By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security
Forces of the Moro National Liberation Front launched an assault on the Mindanao city of Zamboanga early this morning leading to a battle with security forces. Reports of the attacks claim that the rebels came by boat first attacking port facilities, then moving into the Rio Hondo neighborhood. Casualty numbers that have been reported have remained remarkably low; however Zamboanga’s mayor has stated that the rebels have around 20 hostages. Though the island of Mindanao is well known for militant activity and does have a large security presence, any hostage situation can unravel quickly. The Philippine government has sent around 800 troops to help secure the city, and while this may help in the larger picture it will take a delicate hand to help resolve the hostage crisis.
The U.S. has provided military assistance to the Philippines and has increased the number of U.S. military personnel, as well as the duration of the deployment, to the archipelago at the request of Manila. Though the U.S. presence was initially thought to be geared just towards the training of the Philippine military in counterinsurgency operations, it is possible that the mission could be expanded to help counter encroaching Chinese naval operations. This posturing has yet to be seen, but the immediate willingness of Manila to allow U.S. troops on their soil seems to go beyond the militant threat. For now, the U.S. and the Philippine military will focus on tackling the numerous threats from the various militant groups in the country, but as tensions heat up with China this mission could visibly change.