Monday, January 3, 2022

Special Forces battle to win hearts and minds in Sulu

A Special Forces photo shows the two Abu Sayyaf fighters following their surrender in Talipao town in Sulu province on January 1, 2022. 

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Philippines’ Special Forces soldiers managed to lure two Abu Sayyaf fighters to return to the fold of the law in the southern province of Sulu where security forces are now engaged not in armed campaign, but in winning the hearts and minds of the locals in an effort to eradicate violent extremism.


Operators from the 6th Special Forces Company and Operational Detachments 14201 and 1403 of the 2nd Special Forces Battalion under Lt. Col. Benito Ramos Jr are currently conducting so-called “Mass Base Operations” and Community Support Programs to win popular support from villagers.


Mass Base Operations is a peculiar capability of Special Forces units and is conducted in challenging areas to enable a conducive environment favorable to government forces. It denies the enemy critical resources and isolates them from mass support, attacking critical vulnerabilities that empowers the enemy’s capabilities.


With this, the Special Forces convinced two Abu Sayyaf militants - Sibakkal Salahuddin, 66; and Isbain Sakilan, 49 - to surrender peacefully in Talipao town. The duo and their weapons were presented to Brig. Gen. Eugenio Boguio, commander of the 1101st Infantry Brigade, on January 1 in Upper Sinuman village.


The village chieftain Awang Mangking was also instrumental in helping the military identify Abu Sayyaf members in Upper Sinumaan. Both militants said they were forced to join the secessionist Abu Sayyaf group in 2000 to protect their families from rido or clan war.


The military also released a statement purportedly made by Salahuddin during debriefing as saying: “Mas maganda na mag balik-loob kami (sa pamahalaan) para wala na kaming ibang iniisip. Nakita at naramdaman na rin namin ang tulong na ginawa sa amin ng mga sundalo. Katulong na namin sila ngayon sa pag gawa ng mga bahay at kabuhayan namin.”


Boguio said the two men are now benefiting from the “Balik-Barangay Program, a joint effort of the Talipao Municipal Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict and military units under the Joint Task Force-Sulu.


“Through the conduct of development efforts, we are looking forward to eventually rendering the Abu Sayyaf group irrelevant in our area of operations. Together with the municipality of Talipao, the 1101st Infantry Brigade will be steadfast in promoting peace and development for our Tausug brothers and sisters,” Boquio said.

Sulu has previously declared the Abu Sayyaf and its supporters as “persona non grata” and Gov. Sakur Tan ordered the creation of the Provincial and Municipal Task Forces to End Local Armed Conflict in support of the government peace and development efforts in the South.

The total number of Abu Sayyaf fighters who surrendered in Sulu the past decade was not immediately available, but based on military press releases this may have reached thousands and most of them were either living peacefully as civilians or working alongside soldiers as government militias. (Mindanao Examiner)

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