Map 5.1: Disposition of Guerrilla Fronts
5.3.6 The Entry of American Forces
18.104.22.168 Background to the Entry of American Forces
Upon further examination on existing pieces of information available and with the benefit of hindsight, it can be argued that CMO initiatives directed towards the Muslim theater would have remained piece-meal if it not have been for the entry of American forces, especially since much of the CMO remained focused on countering the communist threat and tailoring CMO to the Muslims was still in its embryonic stage. Though there is limited information on the American role in the institutionalization of CMO if any, at least it is evident that they helped laid down groundwork to increase and accelerate CMO activities in the Muslim South.
The background to this development came unexpectedly with the simultaneous attacks launched by Al Qaeda on American soil in 2001. The shock and horror of the September 11th attacks reverberated to the far corners of the world. The Philippines was one of the first countries to declare support for the United States and joined the coalition of foreign countries supporting the United States in what became known as the Global War on Terror (GWOT).105
Consequently, the Philippines became the United States’ second front in fighting international terror. As most of the attention went into to the unfolding war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Philippines remained a sidelight. But in actuality, at its peak, the United Stated deployed over 1,300 troops to the Philippines for the main purpose of eradicating its homegrown terrorist group located in the Southern-most region of the Philippines.106
American security concerns in the Southern Philippines emerged even before September 11th. The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was involved in a series of high-profile kidnappings that included American citizens in 2000 and 2001.107 In response to the second kidnapping, the United States sent military advisors to assist the AFP in recovering the hostages by providing intelligence in 2002 but maintained an extremely low profile.108 But with the September 11th terror attacks, the United States fixated their concerns on the links that the ASG had with Al Qaeda and the Jemaah Islamiyah.109
On the side of the Philippines, September 11th presented an opportunity for the president to revive the weakened military alliance with the Philippines and gain access to the much needed security assistance
105 For further details on reasons behind president Arroyo’s support see Zachary, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, p. 202.
106 Larry Niksch, Abu Sayyaf: Target of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperations, CRS Report RL31263, updated April 8, 2003, p. 10.
107 One of the most attention-grabbing kidnapping incidents was the Sipadan Hostage Crisis in 2000. 21 hostages were kidnapped from a Malaysian resort island and delivered in high-speed boats to their base in Jolo, Philippines. Involving American citizens, an American citizen who had converted to Islam, kidnapped in 2000 and another was the Dos Palmas Kidnappings in 2001, where 20 people were kidnapped from a resort on the Philippines island of Palawan. Amongst the hostages were an American missionary couple and a
108 Larry Niksch, Abu Sayyaf: Target of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperations, CRS Report RL31263, updated April 8, 2003, p. 11.
109 Jemaah Islamiyah, is an Indonesian-based Islamic militant group, most notorious for the 2002 Bali hotel bombing resulting in over 200 deaths.
to bolster the AFP’s counterinsurgency (COIN) and counter-terror capabilities.110
22.214.171.124 Debating the Legality of American Military Presence
Philippine-American relations go back over a century, with the entry of American soldiers after the Spanish-American War. After independence, the two countries formed a military alliance bound by the Mutual Defense Treaty (1951). Throughout the following decades, the United States was instrumental in providing military assistance to the Philippines in the form of hardware, logistics, and training. This was reciprocated by the Philippines in large part by the 1947 Philippines-U.S. Military Bases Agreement, which allowed the United States maintain its military presence in Southeast Asia.111 Nevertheless, this was all to change when the Philippine Senate voted down by a margin of 1, the extension of the base leases in 1991.112 While the alliance was still intact, the pullout of American soldiers dramatically reduced American military funding for the Philippines. Without the extra-support, most of the nation’s generated funds for the AFP was absorbed by personnel costs, leaving very little to maintain or upgrade the aging military equipment, thereby impacting the AFP’s capabilities to fight insurgencies.113
After the September 11th attacks, President Arroyo seized the chance to resurrect the faltering military alliance. As a result of her support for the GWOT, she was rewarded USD 93 million in November 2001 in order to fight the ASG. From October 2001, the U.S. began to send military observers to assess AFP capabilities in fighting the ASG.114 This was followed by American military personnel being sent to train their Filipino counterparts in counter-terrorism, equipping them, as well as assisting them in intelligence acquisition.115
Nevertheless, having ground support was a contentious issue. Even before the September 11th attacks, George W. Bush pushed for a more direct role for the American forces (involving combat) in
110 Renato Cruz de Castro, “The Revitalized Philippine-U.S. Security Relations: A Ghost from the Cold War or an Alliance for the 21st Centruy?,” Asian Survey, 43:6, November/December 2003, pp. 971-988; Renato Cruz de Castro, “Abstract of Counter-Insurgency in the Philippines and the Global War on Terror. Examining the
Dynamics of the Twenty-first Centruy Long Wars,” European Journal of East Asian Studies 9.1, 2010, pp. 151.
In return for President Arroyo’s support, President Bush promised not only funds to upgrade AFP capabilities and other defense-related concerns but also included economic realms as well (food aid, poverty reduction, trade benefits). See Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia, pp. 205-206.
111 An instance that shows how much the AFP depended on the United States can be see from figures during the Aquino administration. In 1989, the Americans provided US$127.6 million in military aid that covered 80 percent of the Philippines’ procurement, operations, and maintenance costs in 1989. Statistics from Country Data,
“Philippines Defense Spending and Industry,” June 1991. Available at:
http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-10516.html. Accessed May 18, 2009.
112 See more on the post-September 11th attacks on the Philippine-U.S. security alliance in Renato Cruz de Castro, “The Revitalized Philippine-U.S. Security Relations: A Ghost from the Cold War or an Alliance for the 21st Century?”, Asian Survey, 43:6, November/December 2003, pp. 971-988;
113 For details about the decline in hardware and its impact on COIN capabilities see Renato Cruz de Castro,
“Abstract of Counter-Insurgency in the Philippines and the Global War on Terror. Examining the Dynamics of the Twenty-first Century Long Wars,” European Journal of East Asian Studies 9.1, 2010, pp. 147-148.
114 Larry Niksch, “Abu Sayyaf: Target of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperations,” CRS Report RL31263, updated April 8, 2003, p. 7
115 Roel Pareno, “US to train more RP soldiers in counterterrorism,” The Philippines Star, June 28, 2004.
Available at: http://www.philstar.com/philstar/NEWS200406280405.htm. Accessed July 12, 2004.
fighting the ASG that had kidnapped American citizens. Arroyo was no less eager to welcome American soldiers, but she remained adamant in drawing the line between advisory and assistance roles and their direct role in military action.116
The main reason behind this was that Arroyo wanted to deflect any criticism on what appeared to compromise Philippine sovereignty. Without the base agreement, the legality of allowing American troops to enter the Philippines basically depended on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) - forged by Arroyo’s predecessor, President Joseph Estrada with the United States in 1999.117
Still, the “popular” interpretation of the 1987 Philippine Constitution does not allow the presence of foreign troops on its soil to conduct combat operations118 and it was decided that the best way to serve both American and Philippines security interests was to avoid operations that could be seen as impinging on Filipino sovereignty.119 As it turned out, the two sides would work around this problem by having U.S.
forces in the Philippines on a rotational basis and limiting their role to advising.
126.96.36.199 U.S. Forces Operating on the Ground and the Significance of CMO
How CMO fits into the scheme of things appears to be linked with the outcome of negotiations that played out between the two countries in deciding the degree of military support that the American military could provide on the ground. As the U.S. forces could not participate in combat, any direct operations on the ground were to be restricted to CMO and/or humanitarian assistance.
Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) 2002 helped determine the “character” of American support for the AFP. In February 2002, 1,300 American troops were deployed to the island of Basilan, with 300 of them designated to do civic action (coming primarily from Navy engineers), alongside with 1,200 of their Filipino counterparts in this joint military exercise.120 In previous joint-military exercises, the focus was on enhancing AFP combat readiness and interoperability between the two countries in case of an external attack. While some CMO activities were conducted, they remained more of a gesture of goodwill.121 With
116 Larry Niksch, Abu Sayyaf: Target of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperations, CRS Report RL31263, updated April 8, 2003, pp. 9-10.
117 Eric C. Ramos discusses the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and its surrounding issues concerning its legality in his thesis. “RP-Balikatan Exercises: A Peace-building Tool for Mindanao?” master’s thesis, Monterey, CA: Naval Post Graduate School, December 2005, pp. 20; 22; 24-26. This was an agreement that dictated the jurisdictional control over the soldiers concerning criminal offenses.
118 Herbert Docena, “The U.S. troops’ ‘unconventional’ presence,” posted in Governance, Peace and Public Security, Stories, I Report, January 15,2007, p. 3 as printed out. Available at: http://pcij.org/stories/the -u-s-troops-unconventional-presence/ Accessed January 30, 2007.
119 This approach was mutually agreed upon even though it was pointed out from the American side that there was nowhere to be found in the constitution, a clause that specifically banned foreign troops in conducting combat operations on Philippine soil. Major Stuart L. Farris, “Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines,”
monograph, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 2009, pp. 29-31 for a summary on the constitution issue.
120 Larry Niksch, Abu Sayyaf: Target of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperations, CRS Report RL31265, updated January 24, 2007, p.10. Balikatan 2002 was the first annul joint exercise held between the two countries after September 11th. It focused on expanding counter-terrorism cooperation with the Philippines. Balikatan was first established in 1981 and held annually until 1991. It was resumed in 2000 after the Visiting Forces
Agreement (VFA) was ratified.
121 These CMO activities took place on the main island of Luzon.
Balikatan 2002, the nature of the joint-military exercise operations shifted to a COIN approach, geared more towards eradicating homegrown terror groups terror groups in the Philippines, with a stronger focus on activities to win over the population.122
The CMO aspect, particularly civic action projects related to infrastructure building in Balikatan was especially successful in getting positive media reviews and improving the perceptions of the Muslim Filipinos towards the Americans.123 For at least the first few years, it was considered to have brought a sense of normalcy to the island by flushing the ASG out. Civic action is also thought to have jump-started economic development, or at least create an environment secure enough for more businesses to enter.124
The success of Balikatan 2002 set a precedent for both militaries to concentrate on the human terrain of the battlespace. This meant the key objectives were to gain the popular support of the people so that it would ultimately deny the terrorists sanctuary, mobility, and resources. To win this support, CMO activities such as Engineering Civic Action Program (ENCAP), Medical Civic Action Programs (MEDCAP) and Dental Civic Action (DENCAP) were organized and implemented.125 And to reassure the Filipino audience that the United States was committed but only from the sidelines, any CMO activity was done in partnership with the AFP, with the latter taking lead.126
Such CMO activities increased in numbers as both forces sought to replicate the success of Basilan in Jolo and other parts of the Sulu Island chain. As these activities went beyond the rules of engagement of the Balikatan exercise, tough negotiations on its continuation ensued between the two countries.127
In July 2002, the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF-P) was established under the United States Pacific Command (PACOM) in order to retain the presence of American forces on a rotational basis.128 Its mission was to support the Philippines in fighting terrorists, eliminating terrorist havens, and building conditions for peace.129 The U.S. forces continued to respect Arroyo’s requests to remain on the sidelines, and did not directly inject themselves in any fighting.130 The lines of operations
122 Rosalie Arcala Hall, “Boots on Unstable Ground: Democratic Governance of the Armed Forces under post 9/11 US-Philippine Military Relations,” Asia-Pacific Social Science Review 10:2, 2010, p. 31.
123 Larry Niksch, Abu Sayyaf: Target of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperations, CRS Report RL31265, updated April 8, 2003, p. 12.
124 Lt. Cmdr of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, Fred Kuebler (U.S.Forces), interview with author, Camp Navarro, Western Mindanao Command, Zamboanga City, Philippines, October 3, 2007.
125 Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, PowerPoint briefing, February 2008, version 2.
126 Major Tyler Wilson (Civil Military Operations Planner Civil Affairs, U.S. Army) and SSG Calen A. Bullard (JSPTF-P), interview with author, Camp Navarro, Western Mindanao Command, Camp Navarro, Zamboanga City, Philippines, July 28, 2009.
127 Larry Niksch, Abu Sayyaf: Target of Philippine-U.S. Anti-Terrorism Cooperations, CRS Report RL31263, updated April 8, 2003, pp. 12-13.
128 Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) in Global Security.org. Available at http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/dod/jsotf-p.htm. Accessed October 14, 2012.
129 Joint Special Operations Task Force-P Fact Sheet. Available at:
http://jsotf-p.blogspot.jp/2011/09/type-your-summary-here_20.html. Accessed October 14, 2012.
130 Fred Kuebler, Lt. Cmdr. of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, U.S. Forces, interview with author, Camp Don Basilio Navarro, Western Mindanao Command, Calarian, Zamboanga City, Philippines, October 3, 2007. Hereafter cited as Kuebler, interview, October 3, 2007; Joint Special Operations Task Force-P Fact Sheet. Available at: http://jsotf-p.blogspot.jp/2011/09/type-your-summary-here_20.html. Accessed October
culminated into the following:
1. Building the capacity of the AFP through training, advice, and assistance.
2. Conducting CMO (civic action and humanitarian assistance) to help uplift the lives of people in economically depressed areas.
3. Information operations as a means to improve the legitimacy of the Filipino government in the region.131
To add further legal basis for existing activities of the U.S. forces, the concept of Kapit Bisig (Linking Arms) strategic framework was proposed by the AFP in 2004 to PACOM132 and formally agreed upon in July 2006.133 As Balikatan was originally established to assist the AFP in preparing for external contingencies, critics questioned the legality of shifting this to internal security threats.134 Therefore, Kapit Bisig became the new framework that would allow the U.S. forces to provide the AFP with the assistance they needed in tackling terror. In it, a particular focus on CMO or humanitarian assistance was added.135 In short, this new framework allowed the U.S. forces to extend their presence beyond what was stipulated in the joint-military exercises of Balikatan, and humanitarian assistance would help justify their extended presence.136
Another development, which led to the strengthening of the AFP’s CMO by American intervention, is found in the Philippines Defense Reform (PDR) in 2003. This was the outcome of a joint Philippine-American defense assessment made over the capabilities of the AFP. The objective of this Joint Defense Assessment (JDA) was to find deficiencies within the Philippine military establishment, and provide the assistance required to improve these areas. In one of the 10 key areas of reform, CMO was pointed out to be a critical component in addressing the socio-economic roots of insurgencies and thereby requiring improved mechanisms for the AFP to work jointly with other civilian agencies, to bolster its COIN campaigns.137
131 Col. Gregory Wilson, U.S. Army, “Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and the Indirect Approach, “ Military Review, November-December 2006, p.4 as printed out. Available at U.S. Army website: http://www.army.mil/professionalWriting/volumes/volume5/january_2007/1_07_1.html. Accessed November 17, 2007.
132 Lt. Colonel Cornelio H. Valencia (Philippine Army), “Kapit Bisig RP-US Military Exercises: A Key to the War on Terror in the Philippines,” research report, Alabama: Maxwell Air Force Base, April 2007, pp. 2-3.
Hereafter cited as Valencia, “Kapit Bisig RP-US Military Exercises.”
133 Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, March 24 2009. Available at:
http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Armed+Services+Committee+testimony.-a0207539985. Accessed November 1, 2012.
134 Valencia, “Kapit Bisig RP-US Military Exercises,” pp. 5-6.
135 U.S. Congress, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, March 24, 2009. Available At: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Armed+Services+Committee+testimony.-a0207539985. Accessed November 1, 2012.
136 Anthony Vargas, “RP, US troops to train in Central Mindanao,” ABS-CBN News, July 20, 2006. Available at:
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=44884. Accessed July 25, 2006.
137 Contents of the PDR can be viewed on the official website of the Philippine Department of National Defense.
Available at: http://www.dnd.gov.ph/DNDWEBPAGE_files/html/pdrpage.htm. Accessed November 5, 2012.
188.8.131.52 Summary on the American Dimension
In walking the legal tightrope, the Americans had to find ways to fulfill their mission to counter global terrorism, while maintaining their respect towards Philippine sovereignty. As they could not directly participate in combat operations, having being limited to an advisory role, CMO became the one option that allowed the Americans to directly inject themselves in operations on the ground; giving them more control over the battlespace. At the same time, in trying to justify a prolonged presence on Philippine soil, the humanitarian aspect of CMO was another way to overcome this problem. As CMO, image-wise, had less to do with guns, and had more to do with good works, it generated less criticism concerning the presence of the American military.138
While the above generally gives the American-side to the story, it has also worked in the security interests of the AFP. The AFP has been able to regain the much-needed support to bolster its COIN capabilities through American assistance. With the focal point being placed on CMO, this has expanded the possibilities and potential of using this approach in the Muslim battlespace. Consequently, by 2006, when the AFP institutionalized CMO, the American forces had already begun to help the AFP in engaging in CMO on a wider-scale. With the Americans covering a greater part of these costs,139 the AFP has been able to accelerate and improvise CMO to better meet the needs of the Muslim audience (See chapter 7 for details).