Jungle Busting on Jolo

October 2, 2006: For months now, nearly 7,000 soldiers, marines and police have been chasing a few hundred Islamic terrorists all over the island of Jolo (in the Philippines). It's not a big island ( 883 square kilometers), but it does contain a lot of jungle, and mountains as high as 8,700 feet. The island's population (about 300,000) is over 90 percent Moslem, and most belong to tribes and clans that have been feuding with each other, and the Filipino government, for centuries. The Islamic terrorists being pursued belong to Abu Sayyaf, splinter group from more moderate Moslem separatist organizations, that have since made peace with the government. Like many other splinter groups, Abu Sayyaf turned to crime, especially kidnapping, to sustain itself. In this it was very successful.

Abu Sayyaf went rogue in the early 1990s, but it wasn't until after September 11, 2001, when al Qaeda became quite popular in the Moslem world, that the organization became less bandits and more terrorists. Moreover, it spread the money around when it snagged a large (millions of dollars) ransom. This meant most of the people on Jolo were either going to actively assist Abu Sayyaf, or keep silent when troops or the police came around making enquiries.

Four years ago, the government sent a force of 5,000 to Jolo, and after two months of searching, they gave up. This time, in addition to a slightly larger force, that is willing to spend more time at the job, there is also some valuable technical assistance from U.S. Special Forces. Moreover, a larger proportion (about 20 percent) of the Filipino force is composed of special operations troops (especially the Scout Rangers.)

The most valuable American assistance appears to be in the form of electronic monitoring of the island. This made communication much more difficult for Abu Sayyaf, or forced them to rely on slower forms of sending messages (like a guy on foot).

The Filipino force had more helicopters, and these were used to insert special operations teams (including marine patrols, or Scout Rangers), to sweep distant areas that seemed to have Abu Sayyaf activity. While most of the Abu Sayyaf people are still on the loose, there have many contacts, many Abu Sayyaf casualties, and indications that the terrorists are being worn down.

To make sure the remaining Abu Sayyaf don't grab a speed boat and try to get off the island, the navy has nine vessels patrolling the coastline. In addition, there are patrol aircraft, helicopters and shore based radars making sure the terrorists stay on Jolo, where the troops, and special operations forces, can eventually get them.