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Duterte, US envoy discuss counterterrorism

US Ambassador Sung Kim relayed his country’s commitment to President Rodrigo Duterte during their meeting at Malacañang yesterday afternoon, where they discussed combating terrorism and the rehabilitation of battle-ravaged Marawi City. Krizjohn Rosales/File

MANILA, Philippines - The United States yesterday renewed its commitment to help the Philippines in its fight against terrorism as the fighting in Marawi City entered its seventh week.

US Ambassador Sung Kim relayed his country’s commitment to President Duterte during their meeting at Malacañang yesterday afternoon, where they discussed combating terrorism and the rehabilitation of battle-ravaged Marawi City.

“Great discussion with President Duterte: Shared concerns regarding terrorist threat; reaffirmed our support for C/T (counterterrorism) and rehabilitation efforts in Marawi,” Kim said in a tweet.

Malacañang has yet to issue a statement about the meeting.

The US embassy has confirmed that American soldiers are providing technical assistance to government troops in Marawi.

Philippine officials clarified though that no American serviceman was directly involved in combat operations, as prohibited by the 1987 Constitution.

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Last month, a US P3 Orion surveillance aircraft was seen flying over Marawi as government forces launched offensives against the remaining Maute terrorists in the city.

The US embassy has confirmed that US special forces are assisting the military in Marawi “at the request of the government of the Philippines.” 

Duterte has claimed that he did not seek US help but was nevertheless thankful for the assistance.

The Philippines and the US have existing channels that allow them to cooperate in counterterrorism efforts. These include the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board, under the purview of the Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the two countries in 1951.

As this developed, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana clarified that the joint patrol conducted by the Philippines and the US in the Sulu Sea was part of a naval exercise.

Lorenzana said the US Navy littoral combat ship USS Coronado participated in a joint naval exercise in Cebu.

“As the Colorado was about to leave, instead of sailing directly to Hong Kong, it passed through the Sulu Sea and there, they conduct some patrols,” the defense chief said.

“It was just a continuation of sama sama joint patrol. It is also good deterrent for pirates,” he added. 

Philippine frigate BRP Ramon Alcaraz joined the USS Coronado in the joint patrol, held at the invitation of the Philippine government. 

“Our at-sea operations with the Philippine Navy demonstrate our commitment to the alliance and to deter piracy and illegal activities,” US Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson said in a statement issued by the US embassy.

“The Philippine sailors also exchanged best practices with their US counterparts in visit, board, search and seizure techniques and information sharing,” he added.

The US embassy said the patrol “strengthened maritime security cooperation between the US and Philippine navies and enhanced both navies’ ability to respond to piracy and transnational criminal activity at sea.”

“It further demonstrates US commitment to the security of the Philippines and enduring US interest in promoting stability and prosperity in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” it said.

The joint patrols came days after representatives of the Philippines and the US met to talk about ways to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related materials.  

The first bilateral Proliferation Security Initiative engagement held from June 27 to 28 in Manila was attended by representatives from nearly 20 entities from the Philippine government and four from the US government. 

“The challenges in preventing WMD proliferation are not getting any easier, with bad actors seeking to acquire dual-use materials to advance their WMD or missile programs, disguising the transactions and using front companies to hide the end users,” said Andrea Yaffe,  top US representative in the event.

“We are pleased that the government of the Philippines partnered with us to explore these issues and to demonstrate their continued commitment to PSI’s Statement of Interdiction Principles,” Yaffe said.

“PSI is an area of increased cooperative engagement, not only between the US and Philippine government, but also with other PSI partner countries as we perform our international obligations under the UN Security Council mandates,” said retired general Danilo Servando, head of the Philippine delegation, in his opening statement.

High priority

The Philippines ranks high in the priority areas for military intervention by the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said yesterday.

The group’s statement is based on a testimony of USSOCOM chief Army General Raymond Thomas III before the US Senate Armed Services Committee last May 4. The testimony came three weeks before the siege of Marawi City.

“US Special Operations Forces are said to be involved in direct military intervention against so-called ISIS-inspired groups in Marawi. US provides local commanders with ‘situational awareness’ through its exclusive control of high-tech surveillance equipment,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said.

“This allows the US to practically direct military operations in Marawi City,” Reyes added.

Marawi is just one of the many fronts in the world where the USSOCOM is engaged in.

According to Thomas, “On a daily basis, we sustain a deployed or forward stationed force of approximately 8,000 across 80 plus countries.” 

US Special Operations Forces “are conducting the entire range of missions in both combat and noncombat situations with a wide variety of joint, interagency, international and multinational partners,” the US military official said. – With Rhodina Villanueva

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