News / Asia

US Scales Back Counter-terrorism Help in S. Philippines

FILE - U.S. troops are seen on patrol during joint U.S.-Philippines military exercises in Tarlac province, north of Manila.
FILE - U.S. troops are seen on patrol during joint U.S.-Philippines military exercises in Tarlac province, north of Manila.
Simone Orendain

The United States military is scaling back its counter-terrorism assistance program in the southern Philippines after more than a decade of regular rotations. The move comes despite persisting security threats in the region.
 
U.S. government officials say their work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been “successful at drastically reducing the capabilities of domestic and trans-national terrorist groups.”
 
Casey Staheli, the U.S. spokesman for the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), says the groups have devolved into criminal elements.
 
“The time has come to re-evaluate our position here and how best we can continue to support the Philippine security forces.  So, with that in mind, military planners from both the United States and the Philippines are looking at ways to adjust our presence as far as the JSOTF-P goes,” says Staheli.
 
He says the focus is now shifting from helping with on-the-ground tactical efforts to strategy and planning.  According to Staheli, there are 320 U.S. troops with the task force.  A smaller contingent of high-ranking officials will be involved in the strategic work.
 
A year after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the U.S. started rotating troops to the southern island Mindanao, whose smaller island provinces are home to a terrorist group with links to al-Qaida.  
 
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was once notorious for large-scale bombings.  But in the past 12 years its ranks dwindled to a few hundred as military operations intensified with U.S. troop support.  Also, its funding source dried up when terror financing was blocked worldwide.  The ASG dropped its ideological motives and became known for kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and bombings.

Regional, domestic threats persist
 
Matt Williams, the Philippine country director for the business risk consultant group Pacific Strategies and Assessments, says as the United States scales back its counter-terrorism program here, there is still a terror threat in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia.
 
“Does the Philippine military and intelligence services have the capacity right now to continue to contain these groups from spreading into the Philippines, or will a lot of the successes of the last 10 years be lost?” – asks Williams.
 
Carl Baker with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies says the government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group have made important progress in working on a newly-signed peace pact to form an autonomous area in the south. But he says domestic threats still remain.
 
“There are still a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up.  And in any situation like the long-standing conflict that’s been going on in the southern Philippines, you have these splinter groups, these spoiler groups that can still cause disruption,” says Baker.
 
Protracted tensions

For nearly 40 years Muslims in Mindanao fought government forces in an insurgency that left more than 120,000 people dead.  After 16 years of off-and-on negotiations, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front forged a peace deal with the government.  But several other Muslim factions oppose the agreement.
 
Last September, Philippines forces fought a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front for weeks after it held 200 people hostage in the city of Zamboanga.  The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters continue bombing operations against the military.  And a tiny group calling for an Islamic caliphate is believed to have forged an alliance among the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah and other Philippine militant groups.
 
Rodolfo Mendoza, a terrorism expert at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, says these smaller groups are banding together.

“The peace process is still a closed door to them.  They are considered terrorists and so they have to maximize their plan of terrorist operations.  And now they are doing that,” says Mendoza.
 
Mendoza says bomb-making and other militia training continues among those groups.
 
But with the success in Zamboanga behind it, the Philippine Armed Forces, which has one of the smallest military budgets in Asia, says it has the experience to handle such threats.

Upbeat outlook

Armed Forces Spokesman General Domingo Tutaan says the change in the U.S. counter-terrorism program will not affect Philippine military operations in the south.
 
“They (JSOTF-P counterparts) have been undertaking also training of trainers so that transfer of knowledge and expertise is still going to be ongoing,” says Tutaan.
 
Baker says the transition also follows the Philippines’ own shift to focus more on protecting its territory and dealing with outside threats.  Its military modernization program is heavily geared toward bolstering external defense.
 
U.S. military spokesman Casey Staheli says the Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines will “cease to exist” in the first half of 2015.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid