Special Operations Philippines 1987 - 2007
Operation Enduring Freedom Philippines
Even before 9/11, the Commander of Special Operations Pacific (SOCPAC) had identified the al Qaeda affiliate Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), operation in the Philippines, as a significant threat to Filipino and American interests. The Philippines was and still is experiencing several on-going insurgencies, some related to Islamic extremist groups. The ASG-with ties to al Qaeda, Jemiah Islamia, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front - was infamous for its hostage for ransom and bombing for extortion activities. In response to a request from the Filipino government, SOCPAC deployed a mobile training tem (MTT) from the 1st Bn. 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) between March and July 2001 to develop a counter terrorist capability in the form of a Light Reaction Company (LRC).
The timing proved fortuitous. While the Special Forces detachments from 1/1st SFG trained the Filipino company, the ASG kidnapped two Americans and held them on the island of Basilan. Upon of its training, the LBC deployed to Basilan in July 2001 to assist conventional Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) battalions in destroying the ASG and in rescuing the American and other foreign hostages.
After 11 September 2001, the United States Pacific Command (PACOM) planned to aggressively attack terrorist groups in South East Asia, particularly in the Republic of the Philippines. In october 2001 PACOM and the Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) conducted a combined assessment of troubled areas in the southern Philippines. PACOMS's Commander then requested and received authority to deploy a training and advisory package to Basilan Island to assist SOUTHCOM in its to defeat the terrorists.
Brigadier General Donald Wurster, Commander of SOCPAC, commanded the operation known as Balikatan 02-1 to the Filipinos, but as OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM - PHILIPPINES (OEF-P) to the United States. SOCPAC deployed a joint task force (JTF) 510 to Zamboanga City on Mindinao, Philippines in January 2002 to prepare for the introduction of forces onto Basilan.
From February - July 2002 ten Operational Detachments Alpha (ODA's) and three Operational Detachments Bravo (ODB's) of the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) from both 1/1st SFG (A) in okinawa and 1st SFG (A) at Ft. Lewis Washington, provided training, advice and assistance to 15 AFP Infantry Battalions. Their mission on Basilan as directed by FOB 11, was to work through, with and by AFP units to destroy the ASG organization on the island. Prohibited from conducting combat operations and performing advisory tasks below the battalion level, the ODA's focused on denying ASG sanctuary by preparing the AFP to improve security operations by controlling lines of communication, improving the infrastructure for the local populace through civil affairs, and bolstering the government in the eyes of citizens through Information Operations (IO). Both 96th Civil Affairs and the 4th Psychological Operations Battalion (POB) deployed forces to facilitate these efforts.
SOF met most of its aims during OEF-P on Basilan. By July 2002, the ASG had fled the island. One of the two American hostages had been recovered. As importantly, enhanced security and public infrastructure (wells, roads, bridges, etc.) improved economic and social conditions. As of 2006, the AFP assigned only two battalions on Basilan compared to 15 employed there only four years earlier.
After completing operations in the late summer of 2002, JTF-510 departed Zamboanga: yet, it did leave in place a JSOTF headquarters (JSOTF-P), stations in Manila, and a SOUTHCOM Liaison Element (SLE) to continue advising and assisting the AFP's efforts to deny sanctuary to terrorists on Mindinao and Sulu Archipelago. In 2002-2004, SOCPAC supported the AFP by training a larger number of Filipino forces. Again, 1st SFG (A) deployed two successive force packages, consisting of one ODB and five ODA's. Al told the ODA's trained five AFP army and one AFP marine battalions. During the same period, 1.1st SFG continued training the Filipino CT force, preparing and outfitting an additional two LRC's. ODA's from 1/1 also assisted in the design of a Joint Special Operations Group (JSOG), including AFP air force rotary wing lift assets.
The purpose of the JSOG was to employ CT forces to capture or kill terrorists. Members of the 6th SOS from Hurlbert Filed provided NVG training, helping to create a night infiltration capability to insert and support the LRC's when employed.
Recognizing the need to provide a maritime interdiction capability, SOCPAC tasked NAV-SOF elements from Guam to conduct a Security Assistance MTT to train Filipino naval units from SOUTHCOM on maritime patrolling and interdiction tasks during 2004. In 2005 NAV-SOF shifted to a permanent Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) effort on Mindinao and at Tawi-Tawi, an island at the southern end of the Sulu archipelago.
SOCPAC also introduced operations/intelligence fusion teams (O/IFT,s) to work with various organizations in SOUTHCOM. The O/IFT's provided advice and assistance on collection priorities and force employment at division and brigade. Beginning in 2004, 1/1st SFG provided two ODA;s continuously to serve as O/IFT's both to the newly created JSOG and the 6th Infantry Division in Central Mindinao. Additionally, NSWTU-1 provided small boat unit and SEAL O/ITF's to the Philippines Navy Zamboanga and Tawi-Tawi. The NAVSOF elements provided similar type advisory assistance to NAVSOU in south eastern Mindinao and the Sulu Archipelago.
In 2005 SOPAC and SOUTHCOM pushed for a significant expansion of American assistance to the Filipino CT effort. In the summer 2005, terrorists from ASG and JI had moved from Mindinao to the island of Sulu where they sought refuge. Sulu was predominantly inhabited by Muslims and was the site where Islam was introduced to the Philippines. Many members of both the Philippines and American governments believed that introducing American forces onto Sulu would have been met with intense resistance. Events in Sulu have thus far dispelled both fears.
Based on a PACOM assessment recommending such a deployment, the SECDEF approved a second integration of OEF-P to combat terrorism in SOUTCOM area of responsibility (AOR), specifically Sulu. SOCPAC established a larger JSOTF in Zamboanga and deployed a force package to the island of Sulu, conducting operations based on the Basilan model. Using that template, SOCPAC deployed one ODB, five ODA's and elements of NSWSTU to Sulu to advise and assist AFP units in their effort to capture key terrorists. The JSOTF developed three main lines of operation: capacity building, targeted civil military operations (CMO), and information operations. SOCPAC had wisely requested a number of combat multipliers: a CAT-B, MIST, PAO, EOD specialists, and even a Special Operations Surgical Team (SOS-T) from Hurlbert
Like operations on the island of Basilan, JSOTF-P forces conducted advisory assistance and SMEE's down to the battalion level. The goal remained to conduct all operations through, with, and by AFP forces.
From October 2005 - July 2006, JSOTF-P unassisted Task Force Comet, the AFP command on Sulu, in setting conditions to deny terrorists sanctuary. ODA's advised their partner army and marine infantry battalions in route and security to facilitate Filipino sponsored medical, veterinary, and engineer civilian action programs, along with various population engagement activities. These combined efforts succeeded in separating the terrorists from the population. The NSWTU rehearsed Filipino units in maritime interdiction. AFSOC personnel continued working with the Filipino aviation units. Special Forces detachments's trained and rehearsed select units within Filipino army and marine battalions in collective patrolling tasks.
On August 1, 2006, TF Comet launched Operation ULTIMATUM to capture ASG and JI leadership on Sulu. Filipino Army, Marine and Special Operations units succeeded in driving the terrorists from their sanctuaries on the island. Filipino naval units effectively cordoned Sulu Island so that the terrorists could not escape. Most impressively, TF Comet synchronized joint operations for more than 90 days, supplying logistics in the field and maintaining continuous pressure on the terrorists, all without losing the support of the local population.
On both Basilan and Sulu, OEF-P has demonstrated the efficacy of a population-based counterinsurgency fight. Such campaigns can and will work when the local and national governments and security forces of a partner nation remain committed to eradicating conditions for terrorist sanctuaries, By building the capability of host nation forces, developing a combined Information Operations campaign which promoted government legitimacy, and refurbishing physical and human infrastructure, SOF have help provided options to the Filipino populace and to sever its ties to terrorist ideology. OEF-P currently provides an example where small SOF footprint has combined with collective resolve to defeat terrorism.
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