Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

5,700 US troops to join military drills in RP, officials say

About 5,700 American military personnel will join Filipino troops this month in major war drills, including live-fire exercises, amphibious landings and ship interdictions, US and Philippine military officials said Tuesday.

Unlike recent training in the southern region of Mindanao, the new joint exercises will not be aimed primarily at battling terrorism but will focus on routine drills to enhance both militaries' capabilities to operate together, US Marine Capt. Burrell Parmer said.

The ground, air and sea maneuvers, called Talon Vision and Amphibious Landing Exercise, will be held Oct. 16-31 in military camps and areas on the main northern island of Luzon and in the southwestern province of Palawan, officials said.

US troops also plan humanitarian projects, including school construction and medical missions.

Participants will train in interdicting, boarding and searching vessels that could be used by terrorists and criminals, and about 1,000 Filipino troops hope to be exposed to America's high-tech military equipment, said Philippine marine spokesman Lt. Col. Ariel Caculitan.

"We conduct exercises to strengthen our ties and strengthen our capabilities," Parmer said.

The US troops will come from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade based on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, and will include sailors from the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group in Sasebo, Japan.

An initial group of 500 Americans was set to arrive Tuesday at the Subic Bay free port, a former US Naval base northwest of Manila, Parmer said.

About 400 Philippine marines will be withdrawn from southern Philippines' Jolo island - where they have been helping in a massive manhunt for al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf guerrillas and Indonesian militants - to join the exercises, Caculitan said.

Since 2002, American troops have trained and armed Filipino soldiers battling Muslim militants in Mindanao, which has become a crucial front in the US-led campaign against terrorism due to the reported presence of terror training camps run by Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant group blamed for several deadly bombings in Southeast Asia.

The US training has been credited with helping cripple Muslim militants in the south, but has also been tainted by a rape scandal involving four US Marines who joined counter-terrorism drills last year. (AP)


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