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Deploying soldiers to war on drugs risks suspension of US military aid

Philippine Marine Private Damaranan rushes up a small ditch to engage role-playing enemy forces while Staff Sgt. John Ross of 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit provides communication during amphibious landing training at a previous Balikatan war game

Washington could suspend military aid to the Philippines if soldiers are deployed to President Duterte’s war drugs, an American analyst said today (Friday March 10).

He also said that annual US-Filipino war games – that have been held for more than three decades and are the cornerstone of the two countries’ defence ties – could also be cancelled.

The nationwide drugs crackdown was relaunched this week, after being suspended for two months after the murder of Korean businessman Ji Ick Joo inside national police headquarters at Camp Crame. (Details here)

Since then ongoing efforts have been in the hands of the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency, but with the resumption of a more active crackdown police as well as army are expected to be deployed. (Read more here)

Murray Hiebert of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said: “This could potentially have a devastating impact on the bilateral military relationship, introducing major complications to long-standing training and military education programmes that could take decades to resolve.”

Several US and international agencies have criticised the anti-drugs crusade, which has left some 7,000 people dead since Duterte won power last June.

Mr Hiebert said US lawmakers were now discussing how to respond to the president’s campaign, citing a recent statement from Senator Patrick Leahy that some US aid to the Philippines should come with conditions.

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Sen. Leahy was behind a 1997 bill that prohibits the US Departments of State and Defense from providing assistance to foreign militaries that commit “gross human rights violations” such as murder, torture, or rape.

Also, the annual “Balikatan” US-Filipino war games could be cancelled for the first time in 33 years, Mr Hiebert said.

Based on CSIS records, the Philippines received $79 million in military assistance from the US in 2016, focused mainly on the navy, coast guard and air force.

The use of the army in the drugs war is also controversial in the light of the recent crackdown on Abu Sayyaf and other islamic militants in the south of the country. (Read more here)

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