Operation Pacific Eagle: Does a seemingly innocuous operation name change signify intensified U.S. counterterrorism operations in the Philippines.
In the 3rd week of January of this year, it was announced that the U.S. military operation in the Philippines had been renamed Operation Pacific Eagle from Operation Enduring Freedom.
The name change marked a new phase in both the U.S.’ and the Philippines’ counterterrorism efforts. The siege of a predominantly Muslim city in the the Southern Philippines by two ISIS friendly extremist groups was a wake up call to both governments. After 5 months, on last Monday the Philippene government killed two prominent leaders of the extremist groups and appears on the verge of dislodging the Islamic State-affiliated forces from the city.
The takeover by ISIS rebels left a thriving city in ruins, and is predicted take decades and billions of dollars to fully repair. Already, the Trump administration has committed a billion dollars to the the rehabilitation of Marawi city.
Operation Pacific Eagle and the Overseas Contingency Operation designation.
This commitment is independent of the funds that will be used by Operation Pacific Eagle, which has been designated an Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO). As such, funds for such an operation are exempted from typical spending limits. Examples of military operations that fell under such designations are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Detractors of the program call OCOs the Pentagon’s slush fund, as it is subject to very little oversight. While Overseas Contingency Operations are supposed to be shared with the State Department, only a fraction reportedly goes to the State Department.
During Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, up to 600 military advisors were present in the Southeast Asian country to combat the then active Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization. Included in this figure were personnel of the CIA’s Special Activities Division, who were tasked with going after the leaders of terrorist groups.
With the success of that previous operation, the U.S. announced the close of the mission in May 2015. But this withdrawal caused a vacuum that allowed ISIS-affiliated rebels to infiltrate the insurgency-plagued region, allowing recruitment and the subsequent takeover of Marawi city.
Communist rebels and the Philippenes.
The increase in operational funding is a welcome development for the Philippine military, and it needs all the help they can get in combating the various insurgencies that have sprung up over the decades. Apart from Muslim rebels, the Philippine military has yet to put down a Communist insurgency, now organized as the New People’s Army, that has festered for decades.
At the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, there was hope that a peace agreement would be forged with the Communist rebels. But the government officially withdrew from peace talks and President Duterte instead designated the New People’s Army as a terrorist organization, a move pst Philippene governments had resisted.
Last Thursday the Philippene government arrested one of the top leaders of the New People’s Army. A move many see as further evidence of Duterte’s desire to pursue military operations over peace negotiations with the rebels.
Does the newly named Operation Pacific Eagle suggest an increased dedication to U.S. military operations in the Philippenes? Trump has praised Duterte in the past, will Operation Pacific Eagle create a stronger alliance between the two heads of state?