1,500 U.S. TROOPS DUE NEXT WEEK FOR AMPHIBIOUS WAR GAMES

MANILA, September 13, 2003 (STAR) US and Filipino military forces will hold an amphibious exercise next week to enhance military cooperation between the two countries, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced yesterday.

Officials said a 1,500-strong US navy and marines contingent from the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and 600 of their Filipino counterparts will take part in the Sept. 14-21 "amphibious ready group exercise" in the northern Philippines.

The exercise will feature live-fire training, air support operations and ship-to-shore landings. The troops also will engage in civic action, the AFP said.

"This bilateral exercise will enhance the readiness and interoperability of US and Philippine military forces," AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said.

"It will also demonstrate both nations’ commitment to their alliance," he said.

Philippine Navy Cmdr. Geronimo Malabanan said the training is a continuation of the Balikatan exercise, the major annual joint maneuvers held under the bilateral Mutual Defense Treaty.

The two-week Balikatan exercise held earlier this year, was geared at improving the Philippines’ external defense and honing skills in fighting the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

The Abu Sayyaf rebels were virtually driven away from Basilan following the conduct of the RP-US Balikatan 02-1 joint war exercises last year.

The joint operations had been hounded by controversy after US officials pushed for allowing American soldiers to join in actual combat, which is against the Constitution.

It was widely expected that the planned US-Philippine military operation in Jolo would neutralize the Abu Sayyaf who have been kidnapping Christians and foreigners for decades, holding them hostage in the jungles of Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf has been linked by both Washington and Manila to the al-Qaeda network of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. The bandit group is still being pursued by the military in the hinterlands of the island province of Basilan and Zamboanga peninsula. — AFP


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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