There's been a small delay in the JSOTF-P embed, due to the fact that major military operations broke out in Mindanao this month. You can read all about it on Bill Roggio's Philippines page. From our perspective, the problem is that the government of the Philippines (GRP) has to sign off on the embed, due to the agreement under which the JSOTF operates. Due to their logistics being overtaken by the need to run higher tempo operations, and the movement of their command facilities to Zamboanga, they've been a little busy to think about the media visit request. We're working with JSOTF-P to get the necessary documents in order for the visit.
In the meanwhile, LCDR Kuebler, the PAO for JSOTF-P, sent this update for our readers.
As I'm sure you are aware it's been a busy couple of weeks for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Two weeks ago they began offensive operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) on Sulu Island. Unfortunately, they suffered some significant losses. A total of 25 soldiers lost their lives in combat.
Yesterday AFP Marines attacked and ASG camp on Basilan and lost 15 while ASG casualties numbered 42. While we typically don't use body counts to measure effectiveness what is worth noting is that ASG and other rogue elements have split into smaller groups in an attempt to evade AFP patrols. There has also been signs that AFP operations have impacted the ability of these rogue elements to resupply. Additionally, AFP has been successful in coordinating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Basilan in order to avoid chance encounters between MILF fighters and AFP.
The MILF has gone as far as pulling back from areas to allow AFP to conduct operations against the ASG. The primary reason behind this is to protect the ceasefire and ongoing peace talks which arescheduled to resume in Malaysia 22 Aug. [Those negotiations have now been canceled. -- Grim]
What does all this mean for US troops? US troops continue to advise and assist the AFP, and provide information to support their combat operations. Additionally, we continue to work with the AFP in the planning and execution of various CMO projects. As you well know, this is a very important part of successful COIN operations. Especially when you consider the very complex nature of the relationships that exist between ASG members, MILF, Moro Nationalist Liberation Front (MNLF) and everyday civilians. For example, members of the same family can sometimes belong to one of the different groups (ASG, MILF, MNLF).
It's important to note that the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) has peace agreement with the MNLF and a ceasefire with the MILF. However, the ASG is a terrorist organization, along with the JI [Jemaah Islamiyah -- an al Qaeda affiliate active in Asia -- Grim]. It's these two groups that are the primary focus of AFP operations in the South, and this is where US support comes into play. Because of these family ties it is sometimes very easy for ASG members to seek refuge with relatives because family comes first - even if no one else in the family is part of the ASG. This is why changing the conditions that allows terrorism to thrive has to be addressed as aggressively as do operations that seek to eliminate the ability of the terrorists to train, re-supply and regroup. This is why we continue to work with the AFP on road improvement projects, school improvements, improving medical services, etc.
Recently, US presence on Sulu has brought some negative attention from the politicos in Manila. An Agence France Presse photographer took a photo of a US Humvee in an AFP convoy with a cutline that read US troops lead AFP in combat operations. This couldn't be farther from the truth since the Visiting Forces Agreement doesn't allow us to actively participate in combat operations. The fact is that as part of our normal movements on Sulu any time we leave a base it is ALWAYS with an AFP convoy - this is standard operating procedure. This is part of our agreement with the GRP.
I was questioned by a reporter from the Philippine Star regarding the photo and I very carefully explained this through a number of instant messages. Ironically, this same reporter had ridden in one of these convoys with us in the past. Unfortunately, she never published anything from our exchange. Meanwhile, members of the opposition party decided to use this photo as "proof" that the US was more involved in operations than what was being communicated by the US embassy, and GRP and AFP officials. Some members went as far calling for an investigation stating that our presence is in violation of the Philippine constitution. This rhetoric lasted all of maybe two days. Here's the media assessment from all this reporting. This situation was reported on almost solely by the Manila media, by reporters who do not work in the south. Those reporters who work in the south for the Manila-based media weren't the ones primarily writing these stories - instead they were being written by reporters who are not familiar with operations on Sulu.
Additionally, this story was not reported on by local media (they are familiar with our operations and understand our role). This is a classic example of how perception can sometimes blur the lines of reality, making clear and concise communications an essential part of COIN operations. When success depends on legitimacy we can't afford not to be forthcoming regarding US operations here, and about how our role is to advise and assist the AFP in 'THEIR' fight against terrorism.