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

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid