Military forces secure a highway in southern Philippines. Unidentified gunmen ambush Tuesday, January 29, 2008, a military armored vehicle similar to these transport carrier in Lanao del Norte province in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)
ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 29, 2008) – Unidentified gunmen attacked Tuesday a Philippine Army convoy in the southern province of Lanao del Norte, where US and Filipino troops are to begin a joint anti-terror training exercise, officials said.
A Simba armored personnel carrier was hit by an M203 grenade fired by gunmen near a bridge in Pantar town, but there were no reports of casualties. Troops pursued the attackers, but lost them when they scampered to civilian areas, said Major General Nehemias Pajarito, commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division.
“The Simba was part of an army convoy heading to Iligan City from Marawi. There were no casualties,” he told the Mindanao Examiner, adding the vehicle’s wheels were damaged from the attack.
The attack occurred ahead of the Balikatan 2008 joint military training exercises in Lanao del Norte, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces in the Muslim autonomous region. No group claimed responsibility for the ambush, but the area is a known stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently negotiating peace with Manila.
But aside from the MILF, the province is also a lair of the communist New People’s Army rebels waging a secessionist war in the Philippines.
“We are investigating the motive of the attack and who were behind it. General Nelson Allaga has ordered more patrol in the province to prevent future attacks on military vehicles,” said Army Major Eugene Batara, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, referring to the regional military commander.
It was unknown whether the attack would have an effect on the joint military training which will simultaneously begin on February 18. US and Philippine troops involved in the Balikatan 2008 would also embark on a humanitarian and development projects in the provinces.
Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder,” is the codename of the joint anti-terror drill held each year since 2001. The Balikatan demonstrates US 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. (Mindanao Examiner)