Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines expand counterterrorism collaboration
Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are planning to build upon their 2-year-old counterterrorism partnership by conducting a joint land training exercise in July 2019 designed to deal with the effects of returning Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters to the region.
Each country will send to the exercise one company of ground forces that typically operate near the Sulu Sea, Indonesian Brig. Gen. Totok Sugiharto told The Jakarta Post newspaper. Although the specific dates haven’t been announced, the monthlong exercise will be held in the Indonesian island city of Tarakan in northern Borneo.
“The threats of terrorism and radicalism that we face today are the threats of the third generation of terrorists,” Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, pictured, said in his June 2019 speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. “The special character of the third generation is the return of IS foreign fighters from the Middle East.”
The land exercise will add another component to the growing partnership. The countries in 2017 initiated trilateral maritime and air patrols, intelligence sharing and the establishment of maritime command centers in the Sulu Sea to curb piracy and kidnappings for ransom conducted by the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group. About three dozen Indonesian fishermen have been kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group or its affiliates since the patrols began, but authorities have rescued all but one, according to the Post.
Land exercise drills will include close-range combat training with a focus on familiarizing the troops with the capabilities of their partners from neighboring nations, reported The Diplomat, an online news magazine.
In an analysis for The Diplomat, senior editor Dr. Prashanth Parameswaran called the addition of the land exercise a welcome sign of Indo-Pacific cooperation to stop terrorism. “Talk of the exercise is the latest in a series of incremental, long-mulled steps in what is one of the more promising manifestations of Southeast Asian mini-lateral security collaboration, whatever the limitations and challenges remain,” he wrote. “Seen from that perspective, how the three countries and the wider region continue to develop this mechanism will continue to be significant to monitor in the coming months and years.”
Recent events demonstrate why the cooperation is needed. Indonesian police in May 2019 arrested 18 suspected militants who were planning to launch an attack while using election protest rallies as a cover, according to a report by The Straits Timesnewspaper. Six of those arrested were former ISIS fighters who had returned to Indonesia after traveling to Syria to fight for the terrorist group.
The Philippines also continues to battle the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group. Two bombs exploded in January 2019 at a Catholic cathedral in Jolo, Philippines, in the Sulu province. The attack killed 20 people and injured 102, and authorities believe the bombings were carried out by the Abu Sayyaf Group.