ISIS is biding its time in the Philippines — and US special operators are fighting back with a $58,000 water pump

Analysis
In this June 9, 2017, photo, soldiers ride a military vehicle on the outskirts of Marawi city, southern Philippines. (Associated Press/Aaron Favila)

ISIS may have lost its physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, but the group is poised for a resurgence in its enclave in the Philippines — and instead of eradicating the terror group once and for all before it facilitates another horrifying attack like the Easter bombings that rocked Sri Lanka, the U.S. military is focused on new plumbing.

At least, that's the takeaway from this fantastic Thomas Gibbons-Neff story in the New York Times on the latest mission for the contingent of U..S. special operations forces that have been assisting the Philippine Army with their campaign against ISIS insurgents over the last two years.


According to Gibbons-Neff, Marine Special Operations units have been working alongside an Army Special Operations Command's civil affairs team to facilitate the construction of a $58,000 water pump in the southern village of Padas, as part of the Pentagon's well-worn "hearts and minds" counterinsurgency playbook.

But ironically, Padas' own residents find the project, uh, ill-advised! From the New York Times (emphasis ours):

It has taken two months, an American Special Operations civil affairs team, three nonprofit organizations and an entire platoon from the Philippine Army to bring the pump to Padas, a village of about 3,000 people in the Mindanao chain of islands in the country's south. If all goes to plan, water from the pump will help impoverished farmers establish trust in the government, and, in turn, seek to undermine the militants' influence.

"Whatever the international community gives us, we'll accept," said Macaraya Ampuan, an influential leader in the village. "But first thing to address is security. Eliminate ISIS so our livelihoods can be stable."

Ampuan isn't wrong. While the ISIS enclaves in Iraq and Syria may have been reduced to dust, the terror organization is biding it time in villages across the Philippines ahead of an inevitable resurgence.

The Pentagon Inspector General's latest assessment of Operation Pacific Eagle – Philippines, published in February 2019 and covering the last three months of 2018, indicates that the terror group's Philippine offshoot has remained relatively resilient amid losses elsewhere. While the group has lacked unified leadership and consistent connections to the core ISIS organization since the 2017 siege of Marawi, its numbers have remained stable at between 300 and 350 members.

"Despite numerous killings and surrenders, there has been no observable trend in the estimates of force strength, which might suggest that the group is capable of at least sustainment-level recruitment," according to the DoD IG report, with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command indicating the group has "neither shown signs of rebuilding and expanding nor indications that it will be completely defeated in the near term."

The ISIS presence in the Philippines as of December 2018.(Department of Defense Inspector General)

But this year, ISIS has appeared increasingly emboldened in the Philippines. On New Year's Eve, ISIS detonated a bomb at a shopping mall in the southern part of the country, killing two bystanders; a month later, a pair of twin blasts at a Catholic cathedral left 23 dead in an attack that appeared to presage the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka months later.

"These groups have felt little impact from the loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, and need no direct communication from the Islamic State to understand its objectives, which the terrorist group broadcasts in regular audio messages," the New York Times noted of ISIS's far-flung franchises in the aftermath of the Sri Lanka attacks.

While the Philippine Army responded to the cathedral bombings with airstrikes and and influx of troops into rural havens for ISIS fighters in the country's south, U.S. Special Operation Command Pacific found that the Philippine military's current infrastructure "is insufficient to generate, process, and act upon intelligence gathered from manned and unmanned aerial systems" to effectively anticipate and thwart future attacks without U.S. help, per the DoD IG report.

At the moment, the United States has roughly 270 service members deployed to the country as part of OPE-P, including just 86 U.S. special operations forces, to assist the Philippine military with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. But with ISIS staging bloody reprisals far from the borders of its former caliphate, whether the Pentagon's $58,000 water pipe will prove successful remains to be seen.

SEE ALSO: Trash-Talking Philippine President Threatens War With Canada If They Don't Take Out The Garbage

WATCH NEXT: The Guy Who Sent His Resume To ISIS

The wreckage of an airplane is seen after a crash in Deh Yak district of Ghazni province, Afghanistan January 27, 2020. (Reuters photo)

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan forces and Taliban fighters clashed in a central region where a U.S. military aircraft crashed, officials said on Tuesday, as the government tried to reach the wreckage site in a Taliban stronghold.

On Monday, the U.S. military said an E-11A aircraft crashed in the province of Ghazni, but disputed Taliban claims to have brought it down, without saying how many were aboard or if any had been killed.

Read More
U.S. Army Spc. Preston Seach, assigned to the East Africa Response Force (EARF), Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, participates in an emergency deployment response exercise, East Africa, May 17, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday that U.S. strategic goals could include drawing down troops in Africa despite French pleas that American support is "critical" to countering the growing strength of terror groups in the region with links to the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

"My aim is to adjust our footprint in many places," including Africa, to free up forces for a "great power competition" against China and Russia, he said at a joint Pentagon news conference with French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

Read More
Nothing says joint force battle management like a ride-sharing app. (Task & Purpose photo illustration)

The Air Force's top general says one of the designers of the ride-sharing app Uber is helping the branch build a new data-sharing network that the Air Force hopes will help service branches work together to detect and destroy targets.

The network, which the Air Force is calling the advanced battle management system (ABMS), would function a bit like the artificial intelligence construct Cortana from Halo, who identifies enemy ships and the nearest assets to destroy them at machine speed, so all the fleshy humans need to do is give a nod of approval before resuming their pipe-smoking.

Read More
In this June 7, 2009 file photo Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) points to a player behind him after making a basket in the closing seconds against the Orlando Magic in Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals in Los Angeles. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. He was 41. (Associated Press/Mark J. Terrill)

Beloved basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday. Two days earlier, Army Spc. Antonio I. Moore was killed during a vehicle rollover accident while conducting route clearing operations in Syria.

Which one more deserves your grief and mourning? According to Maj. Gen. John R. Evans, commander of the U.S. Army Cadet Command, you only have enough energy for one.

Read More

The mother of Marine veteran Austin Tice told reporters on Monday that a top U.S. official is refusing to give permission for a meeting with the Syrian government to negotiate the release of her son, who went missing near Damascus in 2012.

"Apparently, somewhere in the chain, there is a senior U.S. government official who is hesitating or stalling," Debra Tice reportedly said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Debra Tice said she is not certain who this senior official is. She also praised those in government who are working to get her son back.

Read More