Filipino Officials: US Ready to Provide More Anti-Terror Assistance to Philippines

BenarNews staff
2022.02.16
Zamboanga, Philippines
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Filipino Officials: US Ready to Provide More Anti-Terror Assistance to Philippines Lt. Gen. Bryan Fenton, commanding general of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (second from left), meets with Lt. Gen. Alfredo Rosario Jr., chief of the Western Mindanao Command, at WestMinCom’s headquarters in Zamboanga, southern Philippines, Feb. 15, 2022.
Handout photo from Western Mindanao Command

The United States is prepared to increase bilateral assistance for Manila’s fight against violent extremist groups, military officials here said Wednesday, after a top American special forces general met in the southern Philippines with the chief Filipino commander for Mindanao.  

Lt. Gen. Bryan Fenton, commanding general of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), gave the assurance during talks with Lt. Gen. Alfredo Rosario Jr., head of the Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command, in Zamboanga city on Tuesday, WestMinCom officials said in a statement.

The visit by the general who oversees JSOC, a secretive U.S. military branch, took place 12 days after Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi (also known as Hajji Abdullah), the worldwide leader of the Islamic State terror group, was killed during a mission carried out in Syria by American special operations personnel.

“More assistance will be extended by the United States of America to the Armed Forces of the Philippines as it counters terrorism,” Fenton said, according to the statement from WestMinCom.

“We admire your strategic and operational approaches in fighting against the terror groups that threaten international security. We are here to solidify further our alliance for the common good,” the statement quoted the American general as saying.

“Our partnership is grounded on our Iron-clad commitment to shared security. We will continue to work hand-in-hand to eradicate the extremists and terrorists,” Fenton said.

WestMinCom did not give any specifics, but the Filipino side said that Fenton vowed to “sustain the strong cooperation” between the militaries of both countries. American troops are “committed in assisting” the Filipino command against enemy groups in the south, the statement said.

For his part, Rosario said that the Philippine military was committed to boosting the “good relationship as we work together to fight against terror.”

The meeting between the Filipino and American generals was closed to reporters and limited only to military officials, with the WestMinCom citing security reasons and health protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between 2002 and 2010, hundreds of American forces were stationed on a rotating basis in Zamboanga, as part of the U.S. government’s global war on terrorism that followed the 9/11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

American personnel were barred from actual combat operations, but provided training and intelligence support to the Filipinos as they hunted the Abu Sayyaf, a small group of militants responsible for terror attacks and abductions in the south during the early 2000s.

One Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon, went on to become the Islamic State’s regional commander. In 2017, he led Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern militants in a siege of the southern Philippine city of Marawi.

America deployed troops but only to help the Filipino military gather intelligence in its efforts to break the IS siege of the city that lasted five months. Their help, as well as that of another ally, Australia, helped the Filipino military pinpoint enemy positions.

Hapilon as well as other key militant leaders were killed during the end of the five-month battle to flush out pro-IS fighters.

Hapilon, however, was replaced by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf commander who plotted bomb attacks in the southern island of Jolo that killed 23 – including two Indonesian suicide bombers – in 2019, and 14 the following year. Sawadjaan is believed to have been killed in an assault sometime after the attacks, although this was never confirmed.

WestMinCom, in coordination with the local government units, meanwhile has been allowing the voluntary surrender of members of Daulah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf, and other local Islamic extremist groups to degrade their ranks. The military’s regional command has also been carrying on with armed offensives aimed at decimating the ranks and leadership of militant groups across Mindanao Island and the Sulu Islands.

Daulah Islamiyah is the local name of IS.

According to WestMinCom officials privy to the closed-door talks between Fenton and Rosario, both men agreed to broaden efforts between U.S. and Philippine troops.

Under the bilateral Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), U.S. troops are limited restricted to only providing technical assistance and training to their Philippine colleagues but are not allowed to conduct or directly join any operations in the field.

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