Friday, August 28, 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.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary


manuelbuencamino said...

The defense department says Gadian is the least credible witness. Fine. Nit how about Col. Wilson and the CRS?

So the Americans are involved in the fight against muslim separatists. The question is are they helping or hurting us?

If its the former then what's the problem?

Is there a constitutional prohibition against the government asking another government for help agaonst separatists?

Anna said...


Appreciate this post greatly.

To me, the real issue here is really what Sen Salonga has raised:

"US soldiers are circumventing the Constitution as well as violating the sovereignty of the Philippines by visiting the country under the pretext of conducting training exercises, but are actually setting up long-term military positions."

We have to get to the bottom of this: Is this true or not? If we want these permanent or semi permanent US fixtures then we should say so and ammend the VFA to allow for their (US) permanent or semi permanent establishment on RP soil.

If we don't want them, then we should send them packing. We can not be wishy washy about the truth or the legality of their presence.

As to their relevance in combat operations v Abu Sayyaff -- some claim our AFP aren't to be trusted hence the presence of US troops and their engagement in combat operations but seems they are not exactly contributing to the "annihilation" of the problem; so why are they there?

I also would like to know the answer to MB's question: Is there a constitutional prohibition against the government asking another government for help agaonst separatists? (We do have a Mutual Defence treaty with the US but am not sure if it covers internal defence or security measures.)

I would allow US presence if it would help us stabilise the situation in the South, no question about it but as a matter of principle, such move should go hand in hand with our Constitution, i.e., allowed, their permanent or semi-premanent presence should be legal.

Anna said...

Don't know if Gadian is credible or not but I realise this defence dept will say the most gross things against one of their own if it would save their skin.

Jun Bautista said...

MB and Anna,

I don't see any problem with a foreign power providing us help in ridding our country of our security problems, especially so if we are the ones who sought the help. But the real problem here is that there is no legal framework for US Forces to do what they have been doing.

The Constitution expressly prohibits the presence of foreign troops in the absence of a treaty. I posit the view that neither the VFA nor the 1951 RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty allows foreign troops to conduct military operations within our territory. The VFA merely governs the conduct of and jurisdiction over US military personnel participating in joint military exercises, while the Mutual Defense Treaty merely provides for, as its title suggests, mutual defense between the two countries against external aggression.

Anna said...


That's precisely what I thought!

So that places this entire military arrangement in legal limbo...

I have often told our esteemed host, DJB, that we cannot play hide and seek games with our existing laws pertaining to the semi-permanent or permanent foreign military operations arrangement and their fixtures on RP soil; there cannot be double standards nor exemptions just because they happen to be our much beloved American friends.

I'm a simple sailor with a simple mind: I too have nothing against mutual military operations assistance between nations but it should not contravene our own laws and definitely should not violate our Constitution.

Jun Bautista said...

Touche Anna.

Jesusa Bernardo said...

I'm not surprised at all. Talk of secret US bases or temporary secret bases have hounded us, or at least the more nationalist among us.

The US will always be around us Filipinos until the time it's no longer a superpower. Trust the "special friendship" adherents on that!

Jun Bautista said...

Yes Jesusa, such things are not surprising at all. Neither is the denial from both the Philippines and the US.

Amadeo said...

Was this a stray US military combatant I saw in the streets of Cagayan de Oro?

In the company of a chubby Filipina, this hulking figure alit from her compact car dressed for jungle wear-fare. He had on camouflage shorts and fatigue T-shirt, with a very visible holstered 45 on his waist and a bullet-proof vest worn over his T-shirt.

But walking on the busy streets of a bustling city in broad daylight, I wondered why. His clothing had no insignia of any kind to identify him. I suppose the intimidating 45-calibre pistol on his side was enough.

Searching for Abu Sayyaf in the middle of Cagayan de Oro?

Anonymous said...

It is amusing that Filipinos are so paranoid about foriegners, one or two stray westerners, tourists or whatever usually get heads turning, stares, whispers and general pre-occupation by the worried natives. Compare this to say Thialand, where westerners can be seen in just about every street in the main cities, at it is not uncommon to see even western teens out without thier parents, with no one having any major concern over this. When you compare the few numbers of foriegners in PI to say major tourist cities in the USA, that host millions of foriegn tourists daily, it is hard to believe the much talked about PI tourist industry really even exists. It is even more odd when seemingly rational leaders or celebrities suggest the presence of a handful of forigners, westerners, americans somehow threatens Philipine soverignty.. lol.. when there are millions of Filipinos working overseas. There is a name for this fear of foriegners, it is called xenophobia, and inciting extreme nationalism was a most useful tool of despots like Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and all the communist leaders found in asia. When you have fearmongering leadership that is inciting and fueling any type of racial, ethnic, religious, or nationalistic fears and hatreds.. beware.. and very careful watch out for the underlying motives of those purveyors of hate and fear.

Jesusa Bernardo said...

@ Anonymous,

Why don't you survey Philippine colonial history so you'll know where the "xenophobia" (your term) emanates from.

Why, RP has been called by some WESTERN historians and journalists as the "First Vietname" or "First Iraq." Imagine that?

Unless you're an agent or loudmouth of some neo-colonialist power, you'll understand our case.

As for the OFWs, that's a much friendlier and bloodless type of 'colonization,' don't you think? Filipinos actually are so hospitable and good to foreigners such that we're only capable of friendly tit-for-tat. :)