US troops back in harness vs ISIS in south
WASHINGTON has restarted its military operation in the Philippines after more than four years, its first formal mission to combat the rise and influence of the jihadist Islamic State (IS) in Southeast Asia, according to a Wall Street Journal report Saturday.
The new operation, to be called “Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines,” replaces the “Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines” cancelled in 2014, marks “a new phase of counterterrorism cooperation” efforts between Manila and Washington, said Joe Felter, US deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia.
The U.S. mission in the Philippines elevated the Overseas Contingency Operation, or OCO, following a Philippine government request last September 2017 to obtain support from the country’s traditional defense ally for added support in its fight against elements of jihadist Islamic State forces, the report said.
Officials in Washington had long been processing the idea for a US-backed intervention in the Philippines, after Daesh-inspired forces launched a failed siege to declare the southern island of Mindanao as its “wilayat” or province in Southeast Asia.
“In every case where we see the resurgence of terror networks, particularly in the fragile areas of the south Philippines, I think it is worth considering whether or not we reinstate a named operation,” Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a US Congressional hearing last July 2017.
U.S. officials stressed the U.S. made a mistake when it decided to cancel the military operation to help contain extremist fighters in the Philippines – “Enduring Freedom” – and ‘led to a vacuum that allowed Islamic State to expand and eventually capture Marawi.’
“This reflects the significance of the threat and the desire on the part of the U.S. government to get ahead of the problem, not wait until it more fully metastasizes,” Felter was quoted as saying in the WSJ report.
The siege of Marawi last year, Felter said, “was somewhat of a wake-up call.”
Between 200 and 300 American troops are currently serving in advisory roles in the country.
In addition to these, Washington is providing technical support and equipment, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance by drone.
Funding for the new US mission in the Philippines, as an OCO, will be exempt from “limits on routine spending,” the same used to finance the long-running wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the WSJ explained.
The Philippines, a former U.S. colony, had earlier signed to an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in 2014, allowing the U.S. to rotate troops into the Philippines for extended stays and giving them authority to build and operate facilities on Philippine bases.
The Supreme Court in 2016 upheld the agreement’s constitutionality in a 10–4 vote.
Aside from EDCA, other vital defense pacts between Manila and Washington include the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, and the Visiting Forces agreement signed in 1999.