Sunday, March 7, 2010


From dismantling improvised bombs to extracting rotten molars, American troops in the Philippines are offering another face of the global war on terror.

Techno-savvy GIs are using the blogosphere to spread propaganda that appears increasingly essential to winning hearts and minds, and provides one of the most potent weapons in the US “soft power” arsenal.

US Army Sgt. Michael Carden described the work of a Navy colleague teaching Filipino troops in Cotabato City how to use dynamite for an electrically charged remote detonation.

“The Philippine military, including its EOD (explosives ordnance demolition) units here in central Mindanao, lack sufficient funding and fundamental equipment such as bomb suits, detection robots or expendable explosives to train with,” Carden wrote.

Carden is a member of the American Forces Press Service (AFPS), that is part of the Pentagon’s Defense Media Activity (DMA).

The DMA, which is building a new headquarters and production facility in Ft. Meade, Maryland, oversees a host of military-related media that includes the Stars & Stripes, American Forces Network, Soldiers Magazine and the Department of Defense blog, among others.

As a backlash of the initial US failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is now a greater emphasis on “soft power”, a phrase popularized by Harvard University’s Joseph Nye.

“Soft power” puts greater weight on attraction rather than force and coercion.

If Carden focused on explosives training, US Air Force Capt. Genieve David wrote about Operation Pacific Angel which aims to prevent a dengue epidemic in Northern Luzon.

David, a member of 13th Air Force Public Affairs, writes for the US Air Force Print News Today.

An excerpt from her article: “Maj. Stephen Wolf, one of only 15 entomologists in the Air Force and Julie Samson from the Laoag City department of health have gone into 17 villages and educated a total of 465 residents on methods to combat the spread of this mosquito-borne virus.”

She quotes Philippine Air Force chief veterinarian Col. Bernard Bernardo, “It’s important to establish a field preventative medicine program similar to what the US has in place because most AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) casualties are non-battle injuries like malaria or dengue.”

In a separate report datelined Marawi City, Carden wrote, “For the past 20 years, dental care has been somewhat of an afterthought in the Philippines, especially in the country’s southern provinces.”

About 97 percent of Filipinos suffer from dental illnesses such as gingivitis and that statistic hasn’t changed since 1987, he said, quoting Dr. Pamela Tabao, reportedly a dentist and health consultant for the Marawi City government.

The articles are aimed at the internal military audience as they are to an external public.

Militant Filipinos here and in the Philippines have opposed the continued US military presence in the country. They have called for the abrogation or renegotiation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Focusing on the positive aspects of joint RP-US military activities help deflects many of the criticism against the US military in the Philippines.

But the cash-strapped Philippine military is also forced to rely on the US for help. The US provided $30 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) in 2009 – roughly equivalent to 10 percent of the AFP’s total maintenance and operations budget this year.

Not surprisingly, critics say the US is deliberately propagating the image of the Philippine’s continuing dependence on US help.

Carden recounted how one Philippine Army EOD unit found and defused over a hundred bombs since 2008.

“They went up and did their job and that’s how good they are,” he quoted US Navy Petty Officer Joseph Stutzke.

“They’re very confident and efficient, and they have the knowledge. But they could be better and much safer if they had funding for equipment.”

That’s the message that could resonate within the corridors of the Pentagon and ensure a sympathetic ear for an ally that’s simply hard pressed fighting a 40-year-old Maoist New People’s Army and the Abu Sayyaf which have been branded by the US as terrorist organizations.

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