News that the Trump administration is gearing up to expand the global war on terror into its eighth country, the Philippines, arrived on Monday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was pictured smiling and glad-handing with President Rodrigo Duterte, the nation's controversial leader who has been condemned as a serial human rights abuser.
"President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed a human rights calamity on the Philippines in his first year in office."
—Human Rights Watch"The authority to strike ISIS targets [in the Philippines] as part of collective self-defense could be granted as part of an official military operation that may be named as early as Tuesday," NBC's Courtney Kube noted. "The strikes would likely be conducted by armed drones."
The drone strikes, Kube noted, would come in addition to the intelligence the U.S. has been sharing with the Philippines "for years."
The report came as Tillerson was in Manila meeting with Duterte, who bragged to a state news agency that the U.S. and Australia have "considerably toned down" their criticism of his human rights record. Rights groups have accused Duterte of responsibility for the thousands of extrajudicial killings that have occurred amid his administration's "war on drugs."
"President Rodrigo Duterte has unleashed a human rights calamity on the Philippines in his first year in office," Human Rights Watch said recently.
The group continued:
Security forces and "unidentified gunmen" have killed at least 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers since July 1, including 3,116 killings by police, according to government data. Yet the Duterte administration has rejected all domestic and international calls for accountability for these abuses, and instead has denied any government responsibility for the thousands of drug war deaths.
Far from condemning Duterte's record, U.S. President Donald Trump has gone out of his way to praise the Philippine president for doing an "unbelievable job on the drug problem."
"You are a good man," Trump told Duterte in an April phone call. "Keep up the good work. You are doing an amazing job."