The Evolution of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines
Posted by DEFENSE STANDARD at 11/29/2008 8:30 AM and is filed under DEFENSE STANDARD 2008 Fall Edition
Copyright 2008. DEFENSE STANDARD. All rights reserved
by John D. Gresham
“Conduct security assistance operations to enhance interoperability between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the armed forces of the United States. Support the AFP in their fight to deny and defeat terrorist activities….” Mission Statement for Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines
The fall of 2001 following the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11 was a busy time for the U.S. military, as they set out on their first overseas efforts to hunt down Al Qaeda and its affiliate terrorist organizations. Most Americans recall the liberation of Afghanistan in an impressive seven-week campaign that ended in Taliban surrender at the gates of Kandahar. However, there was another counter-terrorism campaign being fought at the same time, fought in and among the islands and jungles of the Philippine Archipelago. This was Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines (OEF-P), and it remains one of the most successful counterinsurgency operations run during the first years of the Global War on Terrorism.
Setting the stage
Even before Spain had ceded the island territory to the U.S, an ongoing insurgency was being waged by Muslims in the southern Philippines against the predominately Catholic-based government in Manila. Tribes like the Moros, based on islands like Mindanao, Basilan, and Jolo, regularly rose up against U.S. occupation forces. Following World War II, the insurgency largely was kept in control by the repressive policies of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. His fall at the end of the Cold War, however, allowed the Muslim insurgents to begin anew.
Throughout the 1990s, the Muslim groups, including Abu Sayyaf (Arabic for “Father of Swordsmith”), were responsible for a number of bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and other acts throughout the Philippines, including in Manila. Abu Sayyaf and other Filipino insurgent groups also entered into the growing radical Islam network that included Al Qaeda in the 1990s, taking a partnership role in operations. One such plan, by 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, to kill Pope John Paul II, bomb 12 airliners, and fly another airliner into CIA headquarters at Langley, Va., was supported by another Filipino Islamic insurgent group, Jemaah Islamiyah (Arabic for “Islamic Congregation”).
By the time of the 9/11 attacks, Abu Sayyaf and the other Islamic insurgent groups in the southern Philippines had become such a threat that the Philippine government finally was willing to allow U.S. forces back into their country. It took most of a decade of discreet military-to-military contact between the U.S. and Filipino government to rebuild the relationship enough to enable a long-term deployment of trainers and advisers to the southern Philippines.
What became OEF-P actually was actually an extension to an existing bilateral training exercise, Balikatan (“shoulder-to-shoulder”) 02-1, and continued a Mobile Training Team (MTT) mission that had predated 9/11. The planned OEF-P mission objectives were:
• Surveillance and control of Abu Sayyaf transit/supply routes, supporting villages and access to key personnel.
• Train with Filipino military and interior security forces to build professional skills and strengths.
• Support and advise operations by Filipino strike teams in the Southern Philippines.
• Eliminate the ability of Al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, and other terrorist groups to move through the Philippines to their desired target areas throughout the world.
• Deny the terrorists direct or indirect support from sympathizers, outside terrorist groups and supportive nation-states.
• Wage psychological and civil affairs campaigns to separate the insurgency from the local population.
In addition to deploying training and advisory personnel, the U.S. also began major transfers of surplus equipment and weapons. In 2002 alone, this included a C-130 Hercules transport plane, 5 UH-1 transport helicopters, 300 2 ½-ton trucks, a pair of 82-foot Point-class patrol cutters, and 15,000 M-16 combat rifles.
Joint Task Force 510
For the first deployment of Joint Task Force (JTF) 510 in 2002, the U.S. Pacific Command standing deployable Special Operations Forces (SOFs) headquarters, the Special Operations Pacific commander Air Force Brig. Gen. Donald C. “Donnie” Wurster, had a variety of forces around which to build his Philippine force. While OEF-P I was planned as a training and advisory operation, that does not mean that the forces engaged were just a collection of rear-echelon schoolhouse personnel. Instead Wurster selected a hard core of 1,200 warfighters, composed mostly of Special Operations Forces (SOFs), including the following:
3rd Battalion/1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) – The core of the OEF-P training and advisement effort formed around 160 Special Forces soldiers (Green Berets). These were formed into a number of Operational Detachment Alphas (ODAs) of the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) out of Fort Lewis, Wash. Built around 12-man teams with personnel trained in planning, engineering, demolitions, communications, medical skills, and the local languages, ODAs specialize in military-to-military training and professional development, along with their own impressive combat skills.
SEAL Team Seven – Sea Air Land (SEAL) Team Seven, based at Coronado, Calif., contributed a number of SEALs and support personnel to provide a maritime component for OEF-P.
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment – To support the overall OEF-P effort, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR – “the Nightstalkers”) supplied a small force of their highly modified helicopters, including the superb MH-47 Chinook.
353rd Special Operations Group – Based at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, the 353rd provided a variety of aircraft and personnel. These included HH-60G Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopters, MC-130 tanker/transports, pararescue jumpers and combat air controllers.
112th Signals Battalion – Based at Fort Bragg, N.C., the 112th was the premier SOF communications provider of radio, satellite, telephonic and other communications bandwidth.
The rest of the U.S. military stepped up to provide small units and sometimes just individual specialists to flesh out JTF 510. These included Marines, Navy construction engineers, Army civil affairs and psychological warfare personnel, medical teams, and of course, a solid base of intelligence professionals.
In February 2002, JTF 510 began to flow into the southern Philippines, joining their Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) counterparts from the Southern Command, commanded by Lt. Gen. Roy Cimatu. They began operations by establishing bases for logistics, training and communications. These included an airfield on Basilan Island built by a Navy mobile construction battalion, along with assorted forward operating locations. Along with the airfield on Basilan, JTF 510 built almost 50 miles of roads, improved a port facility and dug 25 new wells in just eight months. With the bases and supply lines established, JTF 510 went into a period of hard training and patrolling, getting everyone used to the operating areas of islands like Basilan, Mindanao and Jolo.
In addition, the operation had a significant “hearts and minds” component, including Operation Smiles. Operation Smiles was composed of 20 combined U.S./Filipino teams with medical personnel fanning out across Basilan providing health services to more than 18,000 civilians. They then conducted more than 20 Medical Civil Action Projects (MEDCAPs), which provided $100,000-plus in donated medical equipment and supplies, along with improving 14 schools, seven medical clinics, and three hospitals. In just one day in one village with a population of 1,200, JTF 510 MEDCAP personnel pulled 260 teeth, made 26 cataract referrals, and did 740 medical examinations.
While the JTF 510 and Philippine forces worked hard to win over the local populace, they had a more kinetic approach toward Abu Sayyaf and the other Islamic insurgent fighters. Over the previous few years, Abu Sayyaf had financed their operations by kidnapping foreigners and collecting ransoms. Therefore, the initial U.S./Philippine response was an aggressive program of patrolling and intelligence collection, much of it coming from local citizens who preferred the attentions of the newly interested Manila government to that of the insurgents. This was followed by a growing number of raids upon Abu Sayyaf camps and strongholds, which began to rapidly thin their ranks by the end of 2002.
Sadly, OEF-P I did not come without losses. On Feb. 22, 2002, a 160th SOAR MH-47 crashed on a flight between Basilan and Mactan, killing eight personnel. In addition, not all the raid operations went perfectly, as was seen near Zamboanga on Mindanao when the AFP attacked an Abu Sayyaf camp trying to rescue a number of Western hostages. While a number of Abu Sayyaf insurgents were killed and hostages freed, two American prisoners were killed. Overall, however, the successes of JTF 510 and its Philippine military partners opened the way for even more effective operations in the years that followed.
In July 2002, JTF 510 transitioned into Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P), reflecting the change to a long-term commitment to Operation Enduring Freedom. Today JSOTF-P continues to operate in the southern Philippines. Despite some ups and downs in the numbers and strengths of the various Islamic insurgent groups, Operation Enduring Freedom — Philippines has been seen as an unqualified success. It also provides the U.S. and its allies with a template for future Global War on Terror campaigns, as America begins to move toward the second decade of the conflict.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on Dec 23rd 2008