Since losing a number of its major overseas bases in the 1990s, the US has had to make shifts in its basing strategy. It now increasingly relies on what its Department of Defense calls “Cooperative Security Locations” (CSLs), and there is now less emphasis on “Main Operating Bases” (MOBs). The US has a number of CSLs in the Philippines.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Since losing a number of its major overseas bases in the 1990s, the US has had to make shifts in its basing strategy. It now increasingly relies on what its Department of Defense calls “Cooperative Security Locations” (CSLs), and there is now less emphasis on “Main Operating Bases” (MOBs). It has a number of CSLs in the Philippines, one of which is in Camp Navarro, Zamboanga City.
The US military installation within Camp Navarro was mentioned by Pacifico Agabin, dean of the Lyceum of the Philippines School of Law, during his presentation at the oral arguments against the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) before the Supreme Court on Sept. 19.
The 1987 Constitution does not allow foreign military presence on Philippine soil except through a treaty jointly recognized by both contracting parties. Art. XVIII, Sec. 25 of the Constitution provides that:
“After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning military bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
The VFA was ratified in 1999 by the Philippine Senate and signed by then President Joseph Estrada, but it was never ratified by the US Senate.
The first RP-US Balikatan military exercises under the VFA – which provides only for short stays by US troops – were conducted in 2002. There has been continuous US military presence in the Philippines since then, manifested through the CSLs.
“Visiting is quite an understatement, considering that the US forces have been with us for six years, and six years can hardly be considered a visit,” Agabin said during the Sept. 19 oral arguments. “It is really a continuous visit. It is really a kind of visit that wears out the hospitality of the host.”
Agabin then cited the presence of CSLs within Philippine military camps – specifically the one located in Camp Navarro.
The website GlobalSecurity.org defines the MOB and the CSL as follows:
A Main Operating Base (MOB) is an enduring strategic asset established in friendly territory with permanently stationed combat forces, command and control structures, and family support facilities. MOBs serve as the anchor points for throughput, training, engagement, and US commitment to NATO. MOBs have: robust infrastructure; strategic access; established Command and Control; Forward Operating Sites and Cooperative Security Location support capability; and enduring family support facilities. These are already in existence.
A Cooperative Security Location (CSL) is a host-nation facility with little or no permanent US presence. CSLs will require periodic service, contractor and/or host nation support. CSLs provide contingency access and are a focal point for security cooperation activities. They may contain propositioned equipment. CSLs are: rapidly scalable and located for tactical use, expandable to become a FOS, forward and expeditionary. They will have no family support system.
The US Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, meanwhile, defines a base as “a locality from which operations are projected or supported,” reflecting clearly the role of these installations in war posturing.
In an article in the June 2005 issue of TheAtlantic.com, Robert D. Kaplan explains how CSLs work thus:
“A cooperative security location can be a tucked-away corner of a host country’s civilian airport, or a dirt runway somewhere with fuel and mechanical help nearby, or a military airport in a friendly country with which we have no formal basing agreement but, rather, an informal arrangement with private contractors acting as go-betweens. Because the CSL concept is built on subtle relationships, it’s where the war-fighting ability of the Pentagon and the diplomacy of the State Department coincide – or should. The problem with big bases in, say, Turkey – as we learned on the eve of the invasion of Iraq – is that they are an intrusive, intimidating symbol of American power, and the only power left to a host country is the power to deny us use of such bases. In the future, therefore, we will want unobtrusive bases that benefit the host country much more obviously than they benefit us. Allowing us the use of such a base would ramp up power for a country rather than humiliating it.
“I have visited a number of CSLs in East Africa and Asia. Here is how they work. The United States provides aid to upgrade maintenance facilities, thereby helping the host country to better project its own air and naval power in the region. At the same time, we hold periodic exercises with the host country’s military, in which the base is a focus. We also offer humanitarian help to the surrounding area. Such civil-affairs projects garner positive publicity for our military in the local media – and they long preceded the response to the tsunami, which marked the first time that many in the world media paid attention to the humanitarian work done all over the world, all the time, by the US military. The result is a positive diplomatic context for getting the host country’s approval for use of the base when and if we need it.
“Often the key role in managing a CSL is played by a private contractor. In Asia, for example, the private contractor is usually a retired American noncom, either Navy or Air Force, quite likely a maintenance expert, who is living in, say, Thailand or the Philippines, speaks the language fluently, perhaps has married locally after a divorce back home, and is generally much liked by the locals. He rents his facilities at the base from the host-country military, and then charges a fee to the US Air Force pilots transiting the base. Officially he is in business for himself, which the host country likes because it can then claim it is not really working with the American military. Of course no one, including the local media, believes this. But the very fact that a relationship with the US Armed Forces is indirect rather than direct eases tensions. The private contractor also prevents unfortunate incidents by keeping the visiting pilots out of trouble—steering them to the right hotels and bars, and advising them on how to behave. (Without Dan Generette, a private contractor for years at Utapao Naval Station, in Thailand, that base could never have been ramped up to provide tsunami relief the way it was.)”
According to Roland Simbulan, a professor of development studies at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Manila and an expert on RP-US foreign and military relations, the dismantling of the US bases in the Philippines following the Senate’s rejection of a new Military Bases Agreement in 1991 was a major contributor to the US shift in basing strategy.
The Philippines was once host to the largest US overseas bases. Subic Naval Base alone had an area of 6,658 hectares, while Clark Air Base covered 4,400 hectares.
Apart from these, the US had O’Donnell Transmitter Station (1,755 hectares), San Miguel Communications Station (1,100 hectares), Capas Naval Transmitter Station (356 hectares), John Hay Air Station (227 hectares), and Wallance Air Station (202 hectares).
All these spanned a total area of 14,698 hectares of arable land. “If you combine that, it would be bigger than Singapore,” Simbulan said in an interview.
“So the dismantling of the bases in the Philippines was a hard blow to the US. The US was really shocked by the 1991 vote against the new bases treaty… They were forced to shift to a new basing strategy.
“CSLs were developed to blunt political opposition to big military bases.”
The US maintains a number of CSLs, mostly in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. US officials claim that the CSLs particularly in Africa and Latin America exist for the purpose of combating the drug trade.
But this is just a cover, according to Simbulan. “The US has not been consistent in its fight against the drug trade,” he said. He noted that the US military, for instance, had colluded with drug syndicates in fighting revolutionary guerrillas and leaders in Colombia and Cuba.
In the Philippines, there are CSLs installed in Camp Aguinaldo, the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP); as well as in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City, in Cotabato City, and in Basilan.
Camp Navarro hosts the headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).
The JSOTF-P was established by the US Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC). It began its work when SOCPAC deployed to the Philippines Joint Task Force (JTF) 510. Based on an item on GlobalSecurity.org, JTF 510 was deployed to the Philippines “to support Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name given to the US government’s military response to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. It entails a series of anti-“terrorism” activities in Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, Trans-Sahara, and Pakinsi Gorge.
“CSLs are off-limits to AFP personnel,” Simbulan disclosed. “I was able to talk with some AFP personnel at one time, and they told me they don’t really know what the US troops are doing in their offices within AFP camps.”
“The (main) purpose for these is for them to expand their operations so that when they have missions to Malaysia and Indonesia, they would have locations that are open to them,” he said.
Saimbulan also said that the CSLs in the Philippines are also used for “technical intelligence”, or surveillance, purposes. He said that the US troops conducting surveillance operations are particularly active in strategic areas like Southwestern Mindanao.
“They go around in civilian clothes,” he said. “Some of them disguise themselves as tourists.”
The immediate goal, he said, is for the US troops to consolidate their influence in Mindanao. “It follows that when they consolidate their influence there, US companies would have easier access to the area,” he said.
The long-term consideration, however, is that the US views China as a long-term threat, Simbulan said.
Simbulan said that between 100 and 500 US troops are deployed all year in the Philippines, working from these CSLs. These, he said, are apart from those who come to the Philippines periodically for the Balikatan military exercises.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita recently said that US troops come and go but they “all look alike,” so it is as though they never leave.
“They are replaced every now and then,” Ermita said. “They leave, contrary to the critics’ impression that they have not left.”
But this is not so, said Simbulan. “It is those who join the Balikatan who come and go, but those (in the CSLs) are deployed here for prolonged periods,” he said.
He recounted his conversation with the wife of a US official on one trip to Zamboanga, during which he learned that in the Camp Navarro CSL there is now a building for housing.
There is no treaty between the Philippines and the US which allows for the presence of CSLs on Philippine soil. (Bulatlat)