This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress is the 4th quarterly report on Operation Pacific Eagle-Philippines (OPE-P), the overseas contingency operation to support the Philippine government’s 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 cover the period from July 1, 2018 to September 30, 2018.
This quarter, ISIS-Philippines (ISIS-P) remained fragmented and degraded. The group has been without a unified leadership or command structure since the end of the 2017 siege of Marawi. While the group has not controlled any territory since its defeat in that conflict, various factions carried out opportunistic acts of violence against civilians and security personnel, including the first suicide bombing in the Philippines since terrorists there declared themselves part of ISIS.
The DoD estimated that 500 ISIS-P fighters were active this quarter, an increase from the 200 reported last quarter. However, officials noted that estimates of ISIS-P force strength, recruitment activity, and connection to core ISIS leadership all lacked confidence due to a deficiency of reliable intelligence. DoD officials also questioned the sincerity of these jihadists’ loyalty to the ISIS ideology, suggesting that some may just be using the internationally recognized group’s label for notoriety and funding.
U.S. assistance to the Philippine security forces this quarter consisted largely of aerial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support. This activity consumed the largest portion of the $100.2 million in DoD obligations for OPE-P reported in FY 2018. Outside of OPE-P, the DoD announced or delivered several security assets to the Philippine government that may be used to support counterterrorism operations. This quarter, this included a surveillance and reconnaissance system to upgrade existing Philippine aircraft, four light attack and observation aircraft, and small arms ammunition. The DoS also announced plans to contribute $26.5 million over the next year to provide counterterrorism support for Philippine law enforcement agencies.
More than 320,000 people have returned to their homes in and around Marawi since the city was overrun by ISIS-P last year. However, 70,000 residents remained displaced. In FY 2018, USAID obligated $37 million to meet the needs of the Marawi area’s IDPs, which included food, livelihood, shelter, psychosocial and reintegration support, and access to water and sanitation. Access to schools was also limited, with 20 of the 69 public schools in Marawi destroyed in the fighting. More than 100,000 school-aged children had still not returned to school or were at risk of dropping out, and less than 24 percent of IDP children were enrolled.
This quarter, the Lead IG agencies and our oversight partners issued the first annual joint strategic plan for OPE-P oversight, which was included in the in the FY 2019 Comprehensive Oversight Plan for Overseas Contingency Operations and will be updated annually. As of September 30, 2018, three Lead IG agency oversight projects related to OPE-P were ongoing and two projects were planned. These projects will address oversight of bilateral agreements with the Philippines, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command aviation readiness, and the DoD’s efforts to train, advise, and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
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.