Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines

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Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines
Part of Insurgency in the Philippines, the War on Terrorism
PMC BAlikatan Exercise.jpg
Philippine Marines training with U.S. Marines
Date 15 January 2002 – present
Location Mindanao, Philippines


  • Communist and insurgency
    command eliminated
  • Conflict largely subsided

Government of the Philippines

 United States (advisors)

Moro/Islamic insurgents:
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (until 6 Oct 2012)
Abu Sayyaf
Jemaah Islamiyah
Other Islamist groups
Communist insurgents:
New People's Army
Communist Party of the Philippines
NDF Flag.svg National Democratic Front
Commanders and leaders
Philippines Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Philippines Benigno Aquino III
Philippines Rodrigo Duterte
United States Donald C. Wurster
Abu Abdullah al-Filipini
Abu Sabaya 
Khadaffy Janjalani 
Albader Parad 
Umbra Jumdail 
Abu Bakar Bashir (POW)[1]

Jose Maria Sison[2]

Benito Tiamzon (POW)[3]
United States US Forces: 250[4]–6,000 (Advisors/Trainers)[5] Jemaah Islamiyah: 5,000[6]
Abu Sayyaf: 300[7]
New People's Army: 4,000 (2014)[8]
Casualties and losses
17 killed[9][10] 328+ killed[11] Unknown
Communist insurgency in the Philippines
Islamic insurgency in the Philippines,
11 September 2001 attacks

Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines (OEF-P) or Operation Freedom Eagle was part of Operation Enduring Freedom and the U.S. Global War on Terrorism.[12] The Operation targeted the Communist insurgency in the Philippines and various Islamic terrorist groups. By 2009, about 600 U.S. military personnel were advising and assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the Southern Philippines.[13] In addition, by 2014, the CIA had sent its elite paramilitary officers from their Special Activities Division to hunt down and kill or capture key terrorist leaders.[14] This group had the most success in combating and capturing Al-Qaeda leaders and the leaders of associated groups like Abu Sayyaf.[14]


The 1898 Treaty of Paris ended the Spanish–American War, with Spain ceding the Philippines to the United States. Islam had arrived in the Philippines before the Spanish. Spain had conquered the northern islands, and the southern islands had become Muslim strongholds.[15] The Spanish cession included the islands of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, and the ceded territory included the islands of the Sultanate of Sulu located in the Philippine archipelago where slavery and piracy had for centuries been practiced by the Moros. The Spanish had established coastal garrisons but had never controlled the jungle interiors of the islands.[16]

In 1899, U.S. Brigadier General John C. Bates negotiated an agreement, sometimes called the Bates Treaty for an American Sovereignty over the Moro land which still recognized and respected the position of the Sultan and the Sultanate as well as their Muslim traditions, laws, and practices with the sitting Sultan of Sulu. The treaty had little effect, however, as the Sultan had little real power. Tribal chiefs strongly resisted American control over their territories and carried out attacks against American troops and other foreigners.[17] The treaty was unilaterally abrogated by Leonard Wood in 1905.[18] Bates later confessed that the agreement was merely a temporary expedient to buy time until the northern forces were defeated.[19]

The Moros have been fighting against Philippine rule during the current Moro Conflict since 1969. Some have linked the previous American intervention in the current Moro Rebellion to the earlier American fight against the Moros in the Philippines and criticize both of American's interventions as imperialist,[20] asserting that the root of the conflict lies back in the Spanish and American wars against the Moros.[21]


Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC) troops were the core of Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines (OEF-P), an operation which supports the Government of the Republic of the Philippines counterterrorism efforts. The AFP and civilian authorities had improved their ability to coordinate and sustain counterterrorism operations. U.S. and Philippine forces had also worked together under the new Security Engagement Board framework – the primary mechanism for consultation and planning regarding non-traditional security threats – to complete humanitarian and civil assistance projects and improve living conditions in the southern Philippines. As a result of their combined efforts, support for terrorists had waned markedly.

Deployment first began January 2002 and involved more than 1,200 members of SOCPAC, headed by Brig. General Donald C. Wurster. SOCPAC's deployable joint task force HQ, Joint Task Force 510 (JTF 510), directed and carried out the operation.[22]

The mission was to advise the Armed Forces of the Philippines in combating terrorism in the Philippines.[23] 160 U.S. special forces go out on patrol with Filipinos in jungles of Basilan island, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold, in 2002, U.S. military personnel deployed to Cebu to provide support for a six month exercise.[24] JSOC could undertake psychological operations to confuse or trap al-Qaeda operatives, but it needed approval from the White House for lethal action.[25] Much of the mission (Exercise Balikatan 02-1) took place on the Basilan Island.


The mission of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines (JSOTF-P) was

[T]o support the comprehensive approach of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in their fight against terrorism in the southern Philippines. At the request of the Government of the Philippines, JSOTF-P works alongside the AFP to defeat terrorists and create the conditions necessary for peace, stability and prosperity.[26]


Armed forces of the Philippines[edit]

United States armed forces[edit]

The United States had provided the Philippine government with advisors, equipment and financial support to counter Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah.[27] In order to provide a legal basis for the presence of U.S. forces despite provisions in the 1987 Philippine constitution specifically banning the presence of foreign troops, Philippine president Gloria Arroyo invoked the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines.[28] In 2013, operations began to wind down,[9] assisting Philippine forces against Muslim rebels in September 2013.[29] Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines disbanded in June 2014,[30] ending a successful 14-year mission.[31][32]

After JSOTF-P disbanded, as late as November 2014, American forces continued to operate in the Philippines under the name "PACOM Augmentation Team".[4][31] In January 2015, it was reported by The Philippine Star that U.S. forces were involved in the Philippines Operation Exodus.[33] In late February 2015, Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines deactivated; other U.S. forces will replace the task force to fight terrorism.[34] The new force will be called Forward Liaison Element.[35]

Timeline of American casualties[edit]

On 21 February 2002, the largest loss of life for U.S. forces occurred when 10 soldiers (8 from the E company, 160th SOAR and 2 from the 353rd Special Operations Group) were killed after their MH-47 crashed at sea in the Bohol Strait, southern Philippines, whilst scouting Islamic terrorists on Basilan Island.[36][37]

On 2 October 2002, a bombing at an open-air market outside the gate of Camp Enrile Malagutay in Zamboanga killed a U.S. Special Forces soldier from A Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st SFG.[38][39] One Filipino soldier and one civilian were also killed, and 21 people were wounded including one U.S. and two Filipino soldiers.[40][41][42]

On 30 June 2004, a U.S. Special Forces soldier from 2nd Battalion, 1st SFG, was killed in a non-hostile incident in Manila.[43][44]

On 14 October 2005, a U.S. Special Forces soldier from 5th Battalion, 4th PsyOps Group, Civil Affairs & PsyOps Command. was killed in a non-hostile incident in Makati City.[45][46]

On 15 February 2007, a U.S. Marine from Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group was killed in a non-hostile incident in Jolo.[47][48]

On 27 October 2007, a U.S. Special Forces soldier from 2nd Battalion, 1st SFG was killed in an accidental drowning incident at Lake Seit in the southern Philippines.[49][50][51]

On 29 September 2009, a roadside bomb killed two U.S. Special Forces soldiers from 3rd battalion, 1st SFG[52][53] and a Philippine Marine on Jolo island.[54] Three other Philippine service members where injured in the blast. It was initially reported that the two U.S. casualties were Seabees.[13]

Abu Sayyaf[edit]

Main article: Abu Sayyaf

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is deemed a "foreign terrorist organization" by the United States government. Specifically, it is an Islamist separatist group based in and around the southern islands of the Republic of the Philippines, primarily Jolo, Basilan, and Mindanao.

Since inception in the early 1990s, the group has carried out bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and extortion in their fight for an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, with a claimed overarching goal of creating a Pan-Islamic superstate across the Malay portions of Southeast Asia, spanning, from east to west, the large island of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago (Basilan and Jolo islands), the large island of Borneo (Malaysia and Indonesia), the South China Sea, and the Malay Peninsula (Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand and Burma).

The name of the group is Arabic for Father (Abu) of the Sword (Sayyaf).

Jemaah Islamiyah[edit]

Main article: Jemaah Islamiyah

Jemaah Islamiyah is a militant Islamic terrorist organization dedicated to the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy in Southeast Asia, in particular Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, the south of Thailand and the Philippines.

Jemaah Islamiyah is thought to have killed hundreds of civilians and is suspected of having executed the Bali car bombing on 12 October 2002 in which suicide bombers killed 202 people, mostly Australian tourists, and wounded many in a nightclub. After this attack, the U.S. State Department designated Jemaah Islamiyah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Jemaah Islamiyah is also suspected of carrying out the Zamboanga bombings, the Rizal Day Bombings, the 2004 Jakarta embassy bombing and the 2005 Bali terrorist bombing.

Financial links between Jemaah Islamiyah and other terrorist groups, such as Abu Sayyaf and al-Qaeda, have been found to exist.[55] Jemaah Islamiyah means "Islamic Group" and is often abbreviated JI.

Balikatan training exercises[edit]

Philippine Marine Corps instructor teaching US Marines the Philippine martial art, Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, during military exercises.
Main article: Balikatan

The Balikatan training exercises are a part of OEF – Philippines which is mainly a series of joint training exercises between the Philippines and the United States. These training exercises are mainly taking place in Mindanao, the Spratly Islands, Tarlac, and other parts in the Philippines. The Balikatan training exercises are focused on joint training and counter-terrorist training aimed on strengthening relations between the Philippines, Morocco and the United States. The Balikatan training exercises are also aimed on training Filipino forces to fight the Abu Sayyaf, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.[56]

There have been allegations in the Philippine press and elsewhere that visiting forces from the United States appear to have become a permanent fixture in the landscape of Zamboanga City and other crisis-torn parts of Mindanao. Former presidential executive secretary of the Philippines Eduardo Ermita has responded to these allegations by saying, that the U.S. soldiers "... all look alike so it’s as if they never leave," going on to say that they "... are replaced every now and then. They leave, contrary to the critics’ impression that they have not left". These remarks were made in response to statements made by Edgar Araojo, a political science professor at Western Mindanao State University, that the country had surrendered its sovereignty. In specific response, Ermita said, "Our national sovereignty and territorial integrity are intact", going on to point out that the Balikatan exercises had bolstered national and regional security, and to say that terrorists and communist rebels were "common enemies of democracy, therefore there is nothing wrong with cooperation" between the armed forces of the US and the Philippines.[56]

Moro reactions[edit]

The Moro Conflict[57] is an ongoing insurgency in Mindanao. In 1969, political tensions and open hostilities developed between the Government of the Philippines and Moro Muslim rebel groups.[58] Nur Misuari, a political science lecturer, established the Moro National Liberation Front in 1972,[59][60][61] which fought against the Philippines government in a conflict that lasted over four decades.[62] The Peace process with the Bangsamoro in the Philippines led to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, a peace deal that was signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a splinter group from the MNLF.[62][63]

The Moro National Liberation Front was not included in the 2012 peace deal.[64] The MNLF ran a hostage taking operation during the 2013 Zamboanga City crisis as part of an ongoing insurgency.

The January 2015 Mamasapano clash involved Filipino forces, and allegedly American assistance, against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces.[65] The loss of 44 police officers in the raid was the largest loss of Philippines government elite forces in the country's history.

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

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    13 killed (April 2014)[3]
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]