U.S. eyeing drone strikes in PH – NBC News

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air strike blast Marawi
Debris and fire is seen during an airstrike in Marawi City. (Reuters)

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 4 – 1:40 p.m.) The United States may conduct drone strikes on extremist targets in the Philippines if a Pentagon plan is approved, according to an NBC News report.

Quoting defense officials, NBC News reported that “the authority to strike ISIS targets as part of collective self-defense could be granted as part of an official military operation that may be named as early as Tuesday.”

(READ THE NBC NEWS REPORT HERE: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/u-s-may-begin-airstrikes-against-isis-philippines-n790271)

“The strikes would likely be conducted by armed drones,” it added.

If the plan is approved, the report said, “the U.S. military would be able to conduct strikes against ISIS targets in the Philippines that could be a threat to allies in the region, which would include the Philippine forces battling ISIS on the ground in the country’s southern islands,” referring to the continuing battle for Marawi City against extremist groups tat have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, which began May 23 and led President Rodrigo Duterte to place Mindanao under martial law.

However, Salavador Panelo, the chief presidential legal counsel, said: “Per (Defense) Secretary (Delfin) Lorenzana that matter has not been discussed between the two countries.”

Thus far, official U.S. assistance to the Philippine military has been limited to intelligence sharing, materiel support and training although there have long been allegations of direct American involvement in combat operations, which both the U.S. and Philippine governments deny.

For its part, the Department of National Defense denied there was any discussion “regarding the use of US drones to strike against Daesh-inspired terrorist groups in the Philippines.”

The AFP also stated that no such discussion has occurred at their level.

The AFP Chief of Staff, Gen Eduardo Año, indicated that “at present such a measure is not within the provisions of the Mutual Defense Treaty.”

Direct military actions are only allowed during actual foreign invasion by another state actor. Hence, such a proposition has to undergo a process, and an agreement must be reached that should have the approval of both the highest officials of our nations.

Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reiterated that no discussions regarding air strikes from whatever platforms hitting local targets transpired at his level.

Both officials, however, expressed their appreciation for the reported desire of the United States to help the Philippines fight Daesh/ISIS-inspired terrorists groups locally.

Although Philippine-US security relations and counter terrorism efforts are robust, US assistance has been limited to technical assistance, sharing of information and training.

Terrorism has indeed become a global menace that the community of nations must unite against. ASEAN of late has issued strong statements on the matter.

An earlier InterAksyon report on a statement to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee by U.S. Special Operations Command chief General Raymond Thomas III, named the Philippines alongside Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and the African Sahel among the places the Americans provided support for operations against “violent extremist organizations.”

Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, told National Public Radio in June that as the Islamic State loses territory in the Middle East, extremists are looking elsewhere, including the Philippines, to operate.

As of July 26, 2017, a total of 23,922 airstrikes have been conducted against the Islamic State under Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition campaign against the extremists in Iraq and Syria.

The coalition estimates that 603 civilians have been killed in air strikes against the Islamic State but Airwars.org, an independent group of former journalists in the Middle East, Europe and the U.S., place the figure at 4,354.

(ALSO READ: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/battle-against-isis-syria-iraq-civilians-suffer-most-n779656)

Reacting to the NBC report, communist rebels blasted the reported U.S. plan.

Fidel Agcaoili, chairman of the negotiating panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, in what he called an initial reaction, said: “We condemn any such agreement to allow US to intervene militarily with air strikes and the use of drones.”

“Obviously, the US would want to turn the Philippines into another Yemen, or worse, Iraq or Syria, to justify outright stationing of bases and troops in its war posturing against China,” Agcaoili said as he accused the Philippine military of being “so pro-American that they would not mind turning the country into a battlefield to defend and promote US interests.”

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate also condemned the “clearly interventionist plan” that he described as “a shameless pretext of the U.S. so it can still shamelessly claim dominance in the Philippines and in the Asian region as the self-proclaimed global police and superpower.”

He also warned that drone strikes would “signal commission of blatant human rights violations with impunity by faceless and nameless U.S. officials and troops safely ensconced in far-away military bases.”

“We call on President Duterte to assert our sovereignty and denounce this US interventionist plan. He should not allow such a plan to happen as it may just be a prelude to a more sinister plan, like a regime change, as it did in other parts of the world,” Zarate said.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said such airstrikes “will violate our national sovereignty and will run counter to the constitutional ban on foreign troops participating in combat operations in the Philippines.”

“There can be no justification for allowing a foreign superpower with the world’s worst rights record to be conducting airstrikes on Philippine soil,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said. (with reports from Camille Aguinaldo, InterAksyon | Maricel Halili, News5)