By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Last Thursday I received an emailed letter from an Australian who was in Manila last February 4 and read my column piece that day, about the new US defense plan calling for expanded American role and military presence in the Philippines.
Minus the compliments, let me share what Kenneth A. Fenwick, whom I don’t know personally, wrote:
“The US, in its belt tightening, has a new strategy to use other people’s and countries’ assets to continue its hegemony the best it can. My country, Australia, which may as well be another star on the US flag, has fallen to US pressure, and is allowing them to use our military bases here — for our own benefit of course.
“America at present is like a playboy with ten credit cards full to the hilt, and screams to be given another credit card, like a spoilt child, to continue with its flamboyance. But how long can the playboy keep it up?
“The propaganda, which is only fairy tales for adults, is thick everywhere. Just send in the troops, murder whoever you want, and call them peace keepers. If people who throw stones at American interests are called radicals, then what would you call someone who owns 11 aircraft carriers with full-blown battle fleets, and the biggest collection of weapons of mass destruction on the planet? Dangerous!
“If the Philippines lets America worm its way back into controlling the political mindset and system in your country, then throw away your Constitution; America did.”
I’ll not comment on Fenwick’s letter, except to say that I chuckled over his acerbic remark that his country “may as well be another star on the US flag.” It reminds me of some Filipinos who wish that were the case for the Philippines. I reacted the same way to his analogy of America with a playboy behaving like a spoiled brat.
But to pursue the subject seriously, let’s look closer into another aspect of the changes being proposed in the US defense plan, besides “rebalancing” towards Asia-Pacific as America withdraws from its Iraq and Afghanistan wars (discussed in this space last Feb. 4).
This specific plan, dubbed “Global SOF Alliance,” intends to make more resilient and more combat-effective the US elite Special Operation Forces, and quickly send them on special missions to any crisis area in the world, according to a report early this week in the International Herald Tribune.
Favored with increased funding — in contrast with other military components that will suffer cuts under the $525-billion Pentagon budget for 2013 — the Special Operations Command (Socom) proposes to expand its troops’ presence in regions where they haven’t operated in large numbers since 2001. Specially cited are Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Admiral William H. McRaven, the Socom chief who supervised the commando raid in Pakistan last year that killed Osama bin Laden, specifically asks for additional authority to position SOFs and their war-fighting equipment “where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed.”
Commando teams will be on call to attack “terrorist targets” and rescue hostages, undertake training and liaison assignments, and “gather information to help the command better predict approaching (US) national security risks.”
Beyond that, McRaven wants explicit authority for Socom to deploy commando forces in “hot spots” without going through the standard operating procedure, which now takes time and a tedious route before Pentagon gives its approval.
Under current guidelines though, the Socom can undertake missions “on its own for very special types of operations.” But for unmentioned reasons, such operations have been rarely carried out.
Previous similar plans failed to take off because the State Department and four-star regional military commanders opposed them. US ambassadors in “crisis zones” had expressed concern that some commando operations may be deemed by host governments as violations of their sovereignty, while regional commanders feared Socom’s proposed additional authority would decrease theirs in their own turfs.
To overcome such opposition, McRaven has quietly lobbied in the White House, the Congress, and the Pentagon and sought to assure the regional commanders that his plan would be in support for them.
In the past decade, 80 percent of SOFs have been deployed in the Middle East — the rest are scattered thinly in over 70 countries around the world.
As of now, the Socom has about 66,000 combined military and civilian personnel, double the force in 2001. Its budget has correspondingly increased to $10.5 billion from $4.2 billion. Under the McRaven plan, at least 12,000 SOFs will remain stationed around the world.
There is no telling how many SOFs there have been among the 600 US troops that have been stationed, “on rotation basis,” in the Philippines since the “Balikatan” joint military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement began in 2002.
But what can be reasonably assumed is that, once the McRaven plan is approved, more SOFs will be deployed in the country. The Joint Special Operations Task Force, headquartered in a “facility” inside the AFP’s Andrews Base in Zamboanga City, will be reinforced.
The facility has been marked off-limits to Filipinos — as if to taunt us: “This is America’s extraterritorial domain!”
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February 18, 2012