The Pentagon is considering a plan that allows the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes on ISIS in the Philippines, two defense officials told NBC News.
The authority to strike ISIS targets as part of collective self-defense could be granted as part of an official military operation that may be named as early as Tuesday, said the officials. The strikes would likely be conducted by armed drones.
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If approved, the U.S. military would be able to conduct strikes against ISIS targets in the Philippines that could be a threat to allies in the region, which would include the Philippine forces battling ISIS on the ground in the country’s southern islands.
A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits armed with Hellfire missiles and a 500-pound bomb in a hanger at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan
A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits armed with Hellfire missiles and a 500-pound bomb in a hanger at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan March 9, 2016. Josh Smith / Reuters file
The U.S. military has been sharing intelligence with the Philippines for years, according to Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis, who called it a “steady state.”
“We have had a consistent CT [counterterror] presence in the Philippines for fifteen years now,” he said.
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There is a small U.S. military presence on the ground supporting the counter-ISIS fight, called Joint Special Operations Task Force Trident.
Image: Duterte shakes hands with Tillerson during a meeting at the presidential palace in Manila
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with visiting U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting at the presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on Aug. 7, 2017. Erik De Castro / Reuters
In Manila on Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. was providing the Philippines government with “intelligence capabilities” in the fight against ISIS, including “some recent transfers of a couple of Cessnas and a couple of UAVs (drones) to allow to them to have better information with which to conduct the fight down there.”
“We’re providing them some training and some guidance in terms of how to deal with an enemy that fights in ways that are not like most people have ever had to deal with.
“I see no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of other human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counternarcotics activities.”
Image: Fighting between Islamist militants and government forces continues in Marawi city
Trapped Filipino villagers are escorted by government troops during a rescue operation as fighting between Islamist militants and government forces continues in Marawi city, Mindanao island, southern Philippines on May 31, 2017. Francis R. Malasig / EPA file
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have linked Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to more than 1,400 extra judicial killings while a public official. The UN said that Duterte, as mayor of Davao City, had done nothing to stop extrajudicial killings.
Duterte has denied any role in the killings — while expressing support for them — but has also said he personally killed some suspected criminals, a claim his spokesman called an exaggeration.
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Last month, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs endorsed the idea of naming the mission in the Philippines, saying that naming it would provide more funding.
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Former Assassin Ready to Testify Against Duterte 0:57
“In every case where we see the resurgence of terror networks,” said Gen. Paul Selva in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “particularly in the fragile areas of the southern Philippines, I think it’s worth considering whether or not we reinstate a named operation, not only to provide for the resources that are required, but to give the Pacific Command commander and the field commanders in the Philippines the kinds of authorities they need to work with indigenous Philippine forces to actually help them be successful in that battle space.”