Friday, April 12, 2013


America’s low-key presence in southern Philippines is how being held by some experts as a model for US special operations around the globe.

In “The Future of US Special Operations Forces”, Linda Robinson writes for the Council on Foreign Relations that American special operations forces need to move beyond capabilities like the one that led to the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, to become more proficient in training, advising and assisting key allies around the world in defeating terror and insurgent groups.

Building global partnerships would help ensure US security interests, she concluded.

Robinson observed that US special operations forces “are stuck conducting endless strikes on terrorist target lists that are consistently repopulated with new individuals, with no theory or measure to determine whether or when a network is sufficient degraded to no longer constitute a threat.”

The ideal model, she explained, will mirror efforts in Colombia and the Philippines “where special operations forces planned ongoing campaigns that use numerous advisory, civil affairs and informational activities to assess and address those governments’ weaknesses in providing security and remedying underlying sources of conflict.”

The Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P) is based inside a Philippine military base in Zamboanga City although its members – Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Special Operations and Airforce Commandos – are deployed farther south, in strife-prone Basilan and Sulu islands.

They operate their own aircraft, including transport planes, helicopters and drones, through the Joint Special Operation Air Detachment (JSOAD) whose personnel work out of Edwin Andrews Air Base, also in Zamboanga City.

Aside from training and “advising” Filipino troops hunting down terrorists, the US Special Forces operators also help protect US-funded infrastructure projects in the poorest regions of Muslim Mindanao as well as mount civic action projects like building local schools and libraries.

At least 17 American Special Operations soldiers have been killed in the Philippines since the US began deploying troops there after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Robinson’s proposals appear to track closely with Pentagon plans, revealed earlier this week, to cope with a post-sequestration budget. The shift, they said, “not only recognize the changing nature of the conflicts in which the US must prevail, but also leverage new concepts of operation enabled by advances in space, cyberspace, special operations, precision-strike and other capabilities.”

In a post-Afghanistan setting, there will continue to be high demand for US forces though it will now be for “training with partners, deterring instability and responding to crises rather than prolonged combat operations”, the Pentagon paper said.

The report said the number of US Special Operations troops has grown from fewer than 40,000 in 2001 to more than 66,000 today. The Pentagon’s revised budget plans call for expanding this force further.

“As the counterterrorism threat continues to expand globally SOF, personnel will be confronted with pent up demand – in Africa and Southeast Asia especially – that has not been met due to commitments in Afghanistan. SOF will play a crucial and expanding role in developing the capabilities of our international partners,” the Pentagon said.

Robinson echoes the need to beef up US special operations forces. “The benefits include a greater capacity for achieving enduring solutions rather than temporary Band-Aids or endless campaigns for disruption and decapitation; enhanced security achieved at lower cost with less US presence through increasingly capable partner nations; and a stronger global alliance of partners that avoid a perception of the US as a unilateralist power that writes its own rules,” she explained.

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