RESTORING A FRAGILE PEACE: The 2000 Battle For Central Mindanao

     This publication looks back at one of the biggest military campaigns in the history of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP): the “All-out War” vs. the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) from late March to July 2000. This involved preliminary skirmishes at the start of 2000, following a series of MILF ceasefire violations, which came to a head when MILF forces overran Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte in mid-March. The main AFP offensives were targeted at clearing the Narciso Ramos Highway and dismantling a network of enemy camps, mostly in Central Mindanao, culminating in the military takeover of Camp Abubakar al Siddique, the symbol of MILF defiance of Philippine sovereignty.      This “retrospective” study in military strategy, tactics, and operations has been done on the initiative of the Operations Research Center, Philippine Army (ORCPA). This relatively new Army unit is mandated to document significant information on Army operations by conducting research, managing data and producing handbooks for the organization to keep up with changes in the manner of Army operations. Its publications focus on specific warfighting and support functions and highlight the best practices, challenges encountered, lessons learned and recommendations of key authorities within the Philippine Army. These resource materials are designed to help enhance organizational adaptability, soldier survivability, and combat effectiveness that will enable ground forces to neutralize current and emerging threats.      In this context, revisiting the 2000 Central Mindanao campaign with a sharper focus on Army operations carries immense contemporary significance for our organization. A deeper appreciation of the evolution of our war-fighting capability through the analytical lens of a major military campaign can only help the Army assess the effectiveness of subsequent interventions to sharpen operational efficiency.      From a broader perspective, looking back at the 2000 Central Mindanao campaign gives us a better sense of how the political environment in the south has evolved since then. At the time, the MILF positioned itself as the champion of an independent Muslim Mindanao and managed to draw substantial popular support at the grassroots. The passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), in 2018—coupled with the rise in international Islamist terrorism in the years following the campaign—has changed the complexion of the threat scenario in the Southern Philippines. It remains to be seen whether or not armed “liberation fronts” can hold as much sway as the MILF did over large swaths of Central Mindanao nearly two decades ago. It has been an open question, too, if the Bangsamoro aspiration can be hijacked by a larger Islamist agenda.      The meat of this “retrospective” study dwells on the conduct of the “Allout War” vs. the MILF in 2000, with a sharper focus on Army operations. Nevertheless, military strategists, reading between the lines, have much to infer by way of appreciating nuances in the fluid dynamics between political and military decision-making.      In the end, we go back to the reality that military strategy is but part of a broader political and national strategy. In the case of the campaign to reclaim Central Mindanao in 2000 (and other internal conflicts like it), the value of victory in war tends to diminish if it does not significantly advance the prospects of winning the peace over the long term.      Apart from reinforcing our confidence in the ability of the AFP/PA to thwart formidable threats to the Republic, this book is designed to help us learn vital strategic lessons well.

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