Thursday, August 27, 2009

US Forces Do Participate in Philippine Military Operations

The revelation by Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian, the so-called Balikatan whistleblower, that US forces participated in military operations against the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf is not something new. The terms of Balikatan 02-01 - that huge joint RP-US military exercises in Basilan in 2002 - clearly say that US Forces can engage in combat as an act of self-defense.

It is interesting to note that our government officials are trying very hard to deny the embedding of US forces when in fact the very document signed by the government to govern the terms of these joint military exercises clearly states this. The same thing goes for the US Embassy in Manila. In a 2006 article by US Army Colonel Gregory Wilson, who has served as operations director for Special Operations Command South (based in Florida) and a command position for US forces in Southern Philippines, entitled Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and the Indirect Approach (found on the US Army website!), he wrote the following:

In February 2002, the United States dispatched JTF-510, comprised of 1,300 U.S. Troops, to the Southern Philippines. Its mission was to conduct unconventional warfare operations "by, with, and through" the AFP to help the government separate the population from, and then destroy, Abu Sayyaf. The bulk of the force consisted of an air component in Mactan, Cebu, and staff and support personnel located at the JTF headquarters in Zamboanga. The tip of the U.S. spear consisted of 160 SF personnel and, later, 300 members of a Naval construction task group. All U.S. Forces operated under restrictive rules of engagement. Once on Basilan, SF advisers deployed down to the battalion level and moved in with their Philippine counterparts in remote areas near insurgent strongholds. . . (citations ommitted)
Although Colonel Wilson was careful enough to emphasize that US forces operated under restrictive rules of engagement, as are other public records on the matter, the undeniable fact is that US forces participated in Philippine military operations. And there is no denying the fact that when they did this, whether their presence is called on an "advisory" capacity only, they were not merely bringing hammers and shovels; they were in full combat gears! Now in a highly explosive conflict situation, where the object is to hunt down and kill Abu Sayyaf insurgents, firefights are bound to erupt - as in fact they did. So what would these highly trained American special forces units do in such a situation? We all know the answer to that.

But considering the colonel only said that US forces were deployed at the battalion level, which is equal to saying that their involvement in actual conflict would still be remote, skeptics would still be not convinced. The following, however, should erase any doubt about the embedding of US forces:

Soon after Balikatan 02-1, JTF-510 reorganized into a much leaner organization called the Joint Special Operations Task Force, Philippines (JSOTF-P), which continued advisory efforts with selected AFP units at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels . . . Deployed at the tactical level, SF advisory teams called Liaison coordination elements (Lce) are small, tailored, autonomous teams of special operations personnel from all services.57 they advise and assist select AFP units in planning and fusing all sources of intelligence in support of operations directed at insurgent-terrorist organizations.58 LCEs conduct Decentralized planning and execution using a robust reachback capability to the JSOTF-P to leverage additional assets in support of AFP operations.
The "SF units" referred to above means special forces, such as Green Berets, Navy Seals and other highly specialized and trained units of the US Armed Forces. If during the Balikatan 02-01 (also known as Operation Enduring Freedom) US forces were only deployed at the battalion level, the above passage clearly says after that operation, the US Forces started deploying at the tactical level - which means at the company or even platoon or squad levels, in which the actual military operations are carried out. Sure they are merely there as "advisers," but that is a very deceptive term. It will be recalled that during the early years of the Vietnam War, US Forces started being embedded on South Vietnamese Army units as "advisers" also. And, as previously observed, being deployed in a conflict situation creates the strong likelihood of being engaged in actual combat. So all this talk about US Forces being subject to restrictive rules of engagement while accompanying Philippine troops in pursuit of insurgents is nothing but quibbling.

To further prove my point that indeed US Forces participate in Philippine military operations, the following passage in a January 15, 2009 Congressional Research Service (public policy research arm of the United States Congress) report entitled Republic of the Philippines: Background and US Relations is very revealing:

In 2005, the Philippines and the United States developed and implemented combined operations against elements of Abu Sayyaf operating in western Mindanao and Jolo. The operation apparently had three objectives: (1)neutralize Abu Sayyaf-Jemaah Islamiyah training; (2) kill or capture leaders of Abu Sayyaf; and (3) root out the Abu Sayyaf forces and organization on Jolo in a similar fashion as the successfulcampaign on Basilan in 2002. The U.S. role in western Mindanao reportedly involved intelligence and communications support of the AFP, including the employment of U.S. P-3 surveillance aircraft; deployment of Navy Seal and Special Forces personnel with AFP ground units; and rules restricting U.S. personnel to a non-combat role (although such rules normally would allow U.S.personnel to defend themselves if attacked)
Note the objective of capturing and killing leaders of Abu Sayyaf and the deployment of Navy Seal and special forces personnel with AFP ground units (in boldface). US Special Forces units will accompany Philippine soldiers in undertaking missions to capture or kill Abu Sayyaf leaders or in neutralizing them. Any sensible person would know that such a dangerous mission would entail combat or actual military hostilities. Surely, these Navy Seal units won't only shout advises to Filipino soldiers while taking fire from insurgents! As also noted above, they would be allowed to defend themselves. But if the mission is to actively seek out and exteminate insurgents, the phrase self-defense appears contradictory.

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