Today's New York Times passes on this report that Al Qaeda operatives have began to train in the Philippines with their affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah. In the past, these two groups were loosely affiliated -- more like two baseball teams in the same league than two subsidiaries of the same corporation.
For the last six to nine months, recruits mostly from Indonesia and Malaysia, but also a few from as far off as Pakistan and the Middle East, have received training at inaccessible, rough-hewn sites — basically a few huts and some tents — in a marshy region on the island of Mindanao, officials said.Analysis: Al Qaeda has purposefully built an organizational structure that is loose, networked, and able to respond to direct attacks on its leadership and infrastructure. The move to conduct operational training in the Pacific is significant, because it represents a major increase in the scope and importance of this relationship for Al Qaeda. Furthermore, it may represent the opening of a "second front" in the Pacific -- or at least a greater one than we've seen to date. Terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda were responsible for the bombing in Bali last year which was purportedly targeted American interests through our proxies, the Australians. There has also been a significant, but low, level of terrorism in the PI, conducted by the Islamic terrorist groups MILF and Abu Sayyaf. We currently have American military and humanitarian aid to assist the Philippine government in fighting this war, but that may not be sufficient. If the Al Qaeda presence in the Pacific expands, and begins to threaten American interests, we may need to fight a campaign there similar to the one in Afghanistan.
The training is similar to what their older colleagues in terrorism got in Afghanistan when that served as Al Qaeda's base, they added.
In Mindanao, though, the training appears to include more of a special emphasis on the use of sophisticated explosives, the officials said.
"We've closed the camps in Afghanistan, but they're still operating in the southern Philippines," said an Australian official in Canberra. More broadly, intelligence officials say there is a constant movement of international terrorists across an area that includes Mindanao, islands in the Sulu Sea, the Malaysian state of Sabah and northern Indonesia.
Bottom Line: The war on terrorism is not over, and may only be marginally influenced by our success in Iraq. The real war on terrorism is still being fought by intelligence analysts, financial analysts, law enforcement officials, and soldiers, and it will continue in places like Sudan, the Philippines, Algeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, and everywhere else that Al Qaeda has spread.