Michael's Dispatches

This Morning’s Photos


Friday, 05 June 2009
Sulu Island

U.S. troops here in the Philippines have been happily receiving large shipments of donated books from citizens in the United States.

In addition to building roads, schools and clinics, our troops along with Filipinos have been stocking shelves with donations from an organization called “Books for the Barrios.”

The villagers have been very happy, and along the roads there must have been hundreds of kids waving at our soldiers today. I didn’t see a single kid beg for candy, but I did see soldiers waving back. Large groups of children are a clear window into the hearts of their parents. All of our combat experienced troops in Afghanistan, Iraq – and here – watch the kids. The kids here are great, and I have not yet seen any that were made into brats by our folks handing out candy. The Philippine kids I’ve seen are well-mannered.

In the villages of Barangay, Buansa, Indanan, and Sulu teachers allow kids check out the books. Many children take the books home. The teeth of many children are in horrible condition.

Both the Philippine and U.S. military are giving me access to talk with their officers and enlisted soldiers, though they highly recommend not traveling alone around here because foreigners keep getting kidnapped. The villagers enjoy talking – many speak English -- and seem pro-U.S. We had lunch today in a village and the food was cooked by the locals, and it was delicious. Our troops who work in the villages hire locals to cook their meals and wash their uniforms.

The strategy here is complex. It’s largely based on drying up terrorist sanctuaries while walking an arduous path to avoid inflaming the people. The Philippine press is free and reckless, so the government must deal with the same sort of propaganda monsters that we deal with in the United States, while our collective enemies generally do not bother with distractions such as truth.

It would take months of hard research and internal travel to develop enough situation awareness to give a serious opinion about the direction of the war in the Philippines. My gut instinct at this point, however, is that progress is being made.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan P. · 12 years ago
    Where are the major media outlets?? Such a great story! would not have ever read it if you would not have posted it. Thanks agian Michael
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dean W · 12 years ago
    Excellent article from the people at Outside Magazine, the strategy really does seem to be an extention of the British "Briggs" plan that was eventually successful in the Malaya Emergency! It would be good to see an update on the current situation in Jolo? Michael, I'm interested to know where the US troops that you are currently embedded with recieve their jungle/close country tropical environmental training? After the demise of the US Jungle Warfare School in Panama (1991) and the subsequent closing of the US facility in Okinawa there seems to be a capability gap here? Can anyone shed any light?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan Howe · 12 years ago
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Allen Vailliencourt · 12 years ago

    Been a fan of yours for a # of years now. Great reporting you do. Keep it up! These recent articles hit home for me because I grew up in the Philippines (my mom is from Negros). I had an uncle that fought the MILF in the 80's and a grandfather that fought the Japanese in WW2.

    Had a HS teacher killed in Davao in 200 from a terrorist attack and that really hit home to me.

    Stay safe and keep doing a great job!

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Aaron V · 12 years ago

    Thanks for the report from this small corner of the world.

    But as I was reading it, and specifically the part about people donating much needed and appreciated books, I couldn't help but wonder if there was anything we could do here for the people of Afghanistan. I recently moved to a new apartment and I was struck with the amount of "stuff" I have. Is there anything in particular (books, clothes, shoes, pots/pans, etc) that is needed? Maybe I could do a books/clothes/shoes/pots/pans drive and round up some donation money to send it to some folks over there who need it way more than we do. If so, maybe we can point me in the direction of someone to talk to?

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