Defense Media Network

Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines (OEF-P)

I have to emphasize that the mission continues today, and should continue. It was not just a capture/kill mission. We made commitments to the Filipino military and to the Filipino people. It continues to be important that we maintain our commitments and keep our promises. When Karen Hughes of the State Department visited and I was now the SOCPAC commander and a two-star [major general], she asked if the mission was over and ending if we killed or captured five of the top Abu Sayyaf people. I said no, not at all. Our mission would continue over the long term until the Filipinos were a capable and self-sufficient member of the coalition against extremist/terrorist groups. It’s a long-term thing based on a long-term conflict of ideologies and not dependent on the elimination of a few people.


JSOTF-P and 1st SFG Commander Col. Fran Beaudette, USA

Maj. Gen. Richard Comer, USAF (Ret.): What is the current relationship with the government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to its people in outlying islands where the insurgency is stronger?

JSOTF-P Commander Col. Fran Beaudette, USA:The overarching strategy for the GRP is the Internal Peace and Security Plan [IPSP], where they are evolving from a military centric strategy to what they themselves describe as a “whole-of-nation” approach. The Internal Peace and Security Plan is the way ahead for the Filipino people to join together to pursue peace and security for the future of the entire country. Their focus is on winning the peace rather than defeating the enemy. It involves all stakeholders in the pursuit of internal peace and guided by adherence to human rights, international humanitarian law, and the rule of law.

Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines

Hundreds of government leaders, representatives from the armed forces of the Philippines, and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines gathered for the opening of a new road in Barangay (community) Kandayok Nov. 28, 2009. Photo provided by Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines Public Affairs

How do you help the GRP combat the insurgency today?

The foreign internal defense mission is more complex than just training, advising, and assisting the Philippine military. In support of the GRP’s Internal Peace and Security Plan, JSOTF-P works with the U.S. Embassy country team, NGOs, Barangay leaders, religious authorities, interagency partners, and more to bolster the U.S.’s three-pronged approach of focusing on diplomacy, development, and defense.

While the Philippine government and its people are the primary catalysts behind the AFP’s [Armed Forces of the Philippines] successes, JSOTF-P’s assistance to the AFP has made a visible impact in the Southern Philippines. Ten years ago, JI [Jemaah Islamiyah] and ASG controlled vast territories in the southern region.

Today, we know of no international terrorist attacks linked to the Philippines since 2003, and the severity and frequency of attacks within the Philippines has been relatively low. JI and ASG are regionally contained lawless elements that control little territory and are primarily engaging in criminal activity. They are not as strongly tied to ideological goals or international terrorist groups.

What do you consider absolutely critical to the mission?

The relationships with our partners, cultivated over time, builds trust and confidence in each other’s ability to support all aspects of the campaign. Our successes are their successes.

Millions of dollars, thousands of subject-matter expert exchanges, veterinarian and medical civic action programs, and civil engineering projects have made a difference … Not just for the access and development of the Philippine Security Forces, but for the men, women, and children in the villages, barangays, towns, and outlying locations. Their lives are better today because of the measurable progress of the AFP and PNP [Philippine National Police]. They are truly the protectors of the population.

How well engaged is JSOTF-P, at this time, at each level of war: tactical, operational, and strategic? How so?

JSOTF-P continues to train, advise, and assist the AFP and PNP in Mindanao, Basilan, and Sulu to support peace and development. Our close partnership with the Philippine Security Forces (AFP and PNP), allows us to advise and assist their efforts where they are located – on Philippine government bases, compounds, and outposts in jungle, village, and urban areas.

At the strategic level, we maintain continuous engagement with joint and unified HQ’s counterparts ranging from ops and intel to civil military operations. Our focus is to sustain the AFP counterterrorism capability to maintain their security advantage, and support, within the boundaries of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the AFP and PNP as they continue to degrade, disrupt, and defeat transnational terrorists’ threats. We will continue to play our role in the U.S. interagency approach as reliable strategic partners in the Asia-Pacific region. We’ll do this through continued assistance, exercises, and specialized training events, as we’ve accomplished throughout our long history of mutual defense. We remain committed to our alliance with the government of the Philippines and our close and valued partnership with the Filipino people.

This article was first published in The Year in Special Operations: 2012-2013 Edition.

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Maj. Gen. Richard Comer (USAF-Ret) spent 32 years on active duty, 17 of which were...