Fri, Feb 14, 2020 - Page 6 News List

Philippines rift could hurt terrorism fight: US admiral

AFP, SYDNEY

A top US commander yesterday warned that ending a security pact with the Philippines would hurt counterterrorism efforts in the country’s restive south, putting him at odds with US President Donald Trump.

US Navy Admiral Philip Davidson — commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command — said that he hoped Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to scrap a deal allowing US forces to be based in the Philippines would be rethought.

Manila has given “180 day notice, so we have some time for diplomatic efforts,” Davidson said at an event in Sydney. “I hope we can get to a successful outcome.”

Trump has said that he would be “fine” with the end of the visiting forces agreement, as it would save the US “a lot of money.”

However, Davidson said that the move would hamper military operations in Duterte’s home island of Mindanao — where separatist and Muslim extremist violence has killed about 100,000 people.

“Our ability to help the Philippines in their counterviolent-extremist fight in the south, our ability to train and operate within the Philippines and with Philippines armed forces would be challenged without that visiting forces agreement,” Davidson said.

Although a landmark peace deal with the largest of the rebel groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was sealed last year, the most brutal extremist factions were not included.

Those groups include the Islamic State group-aligned Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Abu Sayyaf, a kidnap-for-ransom gang that has been behind some of the nation’s deadliest attacks.

In late December last year, at least 17 people — including soldiers — were injured in a dual hand grenade and improvised explosive device attack on the island.

The rotating deployment of US troops in the Philippines — coupled with a long-standing mutual defense pact and regular military exercises — is also seen as a bulwark against rising Chinese influence in the region.

Davidson praised the efforts of Indonesia in fending off Chinese poaching in its waters and called for further cooperation between Pacific nations.

“I’m optimistic that the region is not only waking up to that aggressive behavior, but, more importantly, beginning to take a stand against,” he said.

He warned Australia to be aware of the threat of a Chinese base in the Pacific, which would help project Beijing’s influence well beyond its territorial waters.

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