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Why Another Philippines Terrorist Attack Is Coming
Another Marawi-like siege is likely to occur.
By Zachary Abuza
As fighting in the southern Philippine City of Marawi recedes, there is much to take stock of. The six week siege of the city by the Islamic State pledged Maute Group and a faction of the Abu Sayyaf tested the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and it has led to a regional concern that Mindanao is, once again, a black hole in regional security. The toll was high: 70 members of the military and police, 27 civilians, and 290 militants were killed according to recent estimates, and more bodies are being recovered as security forces comb through the rubble. Over 246,000 civilians were displaced. The city is in ruins.
There is much to write about Marawi: the intelligence failure; the fact that the Maute Group had conducted a similar siege in Butig in November 2016; President Rodrigo Duterte’s single-minded attention on the war on drugs rather than the growing threat by terrorist groups. We can question Duterte’s decision and justification for declaring martial law. We can debate whether the decision to drawdown the U.S. Special Forces contingent in 2014 was the right one, or whether, if they had stayed, the AFP would have conducted itself better or more professionally. And we can analyze the rift between the AFP and Duterte over U.S. assistance and provision of intelligence.
But here I want to ask just one question: is another Marawi-style siege likely? And, relatedly, what this mean for the United States?
The answer to the first question is a definitive yes, and for five interrelated reasons:
1. The Militant Leadership is Largely in Tact
On June 22 the AFP acknowledged that the Isnilon Hapilon, the Maute brothers, and Mahmud Ahmad, the leading Malaysian militant had all fled the city. This is despite the fact that there are only three roads in and out of Marawi. So while the AFP claims that the militants suffered nearly 300 casualties, the charismatic leadership is able to regroup and plot anew. Leadership matters. Their success, in tying down the AFP for some six weeks, will attract followers and new recruits. They have every reason to be confident. They sieged cities on two occasions. They have proven themselves as committed jihadists, willing to take the fight to the Philippine government. And as will be discussed below, the pool of recruits is large and growing.