The U.S. will keep an elite 600-person counterinsurgency team in the Philippines, despite pressure to relocate the resources to Iraq or Afghanistan, Pentagon officials told The New York Times.
The decision — made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who visited the country in June — represents an acknowledgement that military success must be followed by a sustained presence. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines has been operating in the country for seven years, working directly with the Philippines military but also performing humanitarian aid missions in the area.
In that time, U.S. and Filipino forces have dealt blows to terror groups such as Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, anti-government organizations operating in the south, the Times noted.
"Based on his briefings heading into Manila and his meetings on the ground there, Secretary Gates just felt this is not the right time to begin scaling back our support," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. "While we have made real progress against international terrorist groups there, everyone believes they would ramp back up their attacks if we were to draw down."
Col. Bill Coultrup, the task force commander, told the paper that since he arrived in 2007, 80 percent of their duties has been "civil-military operations to change the conditions that allow those high-value targets to have a safe haven. We do that through helping give a better life to the citizens: good governance, better health care, a higher standard of living."