Small Wars Journal

Interview With COL David Maxwell on US Special Operations Troops Advising Philippines Forces on Insurgents

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 7:37am

Interview With COL David Maxwell on US Special Operations Troops Advising Philippines Forces on Insurgents - The Cipher Brief

While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte remains at odds with the United States, the armed forces of the two countries have maintained a close working relationship that dates to 1951 and the signing of a mutual defense treaty. In recent years the primary mission of U.S. forces in the Philippines has been Foreign Internal Defense operations against the country’s many insurgent groups. As Philippine government forces continue to fight Islamist militants in the city of Marawi, U.S. Special Forces have served as advisors and U.S. aircraft have provided intelligence and reconnaissance in support of Philippine airstrikes and operations. The Cipher Brief reached out to Col. (ret.) David Maxwell, former commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Forces Philippines, about the mission of United States Special Operations Forces in the Philippines and its involvement in the ongoing battle for Marawi.

Continue on for the interview.


Robert C. Jones

Sat, 06/17/2017 - 3:08pm

In reply to by Bill M.

ISIS is just the most recent exploiter of conditions created by the government of the Philippines. The US does not help the Philippines by enabling the ruling elite to sustain an increasingly unviable status quo governance and economic power.

ISIS may well see the Southern Philippines as the best place to continue their physical Caliphate experiment as their Syrian / Iraqi experiment is suppressed. But ISIS didn't create the problem in either place, they merely seek to exploit it. I suspect we will read and respond to the situation in the Philippines at least as poorly as we are in Syria and Iraq.

A good interview that provides a short elevator speech description of the numerous security challenges the Philippines face, and have faced for decades. The tactics, techniques, and procedures refined by ISIS in a rapidly evolving conflict in the Middle East, can certainly increase the skills of fighters in the Philippines and elsewhere. Up to this point, even after several years of fighting, the extremists in the Southern Philippines, and even the NPA for that matter, have evolved very little tactically. Currently, open source reporting indicates that the fight in Marawi ISIS linked fighters are using new technology, new tactics, and overall have upped their game considerably. This presents a considerable challenge to Philippine security forces who will need to adapt.

Dave presented an important historical interview, but I would offer things change, and one discussion we need to have within the counterterrorist community is the impact of time and generational change on enduring conflicts. The conflict in the Philippines has been raging long before the 9/11 attack on the U.S., where America for the most part first awoke to ongoing war with various terrorist organizations. I first went to Mindanao in the mid-late 80s, and it was extremely tense at that time. Not only were Muslim separatists fighting, but the NPA was much stronger and more active at that time. Move forward to 2017 and we logically see a new generation of leaders emerging, and these leaders seem more readily to identify with the global jihad agenda and believe in the efficacy of ISIS tactics. If I'm correct, this will be a game changer, and require a corresponding change in strategy.

Another issue that the Philippine security forces are well aware of is the "potential" threat that the Balik Islam Movement presents. These are Filipino Christians who converted to Islam, often while working in the Middle East and then returned home. This provides extremists with a potential auxiliary and underground infrastructure throughout the Philippines, which can extend the reach of ISIS and other extremist groups to Manila and other strategic locations. Our Filipino friends have significant challenges, and we (global partners) need to provide the appropriate amount of assistance based on environmental conditions and political factors as Dave correctly pointed out.