We must take decisive steps to keep the fighting in Marawi City from escalating into a bigger war that could involve other nations.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has cleared most of the 96 barangays of Marawi City and is now concentrating on four barangays where the Maute with Islamic State (IS)-supported fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia continue to hold out. The United States is assisting the Philippine forces under our Mutual Defense Treaty with surveillance and other technical support, but with “no boots on the ground.”
Last week, American lawmakers belonging to President Donald Trump’s Republican Party came out to call for a bigger US involvement than the current “advise and assist” role. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst expressed fear that Marawi may become a new center for Islamic fighters from Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the world. “We need to address the situation,” he said. “It should not get out of control.”
The AFP has disclosed that about 40 foreigners have been among the 500 involved in the fighting in Marawi, with at least one Saudi, a Chechen, and a Yemeni among those killed. An Islamic State propaganda video released through the Amaq News Agency website advised jihadists that if they find it hard to join the fighting in Syria and Iraq, they should proceed instead to the Philippines.
Already deeply involved in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq are Russia and the US, but these two nations have found themselves on opposite sides in Syria. Russia is fighting with the Syrian government against several rebel forces that include the Islamic State. The US is supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish forces, that is fighting the Islamic State while battling the Syrian government.
If the fighting in Mindanao should widen to include more combatants from the US, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, we can expect the kind of bloody confusion that has befallen Syria, Iraq, and the rest of the Middle East.
We thus hope that our Armed Forces will soon be able to put an end to the fighting in Marawi, before combatants from other nations, each driven by their respective interests and causes, get drawn to the fighting and the Philippines becomes another confused battleground like the Middle East.