When an encounter
between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Moro National
Liberation Front (MNLF) broke out in Barangay (Village) Buansa, Indanan,
Sulu last week, U.S. troops who were a few kilometers away were seen
running toward the direction of the gunfire. They were carrying their
mingle with residents of a Mindanao community -- in full battle gear
The fighting ensued after AFP troops attacked the camp of MNLF state
chairman Khaid Ajibun in the said village.
Military spokespersons said the attack was brought about by reports that
members of the bandit Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) were in the MNLF camp. The
MNLF – with which the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)
signed a Final Peace Agreement in 1996 – has repeatedly denied that it
coddles ASG members.
In Brgy. Bato-Bato,
also in Indanan, U.S. troops are presently busy with a road-construction
project. That village is right now the center of AFP operations in Sulu,
with an encounter having taken place only last March 2.
These were gathered
by Bulatlat in an interview with Jolo Councilor Temojen “Cocoy”
This, Tulawie said,
is just part of a larger picture that has been developing in Sulu since
always take place not far from where U.S. troops are,” said Tulawie, who
is also a convener of the Concerned Citizens of Sulu. “The presence of
U.S. troops has been visible in areas where military operations have taken
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.
Tulawie said the
presence of U.S. troops in Sulu started in 2004 and has been continuous
The Jolo councilor
said that in one of his recent travels, he saw that several U.S. soldiers
were among the passengers in the Sulu-bound plane from Manila.
“I talked to the
guards in the airport here and they told me that U.S. soldiers arrive
everyday,” Tulawie disclosed. “They come usually in the wee hours of the
morning, just after midnight.”
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.
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
situation was very tense here at that time,” Tulawie told Bulatlat.
The next year,
however, U.S. troops came up with ingenious ways to find their way into
“They started coming
in small groups, bringing relief goods,” Tulawie said. “They concentrated
on winning the hearts and minds of the people of Sulu.”
“Their strategy was
effective,” Tulawie also admitted. “They have to some extent been able to
neutralize the Sulu people’s resistance to their presence here.”
It is unclear how
many U.S. troops there are in Sulu right now, Tulawie said. “They don’t
tell us how many of them are here,” he pointed out.
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
recently 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
“There are U.S.
troops stationed in all military camps in Sulu,” Tulawie added. “If they
are here only to give training, as they and the Philippine government
claim, there should be only a single training camp where they are to be
stationed. But what is happening is different.” Bulatlat
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© 2007 Bulatlat
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