Deputy Coordinator Shari Villarosa of Regional Affairs House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management today said denying terrorists safe haven plays a major role in undermining terrorists’ capacity to operate.
According to Ms. Villarosa, terrorists operate without regard to national boundaries. She said safe havens allow terrorists to recruit, organize, plan, train, and claim turf as a symbol of legitimacy. She added that physical safe havens usually straddle national borders or exist in regions where ineffective governance allows their presence like in Pakistan/Afghanistan border, Yemen, the Trans-Sahara region, and Somalia.
“To effectively counter safe havens, we increasingly operate in a regional context with the goal of shrinking the space in which terrorists operate. Through the Regional Strategic Initiative (RSI), we seek to build regional cooperation to constrain terrorist activities.”-Ms. Villarosa
According to Ms. Villarosa, Under Chief-of-Mission authority, the U.S. Embassy officials, Military, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence agencies together to collectively assess the threats, pool resources, and devise collaborative strategies and action plans.
Ms. Villarosa highlighted that the United States established nine RSIs covering South East Asia, Iraq and its neighbors, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Western Mediterranean, East Africa, the Trans-Sahara, South Asia, Central Asia and Latin America.
“I’d like to note that there are examples of success against terrorist safe havens, particularly in Southeast Asia where we formed our first RSI. Terrorists traveled freely among the nations of the region by sea. So, through the U.S. military and Coast Guard, we worked with the nations of the region to improve maritime security first in the Straits of Malacca, then in the Sulu Sea terrorist safe haven area.”-Ms. Clinton
Ms. Villarosa stressed that with combined U.S. military and development assistance, the Government of the Philippines now has increasing control of the island of Basilan and is beginning to create stability on the island of Jolo. He said both areas are exploited by Indonesia-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiya (JI) and the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf Group.
According Ms. Villarosa, improved law enforcement and criminal justice also works to shrink safe havens as seen in Indonesia. He noted that after the 2002 Bali bombings, Indonesia enacted new anti-terrorism laws and established a special police force working together with trained prosecutors.
Ms. Villarosa cited that as the result, the police have successfully disrupted operations, such as the Aceh terrorist training camp in February 2010, captured terrorists, collected intelligence, and arrested additional suspects based on that intelligence.