While nearly two decades of war in CENTCOM grinds on, and the militarization of U.S. foreign policy in Africa continues apace, another lesser known theater of U.S. overseas military operations is the Philippines. This morning a Department of Defense Inspector General (DODIG) report provided details on the expanding footprint of Operation Pacific Eagle (OPE), the latest iteration of U.S.-Philippine counter-terrorism efforts in the southern Philippines.
As is typical for the military, the report describes this as a “small footprint” operation. But the data it provides belies this characterization. Instead it suggests that the presence is significant and growing. For example, at the end of 2018 more than 270 U.S. soldiers and Special Operations Forces were conducting operations in the country. And they were supported by more than 500 U.S. and Philippine contractors who are providing “transportation, security, ISR [including contractor owned and operated Gray Eagle drones], communications, casualty evacuation, engineering, logistics…food preparation, plumbing, engineering” and other services. This is a not insignificant increase from the summer-fall when roughly 250 U.S. forces and 350 contractors were involved in operations. Moreover, according to the latest report the cost of OPE related military activities is expected to rise from $99 million in fiscal year 2018 to $108 million in fiscal year 2019.