Mullen Views Interagency Success in Philippines
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ZAMBOANGA, Philippines, Jun. 1, 2008 The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saw firsthand here today how the U.S. interagency fight is making progress in this island nation.
U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, answers questions during an all-hands call with servicemembers assigned to Camp Navarro in Zamboanga, Republic of the Philippines, June 1, 2008. Mullen is on a eight day tour visiting Asian Pacific nations, their leaders and service members assigned to the region. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen met American servicemembers of the Joint Special Operations Task Force here, and saw how the U.S. Agency for International Development is helping the Philippine government battle an insurgency.
Civilian agencies of the U.S. government are important assets in the effort to combat terrorism, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Mullen both have said. They have testified before Congress on the need for more people and money for U.S. civilian agencies, saying long-term aid to at-risk nations is the answer to the question many U.S. legislators ask: “Are we creating more terrorists than we are killing?”
Stopping groups like Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf – both al-Qaida affiliates – from recruiting new members on this Philippine island of Mindanao is a priority of the Philippine government and the United States.
“That’s the path in a place like this,” Mullen said during an all-hands call here. “What has become very evident to me as it should be to you here is security is a necessary condition, but security is not going to get you across home plate. You’ve got to be able to create an economic underpinning. You’ve got to have good governance. You’ve got to have the rule of law -- all these things that start to sustain themselves.”
U.S. civilian aid to the people of Mindanao dwarfs the military funds. USAID spends $50 million to $60 million a year in the Philippines, with 60 percent coming to this impoverished area. U.S. military aid is pegged at roughly $5 million to $6 million a year.
USAID works with Philippine national and local leaders to develop projects that benefit all the people. The agency has financed digging wells, building roads, rebuilding bridges and constructing schools. “We work closely with the joint task force here,” Jon Lindborg, USAID’s mission director in the Philippines, said in an interview. “We’re able to leverage our money to the best uses.”
The agency is financing improvements to the airports at Tawi-Tawi and in Jolo – both of which also benefit the Philippine armed forces.
USAID works with the joint task force in scheduling medical, dental and veterinary exercises that provide health care to thousands of people. They also work with Navy Seabees who deploy to the islands to build schools and medical clinics. The agency also acts as a bridge for nongovernmental organizations that, for whatever reason, don’t want to work directly with the military.
But USAID is stretched. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the United States took a “peace dividend,” Mullen said. While the U.S. military was cut 35 to 40 percent, civilian agencies also were slashed. USAID went from 15,000 employees worldwide to 4,000.
“The U.S. government is not set up for the wars of the 21st century,” Mullen said. “It doesn’t reflect the expeditionary world we’re living in. We haven’t recruited, hired, promoted, trained, educated the people in our civilian agencies for the kind of expeditionary requirements and rotations that we are actually doing right now.”
Both Gates and Mullen have testified that the State Department needs 1,000 more employees and $1 billion more in budget.
USAID, State Department programs that help nations build governance and security assistance to help nations build military capabilities are crucial to the fight in the Philippines and go together in many other poorer nations that face the same problems. The civilian departments need to grow; they need more people, and those people need to deploy at a moment’s notice, Mullen said.
“Until we can do that, the military will pick up the slack, because we can,” Mullen said.
The capability to help nations build good governance is not a core mission for the Defense Department, but it is something the State Department can and does do. Building infrastructure is a mission USAID has done since it started in 1961. Legal attaches from the Justice Department have the expertise to help countries establish the rule of law. The Agriculture Department can help farmers be more bountiful and develop new crops.
Officials at the military joint task force and the U.S. embassy would like to see the group get commanders’ emergency relief program funds.
“We had an incident where Abu Sayyaf burned down homes in central Mindanao, Lee McClenny, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Manila, said. “If we’d had CERP funds, we could have helped rebuild those houses and made a huge statement against the terrorists.”
Mullen listened to the words of the civilian and military leaders on the ground – “where the rubber meets the road,” he said -- and promised to take their concerns back to Washington.
“The days where a single service, a single department, a single anything can make things happen are behind us,” Mullen said. “It’s got to be integrated, and it’s got to be all of us doing this together.”