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Vol. 71/No. 7      February 19, 2007

U.S. Special Forces fighting
‘terror’ group in Philippines
February 5—New facts about the deployment and operations of the U.S. military in the Philippines have emerged over the last month. U.S. Special Forces have been engaged, along with Filipino troops, in an offensive against Abu Sayyaf, a group Washington and Manila have labeled “terrorist.”

Since last August, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been in pursuit of Abu Sayyaf, which means “Sword of God” in Arabic. The militia has been waging guerrilla warfare from bases in the jungle, including through bombings and kidnappings. Its aim has been to press for establishing an independent “Islamic state” in Mindanao, the second largest island in the southern Philippines. Abu Sayyaf has been based in a remote, impoverished, and predominantly Muslim area.

U.S. troops are there only to “advise, assist, share information” with AFP units, stated U.S. Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop. However, “Unconventional Warfare,” a report released last month by the group Focus on the Global South, includes eyewitness accounts and other documentation showing that U.S. troops “joined the Filipino soldiers in operations at the immediate vicinity of the fighting.”

According to the report, the number of U.S. troops in the southern Philippines has ranged between 160 and 350. As recently as last October, some 5,700 Marines participated in amphibious landing exercises in the country.

U.S. soldiers have been sighted aboard military trucks and in rubber boats, mounting heavy artillery, operating military equipment, removing land mines, and performing other combat-related activities, according to the report. U.S. troops have also used unmanned spying planes, electronic tracking devices, eavesdropping mechanisms, and a full range of intelligence gadgets for “special reconnaissance” missions—a forte of Special Operations.

While not authorized to engage in direct combat, U.S. troops can fire back if shot at. C.H. Briscoe, a historian of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command who is quoted in the report, said the “guys were in the thick of it,” and were anxious to “get in the fight.” U.S. troops can operate at the company level and join patrols “as often as possible,” the report noted. This approach was used in Afghanistan, where U.S. Special Forces joined and commanded units of the Northern Alliance in the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban.

The Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, composed of U.S. Special Forces and the AFP, began operations in January 2002, to target Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, two groups allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. Prior to 2001, the groups ran unchecked military training camps, according to the U.S. Special Operations Command web site.

From the beginning, U.S. officials have referred to the operations in the Philippines as one of the theaters of Washington’s “global war on terror.” The Pentagon is also using the U.S. troop deployment there to set up military installations that can be used to expand its reach in the region.

The Pentagon’s presence in this former U.S. colony is opposed by many working people in the Philippines, who have condemned the many instances of abusive conduct by U.S. military personnel often stationed there in the past.

In 1992, in face of mounting opposition, Washington was forced to remove its military bases from the Philippines. In addition to serving as a staging ground for U.S.-led assaults in Asia and the Pacific, the bases also played a role in the repression of the population by the Filipino rulers.

According to “Unconventional Warfare,” members of the elite Australian Special Air Service (SAS) unit have also joined the AFP in “covert operations.” These are described as “the closest the SAS has come to conventional combat operations in Southeast Asia since the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s.”
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