More US soldiers to arrive in Sulu province
By Al Jacinto, Correspondent
SULU: More US troops are expected to arrive soon in the Philippines to support hundreds already deployed in the southern part of the country aiding Filipino soldiers in battling terrorism.
At least 30 soldiers, part of the Guam Army National Guards’ First Battalion under the 294th Infantry Regiment, are heading to support “Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines,” the Guam-based Mariana’s Variety newspaper reported Wednesday.
It said the soldiers will serve as security, at least for six months, for a unit of the Special Operations Command-Pacific that is conducting joint civilian-military operations and training with the Philippine military in Mindanao.
US soldiers deployed in the South are under Joint Special Task Force-Philippines that is based in Zamboanga City, but whose “area of operations,” according to a US military publication, spans 8,000 square miles, covering the entire island of Mindanao and its surrounding islands and seas.
With various military facilities now being constructed for their use, members of the unit refer to their bases in Mindanao as “Forward Operating Base-11” and “Advanced Operating Base-921.”
Though US and Philippine government officials have consistently claimed that the unit is not involved in actual combat, US troops themselves describe their mission as “unconventional warfare” and “counterinsurgency” operations in the country. US troops join Filipino soldiers on patrol, provide them with intelligence, and assist in various aspects of their operations.
American soldiers are also active in many development and humanitarian activities in southern Philippines, especially in Sulu province where they build roads and schools and join medical missions with local troops and the provincial government mostly in poor areas.
The humanitarian missions is part of Balikatan (“shoulder-to-shoulder”), an annual Philippine and US bilateral military humanitarian assistance and training activity.
Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan said the humanitarian missions help many poor families in the province.
Earlier this year, around 600 US troops worked with civilian authorities and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in various humanitarian projects that included free medical, dental, and veterinary care in Sulu and also in the central and western parts of Mindanao.
US and Philippine soldiers, many of them construction engineers, built schools and other community infrastructure in those areas.
In 2006, the United States Navy hospital ship Mercy treated more than 60,000 mostly poor Filipino patients in separate medical missions in Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi islands, including Zamboanga City, as part of Project Bayanihan (“self-help”).
In Sulu also on Wednesday, government forces clashed with militants there, leaving one soldier wounded and a still undetermined number of gunmen dead and wounded, officials said.