Wednesday, April 11, 2012

US Marines Increase Deployments to the Philippines

Another shoe has dropped in regard to the US military re-orientation from a focus on the Middle East to the Pacific Rim, countering the rising concern about a rapidly growing Chinese strategic presence.  Adding to the plans to rotate up to 2500 Marines with aircraft deployments to Australia for temporary basing and cross-training with the Australian Defence Forces, Assistant Marine Commandant Joseph Dunford announced that a similar arrangement is being worked out with the Philippines.

The principle US military presence has been by way of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P), focused primarily on the southern islands and primarily based out of Zamboanga at the far western point of Mindanao.  The task force includes rotating elements from 1st Special Forces Group, 2/75th Rangers, Navy Special Warfare Group 1 (primarily SEAL Team 1) and Air Force Special Operations.

The large island of Mindanao has had a population that is substantially Muslim since the 13th century and the natives are what early Spanish settlers called Moros, after the Moors that were expelled from Spain after the multi-century Reconquista that ended in the late 15th century.  The Moros have been fiercely independent, fighting the Spanish colonial government for centuries and the Americans who supplanted them after the Spanish-American War.  Tensions with the Philippine government continue to be high since Philippine independence in 1946 after World War II.  Not surprisingly, the al Qaeda terrorist group Abu Sayyaf is active within the Moro population, and the presence of JSOTF-P is a combined effort with the Armed Forces Philippines to contain and eliminate the terrorist threat.  Abu Sayyaf has conducted extortion, assassinations, bombings and the age-old tradition of kidnappings for ransom since it first came on the scene in the early 1990s.

The Marine schedule of deployments is not yet known, either in frequency or size, and I expect those details are still being worked out, and will involve cross-training and combined exercises with the Philippine Marine Corps.  Like Australia, it is not expected to include US bases being established, only the utilization of host-country military facilities.

Lt Gen Glueck, USMC, CG III MEF and Brig Gen Pereyra, PMC in July 2011

This reflects a significant change in relations between the US and the Philippines, since the US treaty that established independence was not particularly popular due to its initial ‘unfair advantages’ for the Americans.  We maintained two major bases there for years – Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base – and the Filipino negotiations for the leases typically involved exorbitant fees since they realized their value to the Americans during the Cold War and the warmer Viet Nam War.  After the end of the Viet Nam War, and particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991, they were no longer as valuable to us and the Filipinos lost their bargaining chip.  We pulled out of the deal, particularly after the enormous destruction of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo that same year, and the Filipinos made a show of sovereignty over the issue, making the best of a foregone conclusion.

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