Debris and fire is seen during an airstrike in Marawi City. (Reuters)
MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 9:27 a.m.) The United States may conduct drone strikes on extremist targets in the Philippines if a Pentagon plan is approved, according to an NBC News report.
Quoting defense officials, NBC News reported that “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.”
“The strikes would likely be conducted by armed drones,” it added.
If the plan is approved, the report said, “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,” referring to the continuing battle for Marawi City against extremist groups tat have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, which began May 23 and led President Rodrigo Duterte to place Mindanao under martial law.
Thus far, official U.S. assistance to the Philippine military has been limited to intelligence sharing, materiel support and training although there have long been allegations of direct American involvement in combat operations, which both the U.S. and Philippine governments deny.
Reacting to the NBC report, communist rebels blasted the reported U.S. plan.
Fidel Agcaoili, chairman of the negotiating panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, in what he called an initial reaction, said: “We condemn any such agreement to allow US to intervene militarily with air strikes and the use of drones.”
“Obviously, the US would want to turn the Philippines into another Yemen, or worse, Iraq or Syria, to justify outright stationing of bases and troops in its war posturing against China,” Agcaoili said as he accused the Philippine military of being “so pro-American that they would not mind turning the country into a battlefield to defend and promote US interests.”
The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said such airstrikes “will violate our national sovereignty and will run counter to the constitutional ban on foreign troops participating in combat operations in the Philippines.”
“There can be no justification for allowing a foreign superpower with the world’s worst rights record to be conducting airstrikes on Philippine soil,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said.