News / Asia

US Maintains Quiet Counterterrorism Effort in Philippines

U.S. Army Col. Fran Beaudette, Commander, Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (file photo)
U.S. Army Col. Fran Beaudette, Commander, Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (file photo)

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. dispatched a military team to the Philippines to help the Manila government root out militant Islamic extremist groups.  The terrorist threat is seen as much diminished since then but still active. The military mission remains in the Philippines as part of the U.S.-led global anti-terrorism campaign.

Rocky Zeender spent two years on what he calls the “forgotten front” of the war on terrorism - the Philippines.

"Nobody knows about it. Right now all the funding and all the military support is going into the Middle East.  And by no means is the Philippines as large of a front as the Middle East.  However, it does provide an enormous safe haven for some radical members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah to come and train in," Zeender said.

As a member of the U.S. Special Forces, a “Green Beret”, Zeender slogged through the jungles and across mountains of the southern Philippines with Philippine troops from 2008 to 2010 looking for militant Islamist groups, some of whom have had links to al-Qaida.  

"You do have some very sporadic cities throughout Mindanao, although it would pretty much resemble any Vietnam movie anyone has ever watched - pretty much nothing but jungle and mountains and rice paddies. I spent most of my time up in the mountains. It was extremely dense jungle, extremely dense forest, very steep terrain, and very difficult to travel, sometimes impossible to travel, by vehicle, only by foot," Zeender said.

The Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, numbering about 600 men and women from the four U.S. armed services with an annual $90 million budget in the current fiscal year, was created in 2002.  Its mission, as the Task Force’s website puts it, is to advise and assist Philippine forces to fight terrorism and to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Mindanao.

The Joint Task Force’s presence is temporary and its role is strictly advisory.  But Zeender says U.S. troops did patrol with military troops and national police, and in doing so did take casualties, including some fatalities, primarily from improvised explosive devices.

"The U.S. military is not allowed to actively target terrorist groups within the Philippines.  We were there strictly as advisors.  However, if attacked, we do obviously have the right to self-defense, and that did happen under a couple of occasions while I was in the Philippines. And we worked very well with our counterparts," Zeender said.

The vast and rugged Philippine archipelago along with the islands of Indonesia to the south is a perfect refuge for terrorist groups.  The primary terrorist groups there are the Abu Sayyaf Group, a separatist group that has long utilized kidnapping for ransom to get funds and hostage beheadings to reinforce its demands, and Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaida ally responsible for several deadly bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines.  The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has officially broken with al-Qaida and has had a series of on-again, off-again ceasefires with the Philippine government as it tries to reach a peace settlement but radical members of the group remain militarily active.

Emile Nakhleh, former chief of the CIA’s political Islam strategic analysis unit, says the jihadist groups’ influence in the region is weakening.

"There are still some very nasty elements. But the countries in Southeast Asia and the publics have basically - especially their publics - are rejecting this whole rhetoric of terrorism and the whole radical narrative that has been the hallmark of global terrorism.  And so they are definitely on the wane," Nakhleh said.  

However, in January a bus bombing in Manila was blamed on the Abu Sayyaf. In June, Philippine security forces went on alert for possible terrorist bomb attacks in Manila.  The attacks never materialized.  But the island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago remain dangerous.  On July 12 two American citizens and a Filipino relative were kidnapped in Zamboanga City on Mindanao.

Zeender believes progress against Philippine-based terrorist groups remains elusive without a deeper U.S. commitment in the Philippines.

"We’ve lost some members of my old unit actually down there.  And I don’t really see any gains being made. There seems to be one hand in the pot, and we’re not really fully committing.  And I believe it would be almost kind of a stalemate.  We’re not really gaining any ground or affecting anything on a large international level. However, we are helping the Philippine government and some of the locals.  But on an international scale, as far as eliminating the threat of terror, we’re sort of stalemating it," Zeender said.

But the issue of a U.S. troop presence is a sensitive one in the Philippines.  The 1987 Philippines constitution bars foreign military bases from the country, and the U.S. bases were closed after Philippine Congress voted in 1991 not to extend the base leases.  However, the two countries still hold joint military exercises.  And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed the U.S. defense commitment to the Philippines in June amid rising tensions between Manila and Beijing over disputed islands in the South China Sea.

You May Like

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs