Operation Pacific Eagle – Philippines | Quarterly Report to Congress | Jan. 1 to Mar. 31, 2019

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This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress is the 6th quarterly report on Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines (OPE-P), the overseas contingency operation to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) fight against ISIS affiliates and other terrorist organizations. This report summarizes significant events related to this operation and describes ongoing and planned Lead IG and partner agency oversight work. This report covers the period from January 1, 2019 to March 31, 2019.

In January, ISIS-Philippines (ISIS-P) carried out its deadliest attack since 2017. The bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral during mass killed 20 and wounded 102. While armed conflict between ISIS-P and the AFP was limited to minor clashes, the violence displaced 50,000 Filipinos during the quarter.

According to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, ISIS-P membership remained the same as last quarter with 300-550 fighters divided among at least five factions and with no overall leader. One major faction leader, Abu Dar, was killed in a clash with the AFP in March.

This quarter, voters in the Philippines’ Muslim majority provinces approved the formation of a new autonomous regional government. This new government was the result of a peace agreement with former separatist militants who will now lead the transitional government. This will present challenges, as many of these leaders have criminal records and no experience in government. However, the Philippine government views regional autonomy as a counterweight to Muslim secessionist violence, which ISIS exploited to gain a foothold in the country’s south.

The Philippine government announced this quarter that it would consider a review of the bilateral Mutual Defense Treaty, which serves as the foundation for all security cooperation with the United States, including OPE-P. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed doubt about the U.S. commitment to defend Philippine territorial claims in the South China Sea. However, senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, reaffirmed the U.S. promise to defend Philippine territorial integrity from foreign aggression.

This quarter, USAID began to shift its activities in Marawi from a focus on the immediate needs of displaced persons to longer-term initiatives to enhance peace and stability in conflict-affected parts of Mindanao. These efforts include programs to promote good governance, counter violent extremism, improve water and sanitation services, provide job training to out-of-school students, and build local economies.

This quarter, the Lead IG agencies issued two oversight projects related to OPE-P. A DoD OIG evaluation of the DoD’s support to the AFP determined that advise and assist efforts helped the AFP counter violent extremists in the city of Marawi in 2017, but it did not provide the required counterterrorism training to the AFP’s conventional forces. A USAID OIG audit of USAID’s local solutions initiative in the Philippines concluded that USAID lacked measures to determine whether the program enhanced local capacity, host country ownership, and sustainability. Additionally this quarter, four Lead IG and partner agency oversight projects related to OPE-P were ongoing, and three were planned.

Section 8L of the Inspector General Act of 1978 provides a mandate for the three Lead IG agencies—the DoD, DoS, and USAID Offices of Inspector General—to work together to develop and carry out joint, comprehensive, and strategic oversight. Each Inspector General retains statutory independence, but together they apply their extensive regional experience and in-depth institutional knowledge to conduct whole-of-government oversight of this overseas contingency operation.

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