Friday, September 16, 2016

Philippine president's call for end of U.S. military operations

September 15, 2016 (Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Carl King/Marine Corps)

The Pentagon is optimistic that the U.S. alliance with the Philippines remains intact despite the new president’s abrupt call for ending major American military operations there.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is unconcerned about the comments this week from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that appear to signal a major shift away from the U.S..

Duterte said he wants U.S. special operations troops to leave the southern Philippines. The Philippine navy will end joint patrols with U.S. Navy vessels and its military may begin buying weapons from Russia or China rather than the United States, Duterte said.

"This is a longtime ally," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Thursday.

"The secretary believes that this is one of the most enduring relationships in the Asia-Pacific region and will be for some time to come.
And he's confident, given our mutual security interests in the region, that any concerns that the Filipinos might have — that these are issues that can be resolved and worked out," Cook said.

Cook said there has been no official communication between the U.S. and the Philippines on the issues Duterte raised.

“Our defense ties have been strong for some time and ... there's no reason that they can't continue to be very strong," Cook said.

Duterte’s comments were the first since he took office in June that questioned the U.S.-Philippines military cooperation.

Duterte said in a speech in Manila on Monday that the American special operations forces in the southern Mindanao region, about 100 troops, should leave because they are inflaming local Islamic extremist insurgencies. Duterte also pointed to past abuses by U.S. forces during the period when the Philippines was an American colony before 1946.  

On Tuesday, Duterte said his government will no longer conduct joint patrols with the U.S. Navy in the disputed waters near the South China Sea, a move that would nullify a deal his predecessor reached with the U.S. military earlier this year.

In a further sign that Duterte is seeking a major foreign policy shift away from the U.S., the Philippine president said he was considering buying defense equipment from Russia and China. The Philippines has traditionally relied on the U.S. and other Western allies for military acquisitions.

Duterte did not offer any details or timelines for his pronouncements.

Expanding involvement with the Philippines has been a key piece of President Obama’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region. An island nation across the sea from Vietnam, the Philippines offers a strategic location to counter China’s growing military ambitions.

In March, the U.S. and the Philippines announced plans for a permanent American military presence there and named five military bases that will support rotational deployments of U.S. forces near the contested South China Sea.  

The U.S. Navy’s port visits to the Philippines have increased significantly this year. Other joint-training operations this year have included U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force aircraft detachments and U.S. Army and Marine Corps ground units. 

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