“Teka muna,” the Filipino general said.
We had just exchanged pleasantries, so I started to peruse the menu at a quaint café in the quiet neighborhood of McKinley Park, away from the daily chaos of metropolitan Manila. In Tagalog, “teka muna” roughly translates into “wait a second.” The general had to take a phone call.
It was May 23, 2017, and the general was the same officer I had worked with on my first deployment to the Philippines as a Special Forces officer seven years earlier. When he hung up, he explained that an important mission was occurring at that moment, and he was simply getting updates. The call reminded me of how we used to talk during that first deployment to the country. What I didn’t know was that the mission he was tracking was particularly significant: the first engagement in what would become the Battle of Marawi. That siege would rage in the southern city for five months.
This article is part of MWI’s “Dispatches” series, featured in Army Magazine. Read it in full here.
I have the utmost respect for Maj. Siosan, but I find it hard to see Marawi as anything other than an unmitigated disaster for both the Philippines and for the U.S. mission there. By focusing on the cost of operations during the crisis we ignore the vast amounts of time, energy, and resources that he United States has invested in supporting a credible Philippine government and security apparatus since 2001. The result was a AFP that could neither maintain nor retake control of its own city without significant outside aid. The AFP also mostly destroyed the city, which still lays in ruins, in the process. The discontent among the Marawi refugee population will likely act as a boon to future recruitment for violent Islamic groups in Mindanao. To me this looks like a case where the Philippines and the U.S. eventually succeeded tactically and operationally but failed at the strategic level.
I disagree. The context of the Siege of Marawi within the Muslim Filipino struggle is great, but still only a part. Before the seige, for many years the Philippine government has given Muslim Filipinos much in terms of autonomous land and political recognition. The reformation of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and the overall restructuring of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in 2012 has shown to the majority of domestic Muslims in the area that their religion and autonomy is being respected.
Despite this, Muslim Filipino leaders still have not tackled with the violent extremists in their own communities and kidnappings of christians and western foreigners continue. The Siege of Marawi could have only gone in this way. Many of these Muslim gangs are entrenched in their ideas, though their fellow communities may not be and want peace. Remember Islam spread along the south coast of Asia, and many of these entrenched extremists have international connections to more extremist groups- an echo chamber making them more extreme and dangerous; and it's known that Muslim terrorists form other parts of the world go to the Philippines to lay low while being in a country with close ties to the West+USA.