From the Washington Times (Aug 7): U.S. to maintain military role in southern Philippines, as fight against ISIS affiliates rages
U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson, left, is welcomed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during the former's courtesy call at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines, Monday, Aug. 7, 2017. Tillerson is here to attend the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting and its Dialogue Partners. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
The Pentagon has no plans of pulling back or reducing American counterterrorism efforts in the southern Philippines as Manila continues to battle Islamic State affiliates looking to gain a foothold in the country and the Pacific region writ large.
The small team of U.S. special operations forces, based in the Philippine city of Zamboanga, will continue to provide intelligence and logistical support to Philippine forces as their offensive against the Maute group — a radical militant group tied to the Abu Sayyaf terror organization and the group known as ISIS or ISIL — in the city of Marawi in the country’s south.
The small team of American troops had been part of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, one of the earliest U.S. counterterrorism operations launched in the wake of 9/11. As the height of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, over 400 task force members provided combat support to Manila’s efforts to quash groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf.
While remaining largely out of the fray inside Marawi, American forces have been critical in supporting Manila’s military offensive to drive members of the Maute group from the city, a campaign that is entering its third month since fighting broke out in late May.
“We want to support them … we want to see ISIS defeated” in Marawi and throughout the southern Philippines, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Monday, noting U.S. forces have supported the Philippine government’s war on extremists since the days just after Sept. 11 attacks.
Maute group leader Isnilon Hapilon declared allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014 and was subsequently named the group’s emir in Southeast Asia. The assault on Mawari was triggered by a failed raid by Philippine military and police on Mr. Hapilon’s base near the city, local reports say.