JOLO ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 27 Jun) – The Philippines is preparing to launch a major offensive against the local al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and Indonesian terror network, Jemaah Islamiya, in the southern island of Jolo.
Codenamed Oplan: Ultimatum II, the anti-terror operation will begin July 1, said Army Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.
“This operation will be in close coordination with local government officials headed by the new governor,” he told the independent regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.
Cedo was referring to the new governor of Jolo island, Sakur Tan, who has publicly condemned the atrocities of the Abu Sayyaf.
He said the targets of the new offensive are leaders of the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya that included local militant chieftain Radulan Sahiron and Dulmatin and Umar Patek, both tagged by Jakarta in the deadly 2002 Bali bombings.
Hundreds of U.S. troops are also deployed in Jolo island, on the request of the Philippine government, to help the local military defeat terrorism.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Pacific commander, Adm. Timothy Keating, in a surprised visit in Jolo island, inspected a captured Abu Sayyaf mountain base in Tugas village in Patikul town.
The base was previously used by Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani. The terrorist leader was mortally wounded at Tugas Hill in a battle with U.S.-backed Filipino soldiers in September 2006.
Janjalani was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Americans in the Philippines.
“Until last year, Tugas Hill was the traditional lair for the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group,” said Maj. General Ruben Raphael, the island’s army commander.
“For years, our soldiers have had encounters with Abu Sayyaf until we gained control of their camp and made it our own.”
Now Tugas Hill is home to the 5th Marine Company, Marine Battalion Landing Team 5. It is used as a jungle training camp and as a base to launch combat patrols against remaining remnants of terrorist organizations still operating on Jolo.
“The death of Janjalani neutralized the gravity of terrorism in the Philippines,” said the Philippine military chief, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Jr.
Keating and Kenney spent an hour walking through dense jungle terrain inspecting crude fighting positions that Abu Sayyaf dug into the ground.
“This has been a spectacular visit,” said Keating. He went on to emphasize that the U.S. and AFP need to continue their efforts in denying safe haven to terrorists.
Cedo said troops will also mount a massive humanitarian mission on Jolo island in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the locals.
“The operation is not only about fighting the terrorists. This is also a fight to win the hearts and minds of the civilians,” he said. “We want to transform Sulu into a place where everybody can live peacefully and with out fear.”
In the Ultimatum I, the Philippine military offensive killed Janjalani and his deputy Jainal Antel Sali, alias Abu Soliman.
Esperon and Keating also signed Wednesday a new security accord that paves the way for new joint anti-terror training in the next five years. But Keating said the U.S. goal is to help Manila defeat terrorism, particularly Jemaah Islamiya.
Esperon said the Philippines and Australia will also hold a joint military training.
“We expect that there will be an expansion from bilateral activities to multilateral. Where it is legally permissible, we will do it as addressing security threats could not be limited to arrangements,” he said.
”We see a lot of multilateral activities, trainings, exchange of information and we don't see any reason why we could not go to that direction.”
Both the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiya are included in the U.S. terror list and Washington offered as much as ten million dollars for the capture of Dulmatin and five million dollars bounty for Sahiron and other known local terror leaders.
Manila also set side one hundred million pesos rewards for the capture of known Abu Sayyaf leaders dead or alive. (Juley Reyes and Juan Magtanggol)