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 Benigno Aquino III

United States Donald C. Wurster
Abu Sabaya 
Khadaffy Janjalani 
Abu Bakar Bashir (POW)[1]
Albader Parad 
Umbra Jumdail 

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] 315+ 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 at 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 Mindinao and the Sulu archipeligo, 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] Much of the mission (Exercise Balikatan 02-1) took place on the island of Basilan, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf.


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.[24]


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.[25] 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.[26] In 2013, operations began to wind down,[9] assisting Philippine forces against Muslim rebels in September 2013.[27] Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines disbanded in June 2014,[28] ending a successful 14-year mission.[29][30]

After JSOTF-P disbanded, as late as November 2014, American forces continued to operate in the Philippines under the name "PACOM Augmentation Team".[4][29] In January 2015, it was reported by The Philippine Star that U.S. forces were involved in the Philippines Operation Exodus.[31] In late February 2015, Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines deactivated; other U.S. forces will replace the task force to fight terrorism.[32] The new force will be called Forward Liaison Element.[33]

Timeline of American Casualties[edit]

On 21 February 2002, the largest loss of life for U.S. forces occurred when 10 soldiers were killed after their MH-47 crashed at sea in the southern Philippines.[34]

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.[35] One Filipino soldier and one civilian were also killed, and 21 people were wounded including one U.S. and two Filipino soldiers.[36][37]

On 30 June 2004, a U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed in a non-hostile incident in Manila.[38]

On 14 October 2005, a U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed in a non-hostile incident in Makati City.[39]

On 15 February 2007, a U.S. Marine was killed in a non-hostile incident in Jolo.[40]

On 27 October 2007, a U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed in an accidental drowning incident at Lake Seit in the southern Philippines.[41][42]

On 29 September 2009, a roadside bomb killed two U.S. Special Forces soldiers from the 1st SFG[43] and a Philippine Marine on Jolo island.[44] 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.[45] Jemaah Islamiyah means "Islamic Group" and is often abbreviated JI.

Balikatan training exercises[edit]

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.[46]

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.[46]

Moro reactions[edit]

Various factions of the Muslim Moro people are waging a war for independence against the Philippines. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari declared its support for China against the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute, calling both China and the Moro people as victims of Philippine colonialism, and noting China's history of friendly relation with the Sultanate of Sulu in the region.[47] The MNLF also denounced America's assistance to the Philippines in their colonization of the Moro people in addition to denouncing the Philippines claims to the islands disputed with China, and denouncing America for siding with the Philippines in the dispute, noting that in 1988 China "punished" Vietnam for attempting to set up a military presence on the disputed islands, and noting that the Moros and China maintained peaceful relations, while on the other hand the Moros had to resist other colonial powers, having to fight the Spanish, fight the Americans, and fight the Japanese, in addition to fighting the Philippines.[48]

While the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace deal with the Philippines, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) did not and renewed armed resistance against Philippine rule in Zamboanga and on September 15, 2013, in response to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF's) fighting against the Philippine army, the New York Times published an article crediting "every" Philippine government for having "struggled" to "bring peace" to the Muslims of Mindanao since 1946 when it became independent and claimed that it is the "belief" of the Muslims that they are being subjected to oppression and exploitation by the Christians that is the "problem" which is causing the conflict and the newspaper also claimed that the conflict stretched back to 1899 when Moro "insurrectionists" were "quelled" by the American army.[49] On January 26, 2014 the New York Times published another article claiming that "every Philippine government" has "struggled to bring peace to Mindanao" and claimed that reports of exploitation and oppression by the Filipino Christians originated from what Muslims "say" and the newspaper also praised President Benigno S. Aquino III's "landmark peace deal" with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).[50] The New York Times labelled Moro fighters as "Muslim-led groups" and as "violent".[51] The New York Times blamed "Islamic extremist groups" for carrying out attacks in the Philippines.[52] The New York Times editorial board endorsed Philippine President Benigno Aquino's planned peace deal and the passage of "Bangsamoro Basic Law", blaming the "Muslim insurgency" for causing trouble to the "largely Catholic country".[53] The New York Times claimed that "Islamic militants" were fighting the Philippine military.[54]

The New York Times claimed the peace deal between the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) "seeks to bring prosperity to the restive south and weaken the appeal of the extremist groups.", and linked the winding down of the American military counterterrorism operation to increased American military cooperation with the Philippines against China.[55] The New York Times hailed Mr Aquino's "peace agreement" as an "accomplishment" as it reported on Aquino raising the "alarm" on China in the South China Sea.[56] The New York Times editorial board published an article siding with the Philippines against China in the South China Sea dispute and supporting the Philippines actions against China.[57][58] The New York Times editorial board endorsed aggressive American military action against China in the South China Sea.[59][60]

American and Filipino forces launched a joint operation against the Moros in the Mamasapano clash, in which Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters manage to kill 44 Filipino police commandos and caused massive blow back for the botched raid, putting a decisive halt to American plans for its Asia military "pivot" in the Philippines.[61] Moros have reported that “4 caucasian-looking (American) soldiers” were killed in the Mamasapano clash along with the 44 Filipinos.[62]

The Moro National Liberation Front published an open letter to the United States President Barack Hussein Obama and demanded to know why America is supporting Philippine colonialism against the Moro Muslim people and the Filipino "war of genocide" and atrocities against Moros, reminding Obama that the Moro people have resisted and fought against the atrocities of Filipino, Japanese, American, and Spanish invaders, and reminding Obama of past war crimes also committed by American troops against Moro women and children like the Moro Crater massacre at Bud Dajo.[63]

The Moro National Liberation Front accused the Philippines, Japan, America, and Spain of conspiring against the Moros and recounted their invasions, imperialism, and atrocities against the Moros and demanded that they end the current colonization against the Moro people, the MNLF recounted that the Spanish were greedy colonizers, that the Americans committed massacres of Moro children and women at Mount Bagsak and Bud Dajo, and that the Japanese "exhibited tyranny, cruelty and inhumanity at its lowest level", and "had to suffer their worst defeat and highest death mortality at the hands of the Bangsamoro freedom fighters", demanding an apology from Japan for crimes committed against the Moros.[64]

The Moro National Liberation Front questioned the humanity and morality of the Philippines, Japan, America, and Spain, noting that they have done nothing to end the colonialism and war inflicted upon the Moros and reminded them that they have resisted and fought against Japanese, American, and Spanish atrocities and war crimes while the Filipinos bent over, capitulated and submitted to the invaders, the MNLF brought up the massacre committed by American troops at Bud Dajo against Moro women and children and boasted that compared to the Japanese casualty rate in the Visayas and Luzon, the amount of Japanese imperialists slaughtered by the Moro freedom fighters was greater by the thousands and that there was no capitulation like the "Fall of Bataan" to the Japanese by the Moros while the Luzon Filipinos submitted.[65] The MNLF said that the Japanese, American, and Spanish cruelty has been continued by Filipino rule.[66]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

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    Tyson Rininger (15 January 2009). F-15 Eagle at War. MBI Publishing Company. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-61673-269-1. 
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    Laude, Jaime (1 March 2015). "Downsizing of US-Phl TF to affect anti-terror drive". The Philippine Star. Retrieved 28 February 2015. he JSOTF-P reportedly played a vital role in the killing of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25 by Special Action Force commandos. An aircraft, believed to be a US surveillance drone, was reportedly hovering over Mamasapano on the day SAF launched its operations targeting Marwan. The US embassy said no American took part in the operation, which could have been a huge success had the commandos managed to leave without losing 44 men. 
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  48. ^ RRayhanR (11 August 2012). "IMPACT OF POSSIBLE CHINA-PHILIPPINES WAR WITHIN FILIPINO-MORO WAR IN MINDANAO". mnlfnet.com. Moro National Liberation Front (Misuari faction). Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
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  50. ^ WHALEY, FLOYD (Jan 26, 2014). "Peace Deal to End Insurgency Came After Philippine Leader’s Ultimatum to Rebels". The New York Times. 
  51. ^ WHALEY, FLOYD (Sep 12, 2013). "New Clash in the Philippines Raises Fears of a Wider Threat". The New York Times. 
  52. ^ WHALEY, FLOYD (July 28, 2014). "Filipino Rebels Kill 21 Villagers Over Peace Deal". The New York Times. 
  53. ^ THE EDITORIAL BOARD (Aug 1, 2014). "The Philippines’ Insurgency Crisis". The New York Times. 
  54. ^ WHALEY, FLOYD (March 10, 2015). "Refugee Crisis in Philippines as Peace Deal Is at Risk". The New York Times. 
  55. ^ WHALEY, FLOYD; SCHMITT, ERIC (June 26, 2014). "U.S. Phasing Out Its Counterterrorism Unit in Philippines". The New York Times. 
  56. ^ BRADSHER, KEITH (February 5, 2014). "Philippine Leader Sounds Alarm on China". The New York Times. 
  57. ^ THE EDITORIAL BOARD (July 17, 2015). "The South China Sea, in Court". The New York Times. 
  58. ^ THE EDITORIAL BOARD (April 2, 2014). "Risky Games in the South China Sea". The New York Times. 
  59. ^ THE EDITORIAL BOARD (May 29, 2015). "Pushback in the South China Sea". The New York Times. 
  60. ^ THE EDITORIAL BOARD (July 12, 2014). "Still at Odds With China". The New York Times. 
  61. ^ Cloud, David S.; Leon, Sunshine de (September 10, 2015). "A heavy price paid for botched terrorist raid by Philippines and U.S.". Los Angeles Times (MANILA). 
  62. ^ ""BEWARE OF AQUINO GOVERNMENT’S CONSPIRACY TO FOOL THE MNLF, OIC, MOROS AND HUMANITY." – MNLF VICE-CHAIRMAN OLAMIT". mnlfnet.com. Moro National Liberation Front (Misuari faction). 28 September 2015. Retrieved 28 September 2015. 
  63. ^ "MEMORANDUM To: President Barack Hussein Obama From: Mindanao Tri-People (Muslim, Animist Lumad and Christian)". mnlfnet.com. Moro National Liberation Front (Misuari faction). 3 March 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  64. ^ RRayhanR (29 July 2012). "RECLAIMING BANGSAMORO HUMANITY FROM FOREIGN COLONIZERS". mnlfnet.com. Moro National Liberation Front (Misuari faction). Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  65. ^ ""WHEN WILL FILIPINO COLONIZERS END INJUSTICE AND GENOCIDE WAR AGAINST THE OPPRESSED BANGSAMORO PEOPLE?" – REVEREND ABSALOM CERVEZA". mnlfnet.com. Moro National Liberation Front (Misuari faction). 14 August 2015. Retrieved 14 August 2015. 
  66. ^ ""INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM IS SOLUTION TO BANGSAMORO QUESTION, NOT ARMM OR BBL." – REVEREND ABSALOM CERVEZA". mnlfnet.com. Moro National Liberation Front (Misuari faction). 25 April 2015. Retrieved 25 April 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]