Globe: The Battle of Marawi
An Islamic extremist faction associated with ISIS has taken over a town; the government responds by sending federal troops and helicopters. Martial law has been declared, and urban door-to-door fighting ensues. As of now, over 170 people have died in the fight, many being civilians – including children. Over 200,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes because the nature of the conflict, and many more are still trapped within the battlefield. This is the battle of Marawi City. It is not a town in Iraq or Syria. It is not a mountain village in Afghanistan, nor is it an outpost in the Horn of Africa or Libya. It is in Mindanao, an Island in the southern part of the Philippines. The opponents are the Maute group: an ISIS backed extremist group that has long terrorized parts of the southern Philippines, and Philippine special forces.
The Southern Philippines has traditionally been a strong hold for Islam (Islam dominates that region, with Muslim majorities in counties like Malaysia and Indonesia) and the region has been home to Extremist groups for years. The more infamous groups include the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a peace treaty with the Philippine government and the 90s (and whose predictors found Americans during the Philippine inspection of the early 20th century.) There is Abu Sayyaf, who has been a source of terror and kidnappings, which resulted in US military operations against them during the War on Terror. Now there is a new extremist group hitting the scene in a violent way: the Maute group.
The Maute group is part of the ISIS campaign to affiliate with other global extremist groups in regions such as west Africa, the Horn of Africa, and now the Asia-Pacific. The Maute group has tried to consolidate itself with its masters in Iraq and Syria; it has claimed responsibility for bombings, kidnappings, and published a video in which it beheaded a civilian from Canada. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack on a casino in Manila that resulted in dozens of dead, but all evidence suggests it was a botched robbery.
The battle began when the Maute group attacked a prison with the intent of freeing prisoners. This lead to them taking over the prison, which rippled to other institutions, such as Mindanao State University (the largest university in the region), and infamously capturing a church, in which the Muar subscript defamed. In their rampage, many hostages have been taken.
Philippine special forces and other security forces responded to the situation via helicopter, and urban fighting has now ensued in Marawi. The response from the Philippine government has been restrained, which indicates the weakness of the Maute group, though they were strong enough to cause the damage they are responsible for. Many of the casualties suffered by the Philippine security forces has been from self-inflicted friendly fire incidents, such as mistargeted air attacks.
The limited troops allocated towards eliminating Maute group control from sections of the city indicate degrees of confidence. One would think such an event would merit as much military strength as possible. As of now, the Maute group only holds 10% of Marawi after two weeks of fighting.
Duterte has been his usually bombastic self during the crisis; he has made numerous assertions regarding the length of the campaign – ranging from one day to three. He has been wrong about all of them. Duterte has also stated that if he utilized a more liberal approach to an air campaign, the fighting would end within 24 hours.
What has been striking has been how little attention the battle has received in the United States. America has actually had a long history in the region; it fought rebels in the region during the Philippine insurrection, following the US annexation of the island after the defeat of Spain in 1898. The insurrection lasted until 1913. United States forces then returned to the southern Philippines after the attacks on September 11th, during operation Enduring Freedom
Society has become accustomed to this sort of violence in places such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Northern Africa. Though, should a group such as ISIS' counter-attack be taking a town after losing so much territory, it would make headlines – if not for political purposes. Attacks on the West are always media sensations for days. The recent attacks in Britain, and the attacks on Paris birth news events for days – and justifiably so.
However, it is profound how little attention the Battle of Malawi has received, considering what is at stake. It shows that despite the setbacks ISIS has suffered on the Middle Eastern battlefields, the extremist group still has enough cultural capital to inspire start-up extremist organizations such as the Maute group to launch a what is tactically futile attack on an entire city, even if they temporarily succeeded in taking the city over.
It is unclear if the Maute group aimed to capture Malawi in the name of the Islamic State, or if the prison raid lead them to fall down a slippery slope. Either way, the has been more than a hundred causalities in the fight, and it is yet to end, even after more than two weeks of fighting. Many of these casualties are civilians.
The Battle of Marawi also shows that the Global War on Terror is indeed a global war. Operation Enduring Freedom in the Philippines officially ended in 2015, during the multi-stage drawback that lead to the power vacuum that groups such as ISIS jubilantly filled. Like in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drawback was premature. One of the strategic fallacies of democracies is that democratic peoples are impatient. We tend to want results, and we want them now. This doesn’t bode well for protracted conflicts such as counter-insurgencies.
In the attempt achieve results in situations through which victory is never won quickly, we agitate the problem initially addressed. This is manifesting itself in both the Philippines and around the world, as ideological conflicts the world thought won have been making resurgences almost everywhere - from Mesopotamia, to the streets of London and Paris, and now to the shot-up streets of Marawi in the Pacific.