like the rationales or not. This piece can be addressed by shooting people and blowing things up; but that tends to increase the validity of the reasons. It is beyond argument that some people and things can be best dealt with through bombs and bullets. That does not make that the only or in all circumstances best methodologies. In this Bush era it may surprise you to find that the US military is utilizing another tactic with a long term strategy.

McClatchy's William Strobel reports from Camp Bautista, Phillipines about the Special Forces taking a soft approach. While these warriors are providing the Phillipine governmental forces with intelligence, materials, and advice they are staying out of direct combat. They are allowed to defend themselves and they also seem to be minimizing that chance.
Each child's price of admission to the animated film "Robots," plus a bottle of water and a small paper bag of popcorn, is to accept a squirt of hand sanitizer — a brief lesson in basic hygiene.

Welcome to America's other war on terror.

The Mindinao region has been the focus of the government's fight with separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front and at one point a central point for the Al Qaida linked Abu Sayyaf, a violent terrorist organization. Abu Sayyaf has been the focal point of military action. American intelligence has helped the Phillipine troops minimize civilian casualties and pin point a fairly successful drive against that organization.

The other focus of that action is Hearts and Minds.
Secret military hardware shares cargo space on helicopters with gifts of plastic sandals emblazoned "Honor in Peace." The Filipino military uses U.S. intelligence from unmanned drones and other devices to pinpoint the enemy in a land of mountainside jungles and vast flooded marshes. Sometimes it holds its fire to avoid civilian casualties that would undermine the effort.

One recent afternoon on the nearby island of Mindanao, uniformed U.S. and Filipino military officers listened, some curious and some perplexed, as a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor briefed them on the agency's $80-million-a-year aid program for the region. He talked about taking steps to boost the local seaweed-farming industry and to help create an off-season mango harvest.

Strobel also reports from Jakarta on the Indonesian efforts against terrorism using more soft techniques. Nasir Abbas was one of the plotters in the Bali bombings which killed more than 200. Today he is something different.
His remorse over the massacre of civilians and the Indonesian police's careful handling of him transformed Abbas. From a terrorist commander he became a terrorist counselor, working with the police to try to convince other captured militants that their interpretation of Islam is wrong.

Considering that Abbas was a 15 year veteran of and a senior commander of Jemaah Islamiyah, Southeast Asia's most feared Islamic terrorist group this is something extraordinary.
Using methodical police work and programs to counter radical ideologies, Indonesian authorities have reduced Jemaah Islamiyah to a remnant of its former self. The Indonesian government has benefited from public revulsion at a string of bombings against civilians.

The outlook is not all rosy, and the author does a careful job of covering the bases. Use the links to see what something other than bombs and bullets looks like today. Journalists deserve credit for their work and to have read rather than synopsized by bloggers like me.

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