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Don’t Look Now, But The US Has Boots On The Ground In The Philippines

U.S. special forces are now assisting the Philippines’ military to quash an ISIS-inspired movement in the Pacific nation as government forces are struggling to make significant headway against the militants.

From the Manila Times:

Philippine troops are struggling to defeat hundreds of fighters, who rampaged through Marawi on May 23 flying black flags of the Islamic State group, and have used bomb-proof tunnels, anti-tank weapons and civilians as human shields to fortify their positions.

In the latest round of fighting, 13 Filipino marines were killed during heavy door-to-door combat on Friday.

The losses have “not diminished our resolve a bit,” Col. Edgard Arevalo said, according to the Associated Press. “It instead primed up our determination to continue our prudent advances to neutralize the enemy, save the innocent lives trapped in the fight, and set the conditions for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi.”

The U.S. special forces are currently offering assistance “pertaining to exercises, training, technical assistance,” another Philippine military spokesman said earlier this week. Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera added that the U.S. special forces currently there are not directly engaged in the fighting.

According to Reuters, direct U.S. participation in combat is against Philippine law, though the Pentagon has had around 50 to 100 special forces troops stationed in the south of the country conducting rotational exercises for years. The Pentagon said it was providing Philippine forces with security assistance and training in the areas of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Without giving further details, it also said it has an additional 300 to 500 troops in the country to support regular training and activities.

Reuters also reported that an anonymous official said this support included aerial surveillance and targeting, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance, and training. As we saw in Libya in 2011, this manner of assistance is integral to any offensive conducted by allied forces. American troops do not need to be directly involved in combat in order for the U.S. to decisively influence the outcome on the battlefield if they are already providing assistance with surveillance and intelligence.

Renewed American involvement in the Philippines is hardly surprising given that U.S. special forces have assisted the country against militant groups numerous times since 2001. According to the RAND Corporation:

U.S. forces carry out a wide range of enabling and advisory activities on or near the battlefield, which can include direct support to combat or combat advising in accordance with rules of engagement established by U.S. policy and host-nation agreement, as well as civil affairs and information operations.

The U.S. has also just supplied its Filipino counterpart with an array of weapons and equipment, including “300 M4 carbines, 200 Glock 21 pistols, 4 M134D Gatling-style machine guns, and 100 M203 grenade launchers delivered May 18-22 to Clark Air Base.”

Though Duterte seemed intent on establishing a new course for his country by aligning with Russia and China — inviting the CIA to assassinate him in the process — ISIS-inspired groups within his country may prove that shaking off the Pentagon may, in fact, be a lot harder than he first hoped. It would appear that the U.S. has no plans to leave the region anytime soon and is most likely just getting warmed up in its renewed military presence in the Asian-Pacific country.

Unsurprisingly, Duterte said he wasn’t even aware that the U.S. was assisting in his country’s battle with Islamist militants. He also made it clear that he had not requested U.S. military assistance. As Reuters explained, it is still unclear if the U.S. went over his head or not, something they are apt at doing in most countries around the world.

The group currently battling the U.S.-backed Philippine forces are an Islamist group known as Maute, composed of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas. MILF fighters only exist because of a longstanding separatist movement that had the aim of establishing an independent Islamic state for the Filipino Muslim minority. This minority has had centuries of clashes with the Spanish, American, and Filipino governments that have long sought to oppress them. Unsurprisingly, developments toward reaching a peace agreement were derailed partly because Manila is not prepared to concede outright to the militants’ demands.

And yet, this problem was actively warned about in the years prior to these events unfolding right now. According to RAND, the MILF posed a problem due to the following factors:

Lack of a contingency plan in case the peace process fails, and no policy guidance after signing the CAB [Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro] to address potentially contentious issues. Recommendations include maintaining strong adherence to the peace process and developing a contingency plan in case the peace process fails.[emphasis added]

It seems like peace could have been achieved a long time ago. If only peace were truly in the interests of those running the show, Philippines may not have had to endure such a conflict.


Darius Shahtahmasebi
Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst, currently specializing in immigration, refugee and humanitarian law. Contact Darius: Support Darius' work on Patreon:

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