THE United States may conduct drone strikes on Islamic State-inspired extremists in the country should a Pentagon plan be approved, an NBC News report said Tuesday.
Quoting unnamed US defense officials, NBC News said “the authority to strike ISIS targets as part of collective self-defense could be granted as part of an official military operation that may be named as early as Tuesday.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana denied the report, however, saying that “no discussions regarding airstrikes from whatever platforms hitting local targets transpired at his level.”
“Nothing of the sort. I don’t know how this news originated,” Lorenzana told Manila Standard in a text message.
If approved, the US military would be able to conduct strikes against ISIS targets in the Philippines that could be a threat to allies in the region, which would include the Philippine forces battling ISIS on the ground.
In a news briefing at the Sofitel Hotel last Monday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted that US was providing the Philippine government with “intelligence capabilities” in the fight against ISIS.
“As you know, most of what we’re providing them is information, some surveillance capabilities with some recent transfers of a couple of Cessnas and a couple of UAVs to allow them to have better information in which to conduct the fight down there,” he said.
“We’re providing them some training and some guidance in terms of how to deal with an enemy that fights in ways that is not like most people have ever had to deal with,” he added.
“Bringing our knowledge of having dealt with this enemy in other parts of the world is useful to them, and I think that is also in our national security interest as well.”
In a separate statement, Lorenzana said a US-led drone strike “is not within the provisions of the Mutual Defense Treaty.”
“The DND denies any discussions regarding the use of US drones to strike against Daesh-inspired terrorist groups in the Philippines. The AFP also states that no such discussions have occurred at their level,” he said.
“Direct military actions are only allowed during actual foreign invasion by another state actor. Hence, such [a] proposition has to undergo a process and an agreement must be reached that should have the approval of both the highest officials of our nation,” he added.
Although Philippine-US security relations and counter terrorism efforts are robust, US assistance has been “limited to technical assistance, sharing of information and training,” Lorenzana said.
A militant group, however, slammed proposals for US-led airstrikes in the country.
“There can be no justification for allowing a foreign superpower with the world’s worst rights record to be conducting airstrikes on Philippine soil,” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said.
“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,” he added.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said the military has “yet to receive any formal notice or offer for such air capability deployment.”
“The existing Mutual Defense Treaty provides that only technical assistance and training may be allowed under the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board [MDB-SEB],” Año said.
“Direct military actions may only be allowed during actual invasion of the Philippines by another state actor,” he added.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the matter had not been discussed by both countries.
Año expressed appreciation for the US’ “reported desire” to help the Philippines end the lingering crisis in Marawi, but said such a plan must undergo a process, and the commanders-in-chief of both countries must come to an agreement.
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