Exclusive: No New US Drone Strikes In The Philippines, US Defense Official Says
Despite reports claiming otherwise, the U.S. military will not be conducting drone strikes against Islamic State militants in the Philippines, a senior defense official with direct knowledge of the situation told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
NBC News reported Monday that the U.S. “is considering a plan that allows the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes on ISIS in the Philippines,” but a senior defense official speaking on background revealed that the U.S. will not be carrying out drone strikes in the area.
“We at the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] are yet to receive any formal notice or offer for such air capability deployment,” Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo M. Año said Tuesday. “We appreciate Pentagon’s reported desire to help the Philippines in the fight against Daesh-inspired Maute Group because terrorism is a global menace that the community of nations must unite to fight against,” he added. “However, such proposition, if any, has to undergo a process. And a covenant must be had between the commanders in chief of both nations before that option may be adopted.”
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Año both denied discussions with U.S. about plans for drone strikes.
The U.S. military operates in country “at the request of and in cooperation with the Philippines,” the official explained, adding that the U.S. will continue to support the Philippines as it battles radical Islamic terrorism.
The U.S. has a limited contingency force — Joint Special Operations Task Force Trident — in country to provide non-combat support for domestic counterterrorism operations, and the U.S. has maintained its consistent counterterrorism presence in the Philippines for over a decade.
“We’re providing some training and some guidance in terms of how to deal with an enemy that fights in ways that are not like what most people have ever had to deal with,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a regional security forum in Manila Monday.
While the Philippines has been fighting Islamic militants for years, the situation has become more severe in recent months. Hundreds of Muslim militants with ties to ISIS swarmed Marawi, a town in the southern Philippines, in late May. Insurgent fighters have killed dozens of soldiers and have displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians, while many others have lost their lives in the crossfire. The Maute Group, the leaders of which have sworn allegiance to ISIS and fly the same black standard, remain entrenched in Marawi, which military airstrikes and repeated bombardment has almost completely destroyed.
The Philippines also faces growing threats from Abu Sayaff, another radical group affiliated with ISIS that has become more active in recent months.
The Trump administration has expressed a strong desire to support the Philippines as it attempts to drive a shared enemy from its borders, but for the time being, the U.S. military does not appear to have plans for new U.S. combat operations in the Philippines.
U.S. Special Operations Forces have been assisting Filipino forces with ongoing operations in Marawi by providing information and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assistance, and U.S. forces have been providing training and equipment for years, according to U.S. Pacific Command.
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