Counter-Terrorism in Southeast Asia

By Katie Richardson
04/02/2019

Despite continued regional attempts to combat terrorism since the mid-90s, the terrorist threat to Southeast Asia has endured. This can be attributed to numerous factors, but the most detrimental component to unsuccessful Southeast Asian counterterrorism is the prioritization of domestic policy over transnational cooperation.1 When domestic counterterrorism forces fail to share intelligence or fail collaborate outside of their state boundaries, it allows Southeast Asian terrorists to take advantage of the gaps in governance and further their clout in the region.2 This issue has become especially prevalent in areas like the Philippines.

Since the rise of ISIS in Southeast Asia, the Filipino government has shifted their counterterrorism resources away from combating the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to instead prioritize neutralizing ISIS within their borders.3 While the Philippines isn’t the only state to steer their resources towards ISIS, this altered focus has weakened the overall regional counterterrorism response to JI.4 This in turn has allowed the Indonesian terrorist group to thrive in the shadows and rebuild the strength of their coalition—negating previous endeavors to eliminate them.5

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has attempted to remedy the issue of uncoordinated counterterrorism through various declarations since the early 2000s. However, most of the resolutions or initiatives passed have vague language and lack implementation timelines.6 Thus, progress has been limited. That being said, the Battle of Marawi in 2017 has proved to be a catalyst of change in the ASEAN counterterrorism approach.7

The five-month siege in Filipino city of Marawi was the longest urban battle in the nation’s history.8 During the siege, Present Duterte and The Philippine Congress extended martial law in the Mindanao region until the end of 2019 in an attempt fortify efforts to retake the city from terrorist groups ISIL, Maute, and Abu Sayyaf.9 While the Armed Forces of the Philippines were eventually able to reclaim Marawi in late October of 2018, they could not prevent the $ 1.1 billion worth of destruction to public buildings or the thousand plus estimated casualties of government forces and noncombatants.10 The precedent of prolonged urban terrorism set by the siege of Marawi has raised concerns within ASEAN that current counterterrorism policy is inadequate.11 As a response to the siege, ASEAN Defense Ministers began improvements in February 2018 to both regional intelligence distribution and army cooperation through the establishment of the Our Eyes Initiative and the ASEAN Armies Information Sharing Workshop (AAISW).12

Whether this intelligence pact can overcome the governance flaws of ASEAN counterterrorism policy has yet to be seen, but it is a step in the right direction. Going forward, it will be vital for ASEAN to continue build trust between ASEAN state counterterrorism divisions. If this can be achieved, then ASEAN forces can gain the upper hand in Southeast Asia and bring much needed security to the region.

 

[1] Borelli, M. (2017, September). ASEAN Counter-terrorism Weaknesses. Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, 9(9), 14-20. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/26351552

[2] Ibid

[3] Singh, B. (2018, October). Jemaah Islamiyah: Still Southeast Asia’s Greatest Terrorist Threat. The Diplomat. Retrieved February 12, 2019 from https://thediplomat.com/2018/10/jemaah-islamiyah-still-southeast-asias-greatest-terrorist-threat/

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Borelli, M. (2017, September). ASEAN Counter-terrorism Weaknesses. Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, 9(9), 14-20. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/26351552

[7] Tan, S. (2018, November). Sending in the Cavalry: The Growing Militarization of Counterterrorism in Southeast Asia. PRISM, 7(4), 138-147. Retrieved February 12, 2019 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/26542712

[8] France-Presse, A. (2017 October). Marawi: City destroyed in Philippines’ longest urban war. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved February 20, 2019 from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/939202/marawi-war-maute-terrorism-duterte-isnilon-hapilon-is-islamic-state

[9] Philippine Congress extends Mindanao martial law until end-2019. (2018, December). Reuters. Retrieved February 20, 2019 from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-security/philippine-congress-extends-mindanao-martial-law-until-end-2019-idUSKBN1OB0IR

[10] U.S. Department of State. (2017, September). Chapter 1. Country Reports: East Asia and Pacific. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from: https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2017/282842.htm; France-Presse, A. (2017, October). Marawi: City destroyed in Philippines’ longest urban war. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved February 20, 2019 from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/939202/marawi-war-maute-terrorism-duterte-isnilon-hapilon-is-islamic-state

[11] Scale and complexity of terror threat to Southeast Asia growing: ASEAN. (2018, February). Reuters. Retrieved February 12, 2019 from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-asean-singapore-defence/scale-and-complexity-of-terror-threat-to-southeast-asia-growing-asean-idUSKBN1FQ1NJ

[12] Tan, S. (2018, November). Sending in the Cavalry: The Growing Militarization of Counterterrorism in Southeast Asia. PRISM, 7(4), 138-147. Retrieved February 12, 2019 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/26542712