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.
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.
But Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Christopher B. Logan told NBC News Tuesday that “The Philippines have not requested nor is the U.S. planning drone strikes in the Philippines.”
Another U.S. official said that the authorization for collective self-defense was more about intelligence sharing than offensive U.S. strikes.
“Collective self-defense doesn’t necessarily mean airstrikes,” the official said.
For example, if the U.S. sees a threat to the Philippine military, it could provide that intelligence to them to protect themselves.
The official would not rule out that the U.S. would be able to launch the strike themselves. The official also would not say whether the additional drones the U.S. is considering sending would be armed or not.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”