Since June, there has been a small U.S. military presence on the ground supporting the fight against ISIS in the Philippines, called Joint Special Operations Task Force Trident.
In Manila on Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. was providing the Philippines government with “intelligence capabilities” in the fight against ISIS, including “some recent transfers of a couple of Cessnas and a couple of UAVs (drones) to allow to them to have better information with which to conduct the fight down there.”
“We’re providing them some training and some guidance in terms of how to deal with an enemy that fights in ways that are not like most people have ever had to deal with,” Tillerson explained.
On Tuesday, the situation heated up when it was reported by NBC that the Pentagon is considering U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS militants who have killed hundreds of civilians since black flag-waving gunmen stormed buildings and homes in the business district and outlying communities of the city of Marawi, a center of Islamic faith in the southern third of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
The authority to strike ISIS targets as part of a collective self-defense could be granted as an official military operation that may be named as early as Tuesday, U.S. military officials told reporters. The strikes would likely be conducted by armed drones.
Our military has been sharing intelligence with the Philippines for years, according to Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis, who called it a “steady state.” He noted, “We have had a consistent CT [counterterror] presence in the Philippines for fifteen years now.”
Duterte has faced intense international criticism for a brutal crackdown on drugs since coming to power last year. From June 30, 2016, to January 2017, Human Rights Watch estimates that 7,000 people have been killed in Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. Many of those deaths have been attributed to the Philippines National Police.
However, Tillerson said that there was “no big contradiction” in providing assistance to the Philippines in spite of those human rights concerns. He said, “I see no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of other human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counternarcotics activities.”
The militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) denounced the proposed airstrikes on Tuesday.
“Bayan opposes in the strongest terms U.S. plans to conduct airstrikes in the Philippines against ISIS-linked groups. There can be no justification for allowing a foreign superpower with the world’s worst rights record to be conducting airstrikes on Philippine soil,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said in a statement.
Reyes accused the U.S. of making the Philippines into another Syria or Somalia, where U.S.-sanctioned airstrikes against Al Qaeda and ISIS resulted to huge civilian casualties. He went on to claim that the plan is also a threat against Philippine’s sovereignty.
“The airstrikes will violate our national sovereignty and will run counter to the constitutional ban on foreign troops participating in combat operations in the Philippines,” Reyes said in a statement, adding, “There is a concerted effort now on the part of several U.S. agencies to push for an extended U.S. role in the fight against ISIS, using the conflict as a pretext for permanent U.S. basing and power-projection in Southeast Asia.”
Last month, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs endorsed the idea of naming the mission in the Philippines, saying that naming it would provide more funding.
In every case where we see the resurgence of terror networks,” said Gen. Paul Selva, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “particularly in the fragile areas of the southern Philippines, I think it’s worth considering whether or not we reinstate a named operation, not only to provide for the resources that are required but to give the Pacific Command commander and the field commanders in the Philippines the kinds of authorities they need to work with indigenous Philippine forces to actually help them be successful in that battle space.”
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