Political Killings, Part of U.S.-Phil. Counterinsurgency Strategies


Extrajudicial executions, meant to create terror among the populace, are main fare in U.S.-directed counterinsurgency strategies in Vietnam and El Salvador during the latter part of the 60s and early 80s respectively. It is now being seen with increased intensity in Iraq and the Philippines. It is not surprising though, as Iraq, together with Afghanistan, is the first front in the U.S. “war on terror” and the Philippines is the second front.

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U.S. strategies for counterinsurgency were developed from its experiences in pacification campaigns against American Indians and the Fil-American War; partisan and guerrilla operations in German or Japanese occupied territories during World War II (unconventional warfare); and later, American experience in the Philippines, Korea, and Indochina. With the early pacification campaigns, the U.S. army used punitive actions and suppression campaigns employing conventional methods. Partisan and guerrilla operations led to the development of unconventional warfare and covert/special warfare which involves psychological operations[1] including assassinations, hostage-taking, propaganda, and sabotage operations. Counter-guerrilla tactics were developed and made more sophisticated with the latter experiences.

These strategies were first described in the 1951 manual of the U.S. Army Operations against Guerrilla Forces (FM 31-20) and the 1960 Special Forces manual, Counterinsurgency Operations.[2]

It combined the traditional approach to counterinsurgency, the use of conventional warfare methods, to that of guerrilla tactics. These are implemented by what U.S. manuals called as counterorganization for counterinsurgency. Among the formations and their tasks are,

*regular units of the military who are assigned the task of punitive operations, resettlement and suppression campaigns directed against the local population;
*army-trained civilian self-defense forces, such as the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), who are formed to provide security, surveillance and intelligence;
*elite special forces to match elite guerrilla forces and to lead paramilitary units; and
*paramilitary units, dressed like guerrillas, for intelligence, counter-subversion, and psychological or special/covert operations. One type of paramilitary unit is the small-unit “hunter killer team,” like the Nenita command of the Philippines headed by Col. Napoleon Valeriano of the Philippine Constabulary in the 1950s, which conducted long range reconnaissance with the mission to “hunt and destroy” the adversary. Another form of paramilitary unit is the anti-communist vigilante group formed from a tribe, religious, or political minority much like what was done in the Philippines during the late 1980s under the “total war” of the Aquino regime such as the Alsa Masa, Tadtads and Pulahans. [3]

U.S. counterinsurgency operations was originally envisioned to have four phases, namely, Phase 1 organization of local auxiliary counterinsurgency forces and population control; Phase II offensive operations to destroy large guerrilla formations, food control and resettlement, and designation of free fire zones; Phase III intensified efforts to isolate guerrilla forces; and Phase IV. Rehabilitation.

After the experience of the U.S, in counterinsurgency operations against the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or People’s Liberation Army) in the Philippines, another element was added, that of civilian operations or civic action. This also reflected a development in the counterinsurgency strategy of the U.S. synthesizing the “Winning the Hearts and Minds” theory with that of the “Cost-Benefit or Carrot and Stick” theory. From this developed the four phases of clear-hold-consolidate-develop contained in Oplan Bantay Laya as well as Oplan Lambat Bitag.

Two underlying principles are integral to U.S. counterinsurgency operations. First, the guerrilla/terrorist assumes an illegal status and therefore his life is forfeit if apprehended. Second, the guerrilla uses terror to subjugate the local population and can therefore be effectively neutralized by the use of counterterror by the counter-insurgent.

“Terror Operations,” by the counterinsurgent includes assassinations, disappearances, and mass executions. These terror operations were implemented by the U.S. and its puppet armies in many countries in subsequent decades, and remained as a hallmark of the counterinsurgency state in the 1980s.[4]

Justification for terror operations can be read in U.S. training manuals. The 1965 U.S. Army Psychological Operations manual (FM33-5) stated that unconventional warfare against the enemy should have a multiplier effect by creating an atmosphere of fear. Fear was being created to force the local population to transfer loyalties from the insurgent to the counterinsurgent; to create a disincentive to discourage the local population from providing resources to the insurgents; and to make the supporters and the insurgent themselves lose confidence on the strength of their own army. These terror operations were carried out overtly or covertly.

The May 1961 U.S. manual on “Operations Against Irregular Forces” defined “overt irregular activities” to include terrorism by assassination, bombing, armed robbery, torture, mutilation, and kidnapping; provocation of incidents, reprisals, and holding of hostages; and denial activities, such as arson, flooding, demolition, use of chemical or biological agents, or other acts designed to prevent use of an installation, area, product, or facility. “Covert irregular activities,” on the other hand, included espionage, sabotage, dissemination of propaganda and rumors, delaying or misdirecting orders, issuing false or misleading orders or reports, assassination, extortion, blackmail, theft, counterfeiting, and identifying individuals for terroristic attack.

To prevent the terror tactics from backfiring on the counterinsurgent, U.S. and French experts in counterinsurgency instructed that these must be carried out by “professionals.” According to the manuals, these “professionals,” referring to paramilitary units, mercenaries, or special units assigned as death squads, must not be identified with the counterinsurgents trying to win the hearts and minds of the population.

An example of a simple terror tactic was the “Eye of God” developed by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Edward Geary Lansdale when he was assigned in the Philippines in the 1950s under the auspices of the JUSMAG. The “eye of God” was used by soldiers in areas identified as supportive to the HMB. The soldiers would enter the area and warn villagers that supporters of guerrillas would be punished. During the night special operation units posted drawings of eyes on walls facing the house of suspected supporters of HMB guerrillas. A similar tactic was used in Vietnam in the early 60s but with certain ramifications.

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