Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force In Philippines Ended Too Soon, Mattis Says

Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force In Philippines Ended Too Soon, Mattis Says by Wyatt Olson, Stars & Stripes

The United States should not have ended a special-operations task force in the southern Philippines three years ago in light of the weeks-long jihadi siege of a city there, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday.

“In 2014, we canceled the named operation that we had down there, out of perhaps a premature view that we were gaining success,” Mattis testified before a Senate Armed Services subcommittee. “Without [the task force], we lost some of the funding lines that we would have been otherwise able to offer.

The city of Marawi on Mindanao Island has been under attack by Islamic State-linked militant groups for the past three weeks. Dozens of Filipino troops and civilians have been killed in the fighting.

On May 24, the day after the attack began, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the island.

In 2002, the U.S. opened a so-called “second front” on terrorism on Mindanao. Hundreds of special operations troops assisted the Philippine armed forces with training and surveillance through the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, which officially ended in 2015.

At the high-water point of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines in 2010, about 600 special operators were working out of Camp Navarro, a high-walled base in Zamboanga, the island’s second largest city and the scene of numerous bombings and kidnappings for ransom.

A small number of U.S. special operators still rotating through the country have been assisting Philippine armed forces.

“We are working closely with them, the Philippines, for example, with both manned and unmanned aircraft as they try to retake Marawi there in Mindanao,” Mattis said.

The Philippines government had requested assistance by U.S. special operations in Marawi, a Special Operations Command Pacific spokeswoman said…

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