Home » Foreign Forces » U.S. Officially Ends Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines, Some Advisors May Remain

U.S. Officially Ends Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines, Some Advisors May Remain

U.S. and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) honor guard perform a 21-gun salute during a memorial service in Zamboanga City, Philippines in 2010. US Navy Photo

U.S. and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) honor guard perform a 21-gun salute during a memorial service in Zamboanga City, Philippines in 2010. US Navy Photo

This post has been updated to include additional comments from U.S. Special Operations Command, Pacific.

The U.S. special operations mission to help the Philippine military to fight Islamic militants is coming to a close, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) officials told USNI News on Thursday.

For 13 years — in parallel to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan — OEF Philippines had U.S. special operation forces (SOF) advise Philippine commandos in fighting Islamic separatists in the southern islands — notably militant group Abu Sayyaf.

On Tuesday, a ceremony in Zamboanga City marked the deactivation of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), according to local press reports.

U.S. Special Operations Command, Pacific told USNI News the mission would complete the transition of forces later this spring.

“The JSOTF-P is scheduled to complete the transition May 1 and while some of the personnel will return to their units, some will remain as part of foreign liaison elements, and continue to advise and assist Philippine counterterrorism efforts, consistent with the way forward that the Armed Forces of the Philippines sees it,” U.S. Special Operations Command, Pacific spokesperson Army Maj. Kari McEwen told USNI News via an emailed statement.
“This represents a shift in focus for U.S. Special Operations Forces from advising and assisting at the small unit level to providing operational advice and assistance at higher levels of command within the Philippine Security Forces for continued counterterrorism progress, humanitarian assistance and civil military cooperation.”

At its height, the JSOTF-P reportedly had up to 600 U.S. military personnel in country — a mix of Navy SEALs and Marine and Army special operators.

“Most special operations require non-SOF assistance and JSOTF-P is no different,” McEwen said in an additional statement on Friday.
“Over the years, JSOTF-P personnel have come from almost every military specialty from all the services.”

Though the mission — begun in January of 2002 — put U.S. forces in largely an advisory role, 17 U.S. troops died as part of the mission, including 10 who perished in a 2002 helicopter crash.

The train and advise mission has largely been seen as a success and U.S. civilian military leaders in the Pacific.
“Our partnership with the Philippine security forces has been successful in drastically reducing the capabilities of domestic and transnational terrorist groups in the Philippines,” Kurt Hoyer, the U.S. Embassy Press Attaché, told the AP in 2014.
Last year, then-U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) commander Adm. Samuel Locklear told Foreign Policy in April the force levels would likely be reduced.

“We’re not going to walk away from our support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but we’d like to broaden it in a way that is consistent with the way forward that the Armed Forces of the Philippines sees it,” Locklear said.
“We don’t necessarily need a 600-man train-and-assist mission down there to try to teach them how to do something that they now know how to do.”

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    About time! The only parties who have benefitted from this ill-thought out deployment have been DYNCORP and the black market vendors where AFP troops pawned the freebies given to them by the U.S.

    • Sandy

      not quite…they kept Abu Sayyeff and JI bottled up and away from other Al-Qaeda elements. If you remember, the first airliner attack was coming from the PI. I will agree, though, that it seems to be a self-licking ice cream cone as if they really wanted to, they could wipe these guys out in as little as a few days.

      • Ham

        The terrorists who preformed the 9/11 attack trained to do the attack in zambo.

        • Sandy

          actually, brutha, that was the first time they tried it and Ramzu Youseff’s laptop gave that show away….Zambo would be a great place if it wash;t for those pesky AS and JI pigheads….

      • Joe Pinoy

        Hard to imagine “wiping out” of any dissident group in the Philippines, as, the injustice that drove these intelligent men to decide to rebel against the imposed government at great risk, still exists.

        If you are a general in the Philippines, you handle the money. If you can define the problem as attacks by an organization with a command structure, then it is logical to ask an organization with a command structure to fight them. Thus the naming of the groups along with far fetched and repugnant ideologies in the press. If, as is the truth, that institutionalized racism, corruption so deeply ingrained in society that most foreigners can’t fathom it, the solution is to re-write the constitution strengthening the judiciary. Where is the money in that?

        The US is not “duped” by self serving intelligence reports, but it too has it’s own global agenda, served well by war games.

        I lived in Mindanao for 16 years as an ex pat. If I were a Moslem Filipino I too would be shooting mayors, policemen, and county officials, thieves all. When you read in the press that any long standing group is doing something irrational, remember that intelligence is spread equally across the globe, that no group is any more religious than your community is, that fighting an established governmental authority is extremely dangerous and those shooting know it and the presses job is to first sell papers not fairly represent all sides.

        • draeger24

          Not sure where you are going with this…the MILF got their butts handed to them by Black Jack Pershing in the beginning of the 20th Century, and they became a “compliant” entity. Abu-Sayyef and JI, nope…they are hard-core. They have been marginalized to two islands near Zamboanga, but with us pulling out, it will be an interesting time for the PI Marines.

          • Joe Pinoy

            Not sure? You make a statement that the MILF lost in some fight, where did you get that idea? From the Press? The press got it from some Filipino Armed Forces Officer, who has an interest in the way the conflict is perceived, by his own government. Abu Sayyaf has been around for 36 years, and still a foe of the AFP? Mindanao is not that big, honestly, you can cross it in a day in any direction at 45 MPH.

            Ask yourself why would anybody take the risk to shoot a politician or a policeman? Where are these new recruits coming from? Where do the weapons come from that they use? The Army. The Army has a “patrol” where they expend an unknown amount of ammo, and come back to “base” with cash. You can simply get in a car and drive anyplace in Mindanao, so can the police and Army.

            Here is how you make a terrorist. You have the title to his land shown with a lien signed by a man who has been dead 10 years. ( a type written note on the back of the title is enough) That lien is “sold” to a Christian Officer of the AFP as a compensation for keeping quiet about a different fraud. The family that has occupied that land for perhaps thousands of years rejects this obvious fraud, suggests they will fight for it, the AFP sends in troupes and shoots a bunch of people. Fraud in government in the Philippines is routine. The Army does not want a trial so they portray the locals shot as Abu Sayyaf, plant their own weapons on them and call in the press. The press is treated to a big meal and “travel compensation”, for most reporters this is the greatest part of their income. Then guys like you read that there is rebellion in Mindanao because some Muslim wants Shria law, and attacked the AFP. There is fraud in provincial government because there is fraud in the justice system. Muslims lack the political power to get access to that corruption, payoffs are about who can pay as much as how much is paid.

            And if you think this can’t be that bad, the town of Ipil was attacked by 50 armed men some 20 or so years ago. Not a single attacker was ever brought to trial. Remember we are talking about a place where everybody simply knows everybody else because the lack of technology forces people to meet face to face for every transaction, every trip is on public transportation with 10 neighbors, the weather is hot so most life is outside. Why? This was a false flag attack by military from north. We know this because the attackers spoke Tagalog, and south of Cebu everybody speaks different languages. The army attacked a town because they knew that they could not be prosecuted if the town was Muslim.

            Been there, seen that.

          • draeger24

            the MILF becoming declawed in the early 1900’s is a matter of history. Although Abu Sayyef and JI are threats, you made my point that it is a self-licking ice cream cone. No threats, reduced Army…..

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