These were gathered by Bulatlat in its interview with Tulawie in March last year.
This, Tulawie said, is just part of a larger picture that has been developing in Sulu since 2004.
“Military operations always take place not far from where U.S. troops are,” said Tulawie. “The presence of U.S. troops has been visible in areas where military operations have taken place.”
While Tulawie says there is yet no evidence that U.S. troops have actually participated in combat operations, their visibility in areas where AFP operations have been conducted raises questions on the real reasons behind their presence in the country’s southernmost province.
U.S. military presence in Sulu
The presence of U.S. troops in Sulu started in 2004 and has been continuous since then.
U.S. troops would have entered Sulu as early as February 2003. The AFP and the U.S. Armed Forces had both announced that the Balikatan military exercises for that year would be held in Sulu.
This provoked a wave of protest from the people of Sulu, who had not yet forgotten what has come to be known as the Bud Dajo Massacre.
The Bud Dajo massacre, which took place in 1906, is described in some history texts as the “First Battle of Bud Dajo.” It was an operation against Moro fighters resisting the American occupation.
The description of the incident as a “battle,” however, is disputed considering the sheer mismatch in firepower between U.S. forces and the Moro resistance fighters. The 790 U.S. troops who assaulted Bud Dajo used naval cannons against the 800-1,000 Moro resistance fighters who were mostly armed only with melee weapons.
In the end, only six of the hundreds of Moro resistance fighters holding Bud Dajo as a stronghold survived, while there were 15-20 casualties among the U.S. troops.
The announcement in February 2003 that the year’s Balikatan military exercises would be held in Sulu summoned bitter memories of the Bud Dajo Massacre and led to protest actions where thousands of Sulu residents participated.
The next year, however, U.S. troops came up with ingenious ways to find their way into Sulu – coming in small groups and bringing relief goods. This “neutralized” the residents’ resistance to their presence.
The U.S. troops in Sulu are part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P). Based on several news items from the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), the JSOTF-P are in Sulu to train the AFP’s Southern Command (Southcom) and to conduct civic actions.
However, an article written by Command Sgt. Maj. William Eckert of the JSOTF-P, “Defeating the Idea: Unconventional Warfare in Southern Philippines,” hints that there is more to the task force’s work than training AFP troops and embarking on “humanitarian actions.” Wrote Eckert:
“Working in close coordination with the U.S. Embassy, JSOTF-P uses Special Forces, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations forces to conduct deliberate intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in very focused areas, and based on collection plans, to perform tasks to prepare the environment and obtain critical information requirements. The information is used to determine the capabilities, intentions and activities of threat groups that exist within the local population and to focus U.S. forces – and the AFP – on providing security to the local populace. It is truly a joint operation, in which Navy SEALs and SOF aviators work with their AFP counterparts to enhance the AFP’s capacities.”
These U.S. troops have always been seen near the sites of Philippine military operations in Sulu. The latest sighting was during the Feb. 4 attack on Brgy. Ipil, Maimbung where seven civilians and one Army soldier on vacation were killed. (Bulatlat.com)