July 3, 2017
Renato M. Reyes Jr. BAYAN secretary general
The Philippines ranks high in the priority areas for military intervention by the US Special Operations Command. This was contained in the testimony of General Raymond A. Thomas, III, U.S. Army, Commander of the United States Special Operations Command, testifying before the US Senate Armed Services Committee last May 4, 2017. The testimony came just three weeks before the siege of Marawi City in southern Philippines.
US Special Operations Forces are said to be involved in direct military intervention against so-called ISIS-inspired groups in Marawi. US provides local commanders with “situational awareness” through its exclusive control of high-tech surveillance equipment. This allows the US to practically direct military operations in Marawi City.
Marawi is just one of the many fronts where the USSOCOM is engaged in throughout the world. According to Thomas,”on a daily basis, we sustain a deployed or forward stationed force of approximately 8,000 across 80 plus countries.” US Special Operations Forces “are conducting the entire range of missions in both combat and noncombat situations with a wide variety of Joint, Interagency, International, and Multinational partners.”
Thomas categorized ISIS as a “Violent Extremist Organization”, the threat of which “remains the highest priority for USSOCOM in both focus and effort”.
“Special Operations Forces are the main effort, or major supporting effort for US VEO-focused operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, across the Sahel of Africa, the Philippines, and Central/South America – essentially, everywhere Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are to be found. Our priorities are disrupting external attack capability, destroying/neutralizing AQ and ISIS, developing a long-term approach to defeat and/or counter VEOs, and building partner capacity – helping our partners stabilize their environment and secure gains,” Thomas said.
Echoing the US counterinsurgency doctrine, Thomas said that their methodology “is more comprehensive than simple counter-terrorism and is an important part of an overarching whole-of-government approach to advance broader national security objectives”.
The Philippine’s national internal security plan Oplan Bayanihan and Oplan Kapayapaan are patterned after the US counterinsurgency doctrine and also involves a “whole-of-government’ approach as part of the psywar against and cooptation of insurgents.
The USSOCOM also looks forward to long-term military intervention in the priority regions. “Organizations such as ISIS and AQ are trans-regional threats that require the Joint Force to work with partners across the US government as well as coalition partners. It requires focused effort to secure and hold our gains by empowering local entities within and among the populations that terrorists exploit,” Thomas said.
Thomas added that they have the capability “ to fight in contested areas, often leveraging and enhancing the capabilities of indigenous partner forces. Accordingly, we continue to invest in ways that allow SOF to assist our partners better: command and control; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; Building Partner Capacity (BPC); and Aviation Foreign Internal Defense. An enhanced ability to leverage local relationships will ultimately help us better influence regional outcomes.”
US Special Forces in Marawi claim to be helping Philipppine forces through so-called “technical assistance”. They have been photographed flying surveillance drones in the conflict area. US P3 Orion planes have also been spotted in the area.
Two years ago, US Special Foces were also involved in the botched Mamasapano operation in the province of Maguindanao which saw 44 Philippine Special Action Force troopers die in an attempt to neutralize a US target in the area.
Operation Gallant Phoenix
There are indications that the US wants a bigger role in Mindanao following the events in Marawi. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, testifying before the Senate last June 13, said that the US ended its anti-terrorism task force too soon, “out of perhaps a premature view that we were gaining success.” At its peak, the US had 600 SOF elements operating in Mindanao.
The US had previously wanted to establish de facto bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA. They continue to maintain a small force of SOF operatives who “assist” the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They have maintained a permanent military presence in Mindanao for the last 15 years.
The Philippine government should disclose if it is part of Operation Gallant Phoenix, an SOF-led activity that is “designed to empower, support and integrate the efforts of our international, interagency, and Joint Force partners involved in US “counter-terror” campaign. Southeast Asian nations have reportedly been integrated into Gallant Phoenix. Thomas said that they have reportedly 19 foreign partners into the program. What is the extent of the Philippines involvement in this program as well as the extent of US meddling in our internal affairs?
For example, was Gallant Phoenix used by the US to provide the AFP with the intelligence on Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi, which triggered the armed conflict last May 23? Was the AFP operation so timed that it would scuttle Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s Russia visit? With Gallant Phoenix, how much did the US already know of the operations of the Maute-Abu Sayyaf group in Marawi?
Bayan has consistently opposed US military intervention in the Philippines. There is nothing benevolent in the continuing US role in Mindanao and other parts of the country. The US intervenes to advance its own economic and geopolitical interests in a region. These are interests which lie at the root of US destabilization of the Middle East, particularly the destruction of sovereign countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. These countries have been plunged into chaos as a result of US bombings and regime-change operations. US intervention has also given rise to extremist groups such as ISIS or Daesh. When it suits US interests, these so-called terrorist groups are supported by the US to destabilize or bring down a regime such as the one in Syria.
In the Philippines, the US used the Abu Sayyaf threat in 2002 to gain a permanent foothold in Mindanao, establish de facto bases and engage in direct military intervention. US military presence in the region also helps US economic interests as US forces protect US investments. Fifteen years after the US Special Forces were first deployed in Mindanao, the Abu Sayyaf remains a serious security threat.
The US role in the disastrous Mamasapano counter-terror operation that cost the lives of 44 Filipino troopers is a prime example of the folly of US military intervention. Filipino lives were sacrificed so that the US can get its target, alleged Indonesian terrorist Marwan. National sovereignty was violated when US Special Forces directed the entire operation.
As we have seen in Mindanao, US cannot protect us from the terrorist monster it created in the first place. The US however will continue using this monster as pretext for its military intervention in the country.
President Rodrigo Duterte said it best, US historical misdeeds “are the reason why Mindanao continues to boil.” His allowing of US intervention in Marawi however is in direct contravention of this and everything he said last year. ###