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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


February 23, 2003

1,700 US Troops Secretly Entering Philippine Combat Role

'US troops to fight Abu: US defense official' (2/22/03 - Agence France-Presse via Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Just as the US is preparing to invade Iraq, 1,700 US troops are entering combat in the Philippines against the Abu Sayyaf rebel group in Mindanao. (Abu Sayyaf is believed to have ties to Al Qaida.) US troops have long been present as "advisers" and "trainers" -- an involvement stepped up following 9-11 -- but officially they have been barred from actual combat.

US Special Forces and Marines will participate in the offensive, operating from the helicopter carrier USS Essex and at least one more amphibious assault ship. Officially, the offensive will be led by the Armed Force of the Philippines with assistance by US forces.

The Philippine government has attempted to deny a direct US combat role in the offensive. But a US defense official speaking on condition of anonymity told Agence France-Presse, "This is an actual combined operation, and it is US forces accompanying and actively participating in Philippines-led offensive operations."

'Plan for U.S. Troops in Philippines Hits Snag' (3/01/03 - NY Times)

Suddenly the contradictory quotes about the Philippines make sense...and once again the Bush Admin's arrogance has bit itself in the ass. Turns out that the Philippine Constitution prohibits foreign militaries from operating in combat on Filippino soil. This due in no small measure because of huge civilian massacres committed by the US itself, under the colonial command of Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing -- and nevermind the tens of thousands who died fighting US colonization in the first place. It also turns out the US combat mission was nowhere near the done deal Bush insiders thought.

Now the whole affair has erupted into a considerable scandal in the Philippines, and the whole operation not only has had its cover blown but it's all on hold. US troops already loading onto ships in Okinawa and Special Forces units in special training have now been ordered to hurry up and wait.

While both countries broadly agree on using 1,700 US troops in some manner of "joint mission," it all breaks down when it comes to defining "joint" -- let alone more detailed operational specifics. The Philippines insists that the mission be consistent -- at least on paper -- with previous "advise and assist" missions. The increasingly belligerent Pentagon says its version of its is the more accurate one. We are to believe that Donald "Mr. Diplomacy" Rumsfeld is insisting on this point because he does not want to "mislead Congress or the American public about the riskiness of the new mission." Uh...yeah. Totally consistent with Rumsfeld's M.O. Right.

Interestingly, Philippine defense minister Angelo Reyes admits that Abu Sayyaf -- estimated at 250 members -- is not a particularly grave military threat. "The damage from Abu Sayyaf is not to the military," Reyes tells the NY Times. "What is more damaging is the damage to the economic climate, investments, tourism and trade. That's the reason we have to finish them off."

So why has this become a diplomatic sword fight just days or maybe weeks before the US invades Iraq? Well you may ask.

[Read the source...]


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