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Pentagon mulls resuming special operations in Mindanao

WASHINGTON D.C. A top American general said the United States should consider resuming military operations in the wake of the Marawi City siege by Islamic State-inspired militants. The US formally packed up its Special Operations presence in the country in 2014.

Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the US Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff told lawmakers at his confirmation hearings last July 18 it may be time to restart operations in the Philippines. He was responding to a question by Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, an Iraq War veteran and longtime advocate of increased US military assistance to the Philippines.

“In every case where we see the resurgence of terror networks, particularly in the fragile areas of the south Philippines, I think it is worth considering whether or not we reinstate a named operation,” Selva said.

“Not only to provide for the resources that are required, but to give the Pacific Command commander and the field commanders in the Philippines the kinds of authorities they need to work with indigenous Philippine forces to actually help them be successful in that battle space.” 

Ms. Ernst claimed that the Islamic State filled the void left by the reduction of US counterterrorism forces in the country starting in 2014. “Since that time, both Russia and China have sought collaboration to conduct counterterrorism operations in the region, but either country would be simply unacceptable to replace the U.S. as a partner with the Philippines,” she said.

“As ISIS continues to expand its operations in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and other Southeast Asia nations, it is clear this threat is not subsiding anytime soon. Al-Qaida used the Philippines as a safe harbor to plan the horrific attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and we cannot let ISIS do the same,” she added.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis said last month that ending Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) hobbled their ability to provide some forms of assistance to the Philippine military.

That joint US Special Operations task force was formed in January 2002, in the wake of the Sept. 2011 terror attacks, to help train and equip the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in battling the Al-qaeda franchise Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). At its peak, JSOTF-P had about 600 US Special Operators deployed at any one time in the country – mainly in Mindanao.

Although their mission was largely advisory, Sen. Ernst noted that 17 US troops were killed in the country, including Iowan Special Forces SSgt. Jack Martin, killed in a roadside bomb in Jolo, Sulu in October 2009.



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