U.S. Terrorist, Oops, We Mean "Counterinsurgency" Unit to Stay in Philippines
The New York Times
Thu, 20 Aug 2009 22:00 UTC
Washington - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has decided to keep an elite 600-troop counterinsurgency operation deployed in the Philippines despite pressure to reassign its members to fulfill urgent needs elsewhere such as Afghanistan or Iraq, according to Pentagon officials.
The high-level attention given to the future of the force, known as the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, illustrates the Pentagon's difficulty in finding enough of these highly trained units for assignments to two wars - as well as for the wider effort to combat insurgencies and militancy in other parts of the world deemed to be threats to American interests.
Senior officials said the decision also acknowledged a cautionary lesson from Afghanistan: that battlefield success should be rewarded with sustained commitment, while prematurely turning the military's attention elsewhere - as when the Bush administration shifted focus to Iraq - provides insurgents and terrorists the opportunity to rush back in.
In the seven years that the Philippines-based American force has been operating, its members have trained local security units and provided logistical and intelligence support to Filipino forces fighting insurgents.
Senior officials say the American force and partners in the Central Intelligence Agency were instrumental in successes by the Filipino armed forces in killing and capturing leaders of the militant group Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, antigovernment organizations operating in the southern Philippines.
In a simultaneous counterinsurgency effort in the Philippines, members of the American force have completed hundreds of infrastructure projects, including roads, schools, health clinics and firehouses, conducted medical examinations and administered vaccines.
Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of American forces in the Pacific, said the force's work was not yet done. "The successes we enjoy, and the gains, can tend to anesthetize us a little bit," he said. "When the options were presented to our leadership, the decision was made to continue the Philippines mission."
Before making his decision, Mr. Gates visited the Philippines in June. Then, Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, followed with an unannounced visit in July - underscoring the tight link between the military and intelligence efforts.
"Based on his briefings heading into Manila and his meetings on the ground there, Secretary Gates just felt this is not the right time to begin scaling back our support," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. "While we have made real progress against international terrorist groups there, everyone believes they would ramp back up their attacks if we were to draw down."
Even independent, nongovernmental organizations that normally cast a skeptical eye toward American military efforts have commended the Philippines operation.
"In general, the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines has been regarded as a success story, especially in terms of winning hearts and minds through civic action and medical assistance projects," said Mark L. Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group.
Mr. Schneider noted, however, that the insurgency in the Philippines "is a political problem first and foremost" and that no military effort alone can bring success against antigovernment forces.
Special Operations Forces are the most highly skilled in the military at capture-and-kill missions against insurgent and terrorist leaders. Within their ranks, Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, have for decades been training allied troops on their home soil and conducting counterinsurgency missions.
The American ambassador to the Philippines, Kristie A. Kenney, said that measuring the impact of the military mission there was difficult, but she emphasized that the task force's efforts were multiplied by being closely coordinated with the Filipino government and American development assistance.
"This is not just a military counterinsurgency effort," Ms. Kenney said.
Col. Bill Coultrup, the task force commander, said that when he arrived in 2007, his goal was simple: "Help the Philippines security forces. It's their fight. We don't want to take over."
His service includes deployments with Special Operations units in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Bosnia, where the mission focused on capturing or killing adversaries. But in the Philippines, Colonel Coultrup's work has been only 20 percent combat-related. That portion of the military mission is designed to "help the armed forces of the Philippines neutralize high-value targets - individuals who will never change their minds," he said.
Eighty percent of the effort, though, has been "civil-military operations to change the conditions that allow those high-value targets to have a safe haven," Colonel Coultrup added. "We do that through helping give a better life to the citizens: good governance, better health care, a higher standard of living."
Comment: For a more accurate view of what "counterinsurgency units" mean than you will find in the New York Times, read Fletcher Prouty's The Secret Team http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Team-Allies-Control-United/dp/1602392293/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1250805805&sr=8-1 And here http://forum.prisonplanet.com/index.php?topic=125489.0