Drawing The Line On Foreign Troops: The Manila Times Editorial

September 17, 2007 at 8:21 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MANILA, Philippines – ABS-CBN has reported that the US military approved last week a $6.25-million contract to beef up support services for the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. The task force serves not only as an advisory group that determines how best to assist the Philippine Armed Forces in its war against Islamic extremists in Mindanao. It also gathers intelligence using unmanned surveillance planes and passes it on to the Philippine military.

The contract was awarded to Global Contingency Services, a company based in Irving, Texas. It is the same outfit that had bagged a six-month, $14.4-million contract to provide “operations support” for the task force in June.

Last month The Times ran an exclusive story about the American military building a host of projects in Jolo, Tawi-Tawi and Maguindanao. Global Contingency Services is very much involved in those projects, The Times learned.

The Times story hinted that the flurry of construction activity points to the growing US military presence in conflict areas in Mindanao. It also suggested that the facilities being built were not temporary camps but the initial stages of permanent bases. If they are structures for bases, then Washington has a lot of explaining to do. The US lost its basing rights in the Philippines almost two decades ago.

A US Embassy official quickly denied the facilities were permanent bases. They were temporary structures for the “medical, logistical and administrative services” of American troops, the official explained.

The ABS-CBN report dovetails with The Times story and, at the same time, injects a new dimension to it. ABS-CBN quotes Adm. Thomas Fargo, former commander of the US Pacific Command, as saying: “The global force posture we seek is about places and not bases.” What Fargo espouses are “rapidly deployable, flexible forces to meet our national defense needs.”

A sizeable portion of those forces would definitely be deployed in Mindanao, which Washington considers as a “frontline” in the global war on terror.

The construction projects can only mean that US troops are in the Philippines for the long haul. But for how long? There is no definite timetable, although Ernesto Carolina, defense undersecretary for Philippines Defense Reform, told ABS-CBN American troops could be here at least until 2014. That is when the 10-year Philippine Defense Reform program ends. The program aims to improve the capabilities of the AFP with guidance and financing from the US.

The growing American military presence must be viewed against the backdrop of today’s realities. Terrorism knows no borders, as 9/11and the subsequent attacks in Bali, Madrid and London painfully illustrated. Defeating it calls for coordinated action, nations closing ranks and working as a tight-knit force. The Philippines needs all the help it can get, and US assistance is most welcome. But the line must be clearly drawn.

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