Small Wars Journal

U.S. Phasing Out Its Counterterrorism Unit in Philippines

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 11:36pm

U.S. Phasing Out Its Counterterrorism Unit in Philippines by Floyd Whaley and Eric Schmitt, New York Times

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…

Read on.



Tue, 07/01/2014 - 8:49pm

Does this mean that OEF-Philippines is also over, or that the mission is being re-packaged into a smaller more persistent form (and run through the pre-existing security cooperation organizations out of the Embassy)?


Fri, 06/27/2014 - 8:14pm

In reply to by GHD

Your observations on the "real culture" are not a bad summary of the prevailing culture within the Philippine government, though I'd be less inclined to apply them to Filipinos generically. You're not far off on the corruption within the AFP and the government either, or on the reality that AFP weapons do routinely go walkabout and end up in all sorts of places, with money flowing in the other direction. One of the great weaknesses of our relations with the AFP is our refusal to discuss or even mention that particular elephant in the drawing room: I've an idea or two about how that might be corrected, but since it will never happen, no point in discussing it.

DynCorp certainly did well out of the whole thing, and the numbers seem out of proportion to the size of the deployment, at least to one outside the government. A few numbers are here:

I don't think it's entirely accurate to say the Philippines "will continue to depend on their former colonial masters forever", as they really don't depend on us: they can and will get by without us if they have to, but if we choose to play father Christmas they won't complain. And yes, some Filipinos, like many others around the world, have realized that telling Americans what they want to hear will open the kingdom of heaven, or at least the doors to the US Treasury, which is close enough to being the same thing.

Lasting effects? What has really changed there? The U.S. went in there in the usual manner trying to build a partner in their own image, forgetting to understand the real culture of Filipinos, which all resides around "Ako muna," or "Me first," followed by family, tribe (regional location/dialect)& then, maybe, country. The U.S. naively, once again, spent hundreds of millions of dollars there, unloaded massive amounts of equipment to the AFP (much of which wound up either in the hands of the NPA or Muslims, if not the local Palenke (market), Remember the truck loads of 30,000 M16s heading out the gate at Camp Navarro to simply disappear?). But hey, Good Job...lots of medals/awards, now go away, but continue to send $$$. At least DYNCORP made out like a bandit. Lasting Effects? The Philippines will continue to depend upon their former Colonial Masters forever, because we just cannot turn down that plastic smile behind the little brown hand. What has really changed there? Not one damn thing...unless you count the number of AFP millionaires created due to the corruption enabled by the unaccounted for large sums of $$$, weapons & equipment turned over to the AFP. Ask many Filipinos not associated with the government, Police or AFP & they will tell you straight up that the U.S. needs to stop giving their country aid, as it just makes the corrupt richer...did I mention, "Good Job."

Bill M.

Sat, 06/28/2014 - 4:15am

In reply to by Dayuhan

I don't disagree, we tend to focus on what we think we can influence and marginalize the importance of other factors. In fact the points you make explain why our FID efforts often fail despite our efforts to describe them as being successful.


Fri, 06/27/2014 - 8:22pm

In reply to by Bill M.

I think part of the problem is that we continue to frame the problem in terms of the ability of the security forces to fight insurgents/bandits/terrorists, while refusing to acknowledge the pernicious and corrosive role played by the area's "big man" politics and by the willingness of the governing elite to coddle and collaborate with the insurgents/bandits/terrorists. Until that's addressed, all we can do is swat at symptoms... but that has to be addressed by the Philippine government, and the will to address it just isn't there.

One of the great paradoxes of Mindanao is that no peace agreement can last unless it is backed by the local elites, and in order to get their backing, their prerogatives must be protected and sustained. At the same time, the conditions that generate the chaos cannot be resolved unless those elite prerogatives are challenged. No easy solution to that one, I'm afraid, and it's not a problem the US can solve.

Bill M.

Fri, 06/27/2014 - 4:25am

In reply to by Dayuhan


I have mixed feelings, the bottom line is that Abu Sayyaf and JI members are still active in the Southern Philippines despite tactical successes by the security forces. On the other hand, the violence has been reduced considerably, though we still see recurrent surges in the violence periodically. The noticeable difference now is how the Philippine Security Forces manage these surges in terrorist or insurgent activity. I think a case can be made they so in a way that is much more professional, and they seek to minimize collateral damage.

At the end of the day the government hasn't invested enough in their military or police, so significant capability shortfalls remain for managing internal security challenges and responding to external threats to their nation.

Only time will tell if the Filipinos will be willing and able to effectively manage their security challenges after we downsize our support. There was a lot of great work done at the tactical and operational level for many years, but without a parallel at the institutional level to help build their ability to sustain that effort I question how long the effects of our support will last. We did model what right looks like in many ways to a generation of up and coming Filipino officers who could be a future Magsaysay. There is always hope for the future, but of course our adversaries probably feel the same way.


Fri, 06/27/2014 - 2:02am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

There remains some question over whether lasting effects have actually been achieved. We won't know for some time, but I do not think that they have been. That's not meant as a slight against the US operation: the political reforms required for lasting effects can only come from the Philippine government, and there's little reason to suspect that the requisite political will exists.

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 11:46pm

My view on this is quoted in the article above.0.

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.