MANILA — In late May, the Philippines became the first nation in Asia to have one of its cities fall to the terror group Daesh (ISIS) and its affiliates. The southern city of Marawi was overtaken by hundreds of gunmen who took control of multiple landmarks and the majority of the city’s residential areas. In response, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the entire region of Mindanao, where Marawi is located.
While the Philippine Army has been holding its own against the militants, the United States joined the fight on Saturday, sending U.S. special forces to provide “technical assistance.”
The Philippine Army in a statement cited by Reuters asserted that the U.S. had no “boots on the ground” in the fight and is only offering technical assistance to Philippine forces seeking to reclaim Marawi. The U.S. Embassy in Manila has stated that the U.S. offered the support to the Philippines at the request of the Philippines government, though they refused to provide further details on the alleged request.
The Pentagon also confirmed increased U.S. military presence in the Philippines, stating that it is providing Philippine forces with aerial surveillance and targeting, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance and training. It also stated that 300 to 500 U.S. troops are in the country to “support regular training and activities,” though no further details were given.
But less than a day later, the U.S.’ justification for its increased military presence in the Philippines fell apart, as Duterte said at a press conference on Sunday that he “never approached America” for help and that he was entirely unaware of their presence “until they arrived.” This statement came months after Duterte had ejected the very U.S. special forces that have since returned.
The US military is like the house guest that won’t go home–even worse, not invited!!!… https://t.co/Q13guaeK0o
— Cynthia McKinney PhD (@cynthiamckinney) June 12, 2017
While the Philippine government claims that it did not request U.S. military aid, it remains unconfirmed if the Philippine Army requested the aid independently without consulting the federal government.
Duterte insinuated during Sunday’s press conference that this may be the case, stating that due to years of U.S. training, “our soldiers are pro-American, that I cannot deny.” He did not explicitly comment on whether the army had asked for U.S. military aid without his approval.
The Philippine Army’s ties to the U.S. go back nearly a century, as the Philippines was – for all intents and purposes – a U.S. colony following the U.S.’ overthrow of the revolutionary Filipino government in 1902 at the conclusion of the Philippine-American War. Since then, ties between the two have remained incredibly close. For instance, the entire Philippines Army was absorbed into the U.S. military during World War II by U.S. presidential edict. In the decades since, the U.S. has continued to station military advisers in the Philippines to train its troops and joint exercises between the two nations were routinely held until Duterte became president.
However, the Philippine military seems to have admitted to asking for the aid. Philippine military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told the Associated Press: “We don’t have adequate surveillance equipment, so we asked the U.S. military for assistance. It’s non-combat assistance.”
If Padilla’s assessment of events is confirmed, it could mean troubling times ahead for the island nation. Nearly every U.S.-backed military coup in history involved the U.S. convincing the military to oust or refuse to take orders from the nation’s president.
Duterte has made waves with the U.S. political establishment and likely the pro-American Philippines military for his stated plans to eject U.S. military personnel from the Philippines during his term. He has also widened the rift between both sides by seeking greater ties with U.S. rivals China and Russia.
As a result of this stance, Duterte, just days before Marawi fell, expressed his concern that he could be targeted by a U.S.- or CIA-led coup. He told RT that he is well-aware of the price that is often paid by leaders who back out of strategic alliances with the United States, stating “I said about [removing] the American troops, that one day, during my term, if I survive the CIA, I still have five years to go.”
Duterte, in the past, has indirectly blamed the U.S. for the persistent insurgency in its southern regions. When Duterte ejected U.S. special forces from the southern Philippines last year, he stated that his nation’s alignment with the Western world was at the root of the rise in Islamic extremism there. “For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace in that land [Mindanao],” Duterte stated at the time. In his more recent interview with RT, Duterte stated that most Daesh militants are foreign and “Caucasian-looking.”
The fact that Mindanao is the very region now threatened by Daesh suggests that documented U.S. intelligence plans to use the terror group as a tool to destabilize and overthrow democratically-elected presidents may now be coming to fruition in the Philippines.
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