Successful US military assistance to Philippine insurgency is well known in local news but unheralded.
Before 9/11, the southern island of Basilan was a Muslim terrorist hide-out. In 2002, with the help of Green Berets, Filipino army forces cleared it. By last year, Manila-based businesses felt safe enough to invest there. When I visited last year, Basilan had cellphone towers, more roads and bridges paved with asphalt, more schools and increased agricultural production. Power outages were common because of surges in demand, a sign of uneven development but of development nevertheless.
Between risk-prone invasions like Iraq, on the one hand, and isolationism, on the other, the missions in Colombia and the Philippines showcase low-cost, low-risk and tediously unspectacular counterinsurgency options. And these places are not alone. Other U.S. military deployments I have observed recently -- in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Kenya, Georgia and Nepal -- are variations in a minor key. What stands out about all of these missions is their small scale and implicit modesty. We are not in combat in any of these countries -- but, rather, training local militaries that are or might be. In all these countries, our military aid is combined with civilian development assistance. This is the global war on terrorism as preventive rather than as proscriptive. It doesn't cost much. You could spread Green Beret teams across Africa for the price of one F-22 jet. If there is another model out there that will keep the U.S. military engaged without overextending it, and will help move along inter-agency cooperation, I have not seen it.