Dozens of villagers said they waited for hours outside a school in Kalingalan Caluang town before they were provided free medical check up by US military personnel Monday. “We have been standing and waiting outside the school for hours. They let villagers go inside one by one, sometimes in pairs, but why? Isn’t this for us? It’s hot outside and we have to endure this for hours,” one Muslim villager said.
But Major General Ruben Rafael, commander of Philippine military forces, said the medical mission held jointly with Filipino troops and local health workers in the village of Pang was a big success. “We have served more than 900 people. It was a success,” he said.
Sulu Vice Governor Nur Anna Sahidullah also inspected the medical mission and an infrastructure project by US and Filipino troops in the village. Last week, about a thousand people flocked a small village in Siasi, an island-town off Sulu province, where US and Filipino troops also held a similar mission. Tens of thousands of people also held street protests since last week in different parts of the Muslim autonomous region, where US troops held medical and humanitarian missions. They demanded that US troops pull out from Mindanao.
Hundreds of US troops are currently deployed in Sulu province on the request of the Philippine government to assist and advice local soldiers in fighting terrorism.
Aside from Sulu, several hundreds of US troops are also stationed at the headquarters of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao province and in Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City, including Cebu in central Philippines.
Earlier this week, members of the Citizens Peace Watch (CPW) walked inside the Western Mindanao Command and confirmed the presence of a little known fortified US military base.
It said the base, headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, has communication facilities and is heavily guarded that even Filipino soldiers are not allowed without a pass.
The JSOTF-P is the unit of US Special Forces that – unknown to many Filipinos – has been headquartered in Western Mindanao Command since 2002 and has been deploying troops to various parts of Mindanao since then, the group said.
It said Filipino soldiers contacted by the US military sent the group away. “The ‘visitors’ have not only stayed on, they have set up camp in our house and told us – their hosts – to go away,” lawyer Corazon Fabros, a CPW member, said.
The group said the US military base stands out and is sealed from the rest of Western Mindanao Command by walls, concertina wire, and sandbags. The actual size of the area it occupies could not immediately be established from the outside. But communication facilities such as satellite dishes, antenna, and other instruments are visible.
US Marines provided protection for the facility; some workers were seen wore IDs identifying them with DynCorp, a controversial US military contractor. The citizen fact-finding group said other facilities inside the base were unknown.”What exactly are they hiding here? Why all this secrecy?” asked Amabella Carumba, of the Mindanao People’s Peace Movement, a member of the fact-finding mission.
A Bangkok-based international research organization that has been following the US military in the Philippines previously warned that American troops deployed in Mindanao are not only involved in the ongoing war, but that they have also established a new kind of US base in the southern region. Contrary to previous efforts by the US and Philippine governments to portray the troops as participating only in temporary training exercises called the Balikatan, it has since been revealed that this unit has stayed on and maintained its presence in the country for the last six years, according to the Focus on the Global South.
Contradicting claims that they are not involved in the fighting, Focus has gathered pronouncements by US troops themselves who have gone on record to say that their mission in the south is “unconventional warfare” – a US military term that encompasses combat operations.
With the Philippine government not giving a definite exit date, and with US officials stating that this unit – composed of between 100 to 500 troops depending on the season – will stay on as long as they are allowed by the government, it is presumed that it will continue to be based in the Philippines for an indefinite period.
Beyond being involved in the war, Focus draws attention to this unit having effectively established a new kind of basing in the Philippines. According to Focus’ research, the JSOTF-P’s stationing in the south is a prototype of the new kind of overseas basing that the US has introduced as part of its ongoing effort to realign its global basing structure.
Since 2001, the US – which has more than 700 bases and installations in over 100 countries around the world – has embarked on the most radical realignment of its overseas basing network since World War II.
Part of the changes is the move away from large permanent bases – such as the ones in Subic and Clark – in favor of smaller, more austere, more low profile bases such as the JSOTF-P’s presence in Zamboanga and in other places in Mindanao.
In terms of profile and mission, Focus pointed out that the JSOTF-P is very similar to the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn, which was established in Djibouti in western Africa in 2003 and which has been described as a sample of the US austere basing template and the “model for future US military operations.”
Focus said the Philippines is one of the “nodes for special operations forces” that former Defense Secretary Donald Rusted himself revealed the Pentagon would establish as part of its changes in Asia.
Focus notes that US troops themselves refer to their base in Sulu as “Advance Operating Base-920.”
It also said the US Naval Facilities Engineering Command NAVFAC) had in June 6, 2007, awarded a six-month $14.4-million contract to a certain “Global Contingency Services LLC” of Irving, Texas for “operations support” for the JSOTF-P.
According to its own website, the NAVFAC is the unit within the US military that is in charge of providing the US Navy with “operating, support, and training bases.”
It “manages the planning, design, and construction and provides public works support for US Naval shore installations around the world.” Among their business lines are “bases development” and “contingency engineering.” The Pentagon said the contract awarded to Global Contingency Services LLC includes “all labor, supervision, management, tools, materials, equipment, facilities, transportation, incidental engineering, and other items necessary to provide facilities support services.”
Global Contingency Services LLC is a partnership between DynCorp International, Parsons Global Services, and PWC Logistics. The $14.4 million contract is actually part of a bigger $450-million five-year contract for Global Contingency Services to “provide a full range of world-wide contingency and disaster-response services, including humanitarian assistance and interim or transitional base-operating support services.”
According to DynCorp’s website, this will include “facility operations and maintenance; air operations; port operations; health care; supply and warehousing; galley; housing support; emergency services; security, fire, and rescue; vehicle equipment; and incidental construction.”
Contingency Response Services LLC describes its work as encompassing “operating forces support,” “community support,” and “base support.” According to the Defense Industry Daily publication, the contract also includes “morale, welfare, and recreation support.”The specific contract for work for the JSOTF-P was expected to be completed last month, but other contracts may follow as part of the $450 million-package.
According to Focus’ research, the JSOTF-P has not only been involved in the Philippine military’s operations in the south, it also represents the new kind of more austere, more low-profile kind of overseas presence that the US has been striving to introduce as part of its comprehensive restructuring of its forward-deployment. (With reports from Mark Navales and Nickee Butlangan)