The Philippines government early Tuesday flatly denied that it asked the U.S. to carry out airstrikes against ISIS targets in the south of the country, contradicting an NBC report published hours earlier that suggested the Pentagon was considering the move as part of an effort to protect its allies in the region.
Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said his government “had no discussions” to carry out airstrikes against ISIS locations, adding that there was “no need” for such action. This line was repeated by Salvador Panelo, President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief legal counsel, who said the Philippines had not requested any such help.
Since May, authorities in the southern part of the Philippines have been battling groups claiming allegiance to ISIS, including an ongoing battle in the city of Marawi, where troops are fighting to regain control of the city. Some worry that ISIS is seeking to establish a Southeast Asian hub, putting countries in the region — and their allies — on alert.
A statement by the Philippines department of national defense said that direct military actions are allowed only during “actual foreign invasion by another state actor” and any move outside of that would need to be approved by “the highest officials of our nations.”
NBC reported Monday that the U.S. government was considering the plan to carry out airstrikes, citing two anonymous defense officials, with the move framed as part of a collective self-defense operation that would see the U.S. protecting its allies in the region.
The U.S. is already helping the Philippines with “intelligence capabilities,” according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who waved away concerns about Duterte’s human rights record. “I see no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of other human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counternarcotics activities,” Tillerson said.