The usual breathless media reports have emerged from the Philippines latest security crisis in regards to American Special Operations units present in the area. To be sure, the siege of Marawi has spun into a serious attack which bares some resemblance to the 2013 siege of Zamboanga. Philippine SOF units such as the Light Reaction Regiment have been deployed to Marawi as have entire brigades of Marines. The numbers of enemy fighters, and the intensity of the fighting, turned out to be much greater than initial reports made it seem. That said, bogus fake news from burned out leftists have stated that the CIA is somehow behind the Marawi siege which of course is a laughable claim that we don’t have enough Reynolds Wrap to address here.
Meanwhile, other outlets who should know better like Reuters have reported that US Special Forces soldiers are advising in Marawi as if it is a new development. Other outlets quickly picked up this claim as if it was some shocking piece of breaking news. The reality is that this is nothing new at all but rather a continuation of America’s commitment to the Philippines and a pre-existing strong relationship between each country’s military. This relationship is far stronger than any isolationist rhetoric that may come from President Trump or President Duterte. For decades Philippine soldiers have been attending American military schools such as Ranger School, BUD/S, West Point, and the Command and General Staff School. The US military and the Armed Forces of the Philippines also participate in the annual Balikatan exercise.
Retired US Special Forces Colonel Dave Maxwell explained the deep historical relationship between our countries militaries in his white paper about Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines (OEF-P):
The U.S. has a “special relationship” with the Philippines that influences how U.S. and Philippine security forces work together. First, the Philippines was the only U.S. colony. Second, the U.S. previously fought and assisted in two previous insurgencies with General Pershing leading the counterinsurgency against the Moros following the Spanish-American War to Edward Lansdale advising and assisting Ramon Magsaysay during the Huk Rebellion following World War II after the Philippines gained independence. Third, the U.S. and Philippine regular and irregular forces fought a bloody struggle against the Japanese occupation in World War II until liberation in 1944-45. Fourth, the Philippines is the U.S.’ longest standing treaty ally.
Even prior to 9/11, the United States was working with the Philippine Army to stand up a new unit called the Light Reaction Company (LRC), a new counter-terrorism unit which today exists as the Light Reaction Regiment. After 9/11 there was an escalation as the United States now became far more serious about combatting terrorism. 1st Special Forces Group deployed Green Berets to the Philippines and established a Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) to help build the host-nation’s counter-terrorism capability.
What the media has largely missed was that the United States often provided intelligence and logistical support to Philippine counter-terrorism operations. This could include flying Philippine troops to areas of operations on American military aircraft, providing casualty evacuation, or facilitating the use of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms. Back in the early days of the war on terror, there may have been some US Special Forces soldiers who wore indigenous military uniforms and accompanied their host-nation counterparts into the field, but they were not engaging in firefights with the enemy.
As the situation in the Philippines and the various threat groups they faced (particularly Abu Sayyaf) was brought under control, OEF-P and the JSOTF were shut down. However, the smaller US Special Forces presence has always persisted in the Philippines. There are two major endeavors by the US government to combat terrorism alongside the Philippine forces.
One you will hear referred to is the “LCE” standing for Liaison Control Element. The LCE is really just another acronym used for what is a Special Forces ODA training and advising Philippine troops. They rotate in and out of country and essentially provide something like an extended Joint Combined Training Exercise (JCET) deployment. These types of deployments do not send American soldiers into combat but rather have them providing liaison and training duties. Don’t look down your nose at these Special Forces missions as they can often have a bigger and longer standing impact than Direct Action operations ever can. For further evidence, take a look at SOFREP’s past series on Special Forces Detachment-Korea. Meanwhile, US Navy SEALs work with NAVSOG, the Philippine SEALs on their own liaison and training detail.
The other major endeavor comes from an element that locals may refer to as “RA” for Regional Affairs. This organization was usually referred to as OGA (Other Governmental Agency) in Afghanistan and Iraq. The RA guys run what is called the CTOC (Counter Terrorism Operations Center) and liaison with a two brigades from a specific Philippine unit to facilitate them in actioning targets.
The latest news is that the enemy has been cordoned off inside the city of Marawi and they are attempting to breakout. The LCE is contributing to the fight by providing ISR platforms such as Scan Eagle and the Puma, and helping with coordination with the P-3 Orion aircraft. New footage emerging from Marawi shows our Special Operators with full sleeve tattoos and wearing their favorite Grunt Style t-shirts while flying a quad-rotor drone.
Contrary to everything the press has been telling us the last few days, the LCE and RA are absolutely nothing new. There is not a shocking new deployment of American SOF to the Philippines as the media would have us believe. There are not American “boots on the ground” in combat as some outlets have implied. 1st Special Forces Group has been in the Philippines for a long time and they’ve been providing a quiet but important contribution to the Philippine Armed Forces for a long time as well. The Maute Group that is fighting the military in Marawi is not really ISIS as they would like you to think. The fight against the Maute Group in the Philippines and the fight against ISIS in Syria bares little relationship to one another and has few commonalities other than that there is a liaison relationship between US Special Forces with the Philippine Armed Forces and the Kurdish YPG/YPJ militia respectively. Furthermore, the relationship between US SOF and Philippine SOF is not some crazy Trump administration policy.
Angry political rhetoric makes for good headlines, as does stories about American Special Operations soldiers in combat, but fake news is fake news no matter how you try to spin it.
[Lead image courtesy of ABS CBN News]