U.S. Terrorist Intervention in the Philippines

December 29, 2015

The following article is reprinted from Ang Bayan, news organ of the Communist Party of the Philippines

There is nothing new or surprising about current disclosures regarding the direct and leading role played by the US in the bloody clash at Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Ever since the US designated the Philippines as the “second front” in its “war on terror” in October 2001, it has widely and deeply intervened in the country’s internal affairs without letup. In connivance with the puppet government, the US has unbridledly violated Philippine sovereignty as well as international and local laws and regulations.

Since the early 2000s, the US has been invoking the specter of “terrorism” in the Philippines to justify the entry and continuing presence of its “counter-terrorist” troops in the country. The Abu Sayyaf bandit group, which was formed by former US forces who joined subversive activities in Afghanistan, was linked by the US to Al Qaeda and other groups accused of perpetrating the terrorist attack on New York City on September 11, 2001.

In 2005, the US included in its list of “terrorists” the New People’s Army, the Communist Party of the Philippines and Prof. Jose Maria Sison. In 2002, the US planned on declaring the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as terrorist as well, believing that it had even broader links with Jemaah Islamiyah compared to the Abu Sayyaf, but decided to drop it from the list and attempt to entrap it into agreeing to a ceasefire of indefinite duration and engaging in peace talks.

US military intervention was massive during operations against the Abu Sayyaf which was behind the kidnapping of 20 individuals from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan in November 2001.

Beginning 2003, some 600-900 American soldiers under the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P), a unit under the US Pacific Command, were stationed within Camp Navarro, a military camp of the AFP Western Mindanao Command.

In February 2002, the US sent 1,300 troops to Basilan using the mantle of Balikatan 02-1, the first joint military exercise launched in Mindanao. Among them were 160 troops from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the US president’s so-called “private army” which he unleashes for the extrajudicial killing of individuals arbitrarily declared as terrorist as well as their civilian supporters.

To make their presence in civilian communities palatable and to cover up the brutality of their operations, the US military poured in funds for civilian and infrastructure projects. According to a report by US ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney, American forces were involved in at least 255 various civic and humanitarian projects from 2006 to 2009.

These projects included 193 road repairs and the construction of ports, clinics, schools and water systems. The US also conducted various propaganda campaigns under MIST (Military Information Support Team), disseminating photographs, writings and comic books and airing radio and television advertisements to improve the image of their troops as well as that of the AFP in Moro civilian communities.

The US likewise sent 300 engineering troops to undertake civic-military projects such as road repairs in Basilan.

Documents from the US Congress state that “Operation Balikatan” involved embedding two-man teams of American soldiers in combat operations of selected AFP companies but without being subordinate to the latter’s command. “Operation Balikatan” peaked on June 7, 2002, after the US discovered Abu Sabaya’s (Aidam Tilao) Zamboanga camp, where the kidnap victims were being held.

Using “rescue operations” as cover, the US led Filipino troops in attacking the camp with the help of its surveillance and attack drones.

Two weeks after the bloody operation that resulted in the death of two Abu Sayyaf captives, Filipino operatives killed Abu Sabaya while he was escaping off the coast of Zamboanga City. Sabaya, who then had a $5-million bounty on his head offered by the US, was located through his satellite phone which, unknown to him, had been supplied by the CIA. Two US Navy ships carrying a team of US Navy Seals, a branch of the JSOC, supported the operation. The US declared “Operation Balikatan” a success in July 2002.

In February 2003, the US military sent in more troops in the face of a series of bombings in civilian centers in late 2002, which the US claimed was the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf. Among the soldiers sent by the US to the Philippines were more than 350 special operatives in Sulu and 450 troops in Zamboanga who directly joined AFP combat operations in the area.

These troops were supported by warships bearing 1,000 soldiers from the US Marines, 1,300 from the US Navy, attack helicopters and combat planes, which were strategically positioned at the Sulu Sea. On top of this, the US brought in military equipment, including P-3 surveillance aircraft which are used in sea warfare (and whose use no longer had anything to do with pursuing the Abu Sayyaf).

The “rules of engagement” drafted by the US and the Philippines state that the American soldiers embedded within Philippine battalions would perform “non-combat” roles. Nonetheless, they are allowed to retaliate when shot at, a situation intrinsic to a military operation.

Aside from the more prominent operations involving American forces, the US has also been involved in smaller but more extensive operations in other parts of Mindanao. There have been at least 23 documented cases where American troops openly joined AFP combat operations in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga and Maguindanao from 2002 to 2008 alone. Many of these operations, which were launched against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, resulted in the deaths of civilians and the destruction of their communities.

In April 2008, American troops were spotted at an AFP tactical command post in Barangay Ngan, Compostela, Compostela Valley. They were providing technical support to AFP troops who were maneuvering against the New People’s Army (NPA) in the area.

Since 2010, there have been a number of instances where direct US intervention was exposed. Among them was the so-called Zamboanga Siege of September 2013 where US forces provided direction and combat support to AFP troops and a prior attempt to liquidate Marwan through the use of “smart bombs” in February 2012 in Jolo, Sulu.