RP, US To Hold New Anti-Terror Training In SuluJanuary 10, 2008 at 2:36 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment
SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 10) – Philippine and US troops are to begin a new joint military training in the southern province of Sulu, where Filipino authorities are fighting the Abu Sayyaf and Muslim rebels.
“We are now preparing for the Balikatan 2008 and it would probably start in March,” Maj. Gen. Ruben Rafael, commander of the Philippine anti-terror Task Force Comet in Sulu, told the Mindanao Examiner newspaper.
Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder,” is the codename of the joint anti-terror drill held each year since 2001.
Rafael did not say how many troops, aircrafts and vessels, would be involved in the training. American military and embassy officials did not give any statement about the training, but U.S. Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) is in the Philippines to meet with senior officials and review U.S. assistance programs.
Smith serves on the House Committee on Armed Services, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Warfare and Capabilities. He also serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
It was unknown if Smith would visit hundreds of US troops deployed in Zamboanga and Sulu. A similar training was also held in Sulu in 2006 and since then US troops remain on the province, about 950 kilometers south of Manila.
The Balikatan demonstrates Washington’s resolve to continue the commitment to train, advice and assist the Philippine military to build capacity to counter terrorism.
The Balikatan includes support for comprehensive defense reform; security assistance modules for counter-terrorism training; operations intelligence fusion; and aspects in education programs, logistics, and engineering, equipment, and maintenance and helicopter programs.
It will also enhance the skills and capabilities of Filipino and American forces in combating terrorism and other internal and external security threats. And improve inter-operability between RP and US forces through the exchange of training skills and techniques.
The training is part of Washington security assistance to the Philippines, a key US ally in Southeast Asia in the so-called global war on terrorism.
But a recent scandal involving American soldiers in Sulu province has sparked new protests and anti-US sentiments from Muslim villagers and political activists.
US troops in Sulu ordered last month a hospital in Panamao town to close every night and prevented medical personnel from treating patients after sundown.
Dr. Silak Lakkian, head of the hospital, has complained about how US troops meddled into their operations.
US soldiers also threatened to shoot anybody in the hospital incase there is an attack by terrorists. American soldiers have been in Sulu since 2006 to train local forces to hunt members of the Abu Sayyaf group said to have links to Al-Qaeda.
The meddling of US troops in local affairs drew widespread criticism and protests from provincial leaders and triggered calls from political activists in Manila for Congress and Senate to hold an investigation into the incident. The US military denied all accusations and blamed the local media for the bad publicity.
The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) called on Congress and the Senate to immediately launch a thorough probe on the real role of US troops in Mindanao.
“We are calling on both Houses of Congress, to call for respective investigations on the matter…We have to uphold our sovereignty if not then foreigners will just trample it under their feet,” Rafael Mariano, chairman of KMP and president of the Anakpawis party-list group, said.
Communist rebels in the past have also accused the United States of using the Balikatan to justify the presence of American troops in the Philippines.
”This is nothing, but US military interventionism’s standard doublespeak. As they have done in the past, the US is using the ‘joint military exercises’ to justify its military presence and induce conditions for higher levels of intervention and eventual outright military aggression.”
“They intentionally let its troops become targets of hostile fire and once hit, they unleash all their forces and superior weaponry on the pretext of self-defense and launch all-out aggression from then on,” said rebel spokesman, Gregorio Rosal.
Philippine military officials said the US troops would not be involved in actual combat operation against terrorists in the troubled region. They said the Constitution prohibits foreign troops from participating in combat, but are allowed to defend themselves from armed attacks. Rafael said Filipino and US troops are active in humanitarian activities in Sulu. (Mindanao Examiner)