It has been three years since the last major attacks in the region - three suicide bombers set themselves off in Bali restaurants, killing themselves and 19 innocents - and in that time Indonesian police have taken over 200 Jemaah Islamiyah militants into custody, and the group has seen al Qaeda withdraw financial and logistical support for their efforts.
In the Philippines the Abu Sayyaf Group, an Islamic extremist organization with links to the aforementioned Jemaah Islamiyah, has been beaten back to a few enclaves on a handful of southern islands.
Indonesia and the Philippines have long been viewed by the intelligence community as the most vulnerable nations in the region to terrorist attack and influence. Both nations have been successful in diminishing the terrorist threat, at least in the near term, but of interest to other states that are working toward that same end, there are lessons learned from both of the disparate approaches to the problem.
The Philippines has been successful militarily, but Abu Sayyef is an armed insurrection, that launched military style attacks and engaged the Philippine military, challenging them on their own turf. The United States has funded and trained the Philippine military in COIN process, but has stayed out of the actual fight.
Indonesia has relied on a law enforcement approach to neutralizing the problem. Terrorist suspects are treated well and encouraged to defect or to share information.
Indonesia explains that its friendly handling of detainees will make its government seem less of an enemy of Islam. The Indonesian police are skillful interrogators, their Western counterparts say, and there have been no credible reports of torture being used in Indonesia to break the rings or win the prosecutions. Convictions have resulted in long prison sentences. As terrorists are successfully neutered without major disruptions to the lives of the citizenry, sympathy and local support evaporate.
Senior American officials, government authorities in the region and counterterrorism specialists say that the most serious threats are on the wane — in contrast to American intelligence assessments that Al Qaeda in the Pakistani tribal areas is resurgent and that regional affiliates like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are gaining strength.Remember what I said about lessons learned? That is actually an operations term in my former life. You don't leave every tech and analyst in the world to reinvent the wheel. In my training, I had an actual training module called "Lessons Learned" - this ain't new stuff.
"The governments out here take it very seriously and, in my opinion, seem to be doing a very good job individually and working together to deal with that terrorist threat," Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a former director of central intelligence, told reporters on June 1 at a regional security conference here.
Senior American intelligence officials began noting progress earlier this year. "Southeast Asia continues to be a concern, although not nearly that which we might have envisioned two or three years ago," Michael Leiter, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in a speech in Washington in February.
The United States and Australia, in particular, have played major roles in helping Southeast Asian countries combat terrorist threats in the region.
What it is, is basic. Not sexy, not flashy, not high-profile. Just basic, fundamental analysis. Looking at the job ahead and then looking in the toolbox and selecting the right tool for the job. Brains rather than brawn. You know, frivolous shit like actually engaging the thought process rather than reflexively just blowing shit up.
What knocks my hat in the creek is the fact that the United States seems to have the sense to apply lessons learned and back disparate approaches when it comes to helping other countries battle the terrorist threat, while at home they act like all we have is a hammer (the military) and the whole world is a nail.