Thursday, June 26, 2014

U.S. Phasing Out Its Counterterrorism Unit in Philippines

My view on this is quoted in the article below.

Three additional comments that are not in the article.

First a better description of the organization and the mission is that this was a special warfare approach to counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.  The majority of the units making up the joint special operations task force were special warfare forces that do not have counterterrorism as their primary mission but instead were focused on unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, psychological operations and civil affairs.

Second, one of the most important contributing factors to the success of the operation was that it was built on the foundation of a comprehensives assessment in October 2001 from the strategic to the tactical level conducted by a handful of special operations personnel, including supporting intelligence officers  and logisticians.  This assessment as well as the continuous area assessment conducted in accordance with SF/SOF doctrine informed the campaign plan and strategy to this day.  One important lesson from this operation is the importance of assessment and it is heartening to hear the emphasis on assessment in Iraq from President Obama because although the conditions are vastly different one thing that can contribute to success in Iraq (or determining if success can even be achieved)  will be the assessments conducted by the SF soldiers on the ground.

Lastly, when the assessment and recommended courses of action were briefed in October 2001 by then-Colonel now retired LTG David Fridovich, the CINCPAC (we called him CINC back then) ADM Blair asked how long would this mission take and LTG Fridovich said it would take about 10 years or so to achieve lasting effects.

U.S. Phasing Out Its Counterterrorism Unit in Philippines

By FLOYD WHALEY and JUNE 26, 2014
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    MANILA — An elite American military counterterrorism unit that has been operating in the southern Philippines for more than a decade is being phased out, the Pentagon’s Pacific Command said Thursday.
    The Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines — which was formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — was established to help train and advise the Philippines in its fight against rebel groups linked to Al Qaeda. The unit was one of dozens worldwide that tried to fight potential terrorist groups, before they could strike the United States.
    American Special Forces will continue to help Philippine security forces counter a smaller, lingering Islamist threat, but the size of the mission will drop in the coming months to a dozen or so advisers from its current 320 service members, based in Mindanao in the south, American officials said.
    “Our partnership with the Philippine security forces has been successful in drastically reducing the capabilities of domestic and transnational terrorist groups in the Philippines — to the point where they have largely devolved into disorganized groups resorting to criminal undertakings to sustain their activities,” said Capt. Masato Itoh of the Marine Corps, a spokesman for the Pacific Command in Hawaii.
    The phasing out of the force, which had as many as 600 troops as recently as 2009, reflects a combination of budget pressures in Washington; higher priorities for Special Forces in spots like Iraq; and a successful shift to Filipino forces that have largely defeated militant groups like Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
    “This is a natural evolution and an example of the maturation of the Philippine military,” said Col. David S. Maxwell, a retired Special Forces officer who commanded the unit in 2007 and is now at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. “Our commitment still remains, but it’s possible to scale back and transition to a new training mission.”
    Indeed, the changing American counterterrorism role comes two months after the Philippines and the United States signed an agreement that would allow the construction of military facilities in the Philippines that could be used by the United States. The new deal would allow American ships, aircraft and military personnel to be stationed there — though officials have stressed that permanent American bases would not be established.
    The new arrangement is focused on external threats, particularly in light of increased tensions between the Philippines and China over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The Philippine government has identified several potential areas where the American military might operate, most of which are near the western Philippine coast, facing China.
    American forces in the southern Philippines have not been authorized for combat but have played an advisory role on intelligence and surveillance, including the use of aerial drones for locating suspected rebels.
    The primary target of the Philippine military and the Special Forces was the small but violent Abu Sayyaf Group, credited with high-profile kidnappings, bombings and beheadings. Abu Sayyaf was formed in the early 1990s by Filipino rebels trained under Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and with help in the Philippines from Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who organized the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York.
    According to data from Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a risk consultancy that produces regular reports on insurgency activities in the Philippines, violence has remained consistently high in the southern Philippines in recent years. Abu Sayyaf is focused primarily on criminal activity, but remains a significant threat, according to a recent report by the firm.
    “The group has been surprisingly resilient and able to sustain this number over the past decade despite the death and capture of over a hundred of its leaders and members in past years,” it said.
    Abu Sayyaf’s ranks have declined to 400 fighters from a peak of 1,300 members in 2000, the report said, noting that two new violent extremist groups had been established in the southern Philippines recently.
    The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, established in 2010 as an offshoot of a larger, more moderate insurgency group, has about 450 armed followers who attack government forces and carry out bombings in the southern Philippines.
    The Khilafah Islamiyah Movement, a small, shadowy organization founded in 2012, is estimated to have only 20 to 30 members, but the Philippine military believes it detonated bombs in southern malls last year.
    In January, leaders in Manila struck a landmark peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim insurgent group in the country. The deal, which is still being completed by the government, seeks to bring prosperity to the restive south and weaken the appeal of the extremist groups.
    Floyd Whaley reported from Manila, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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