Friday, February 21, 2003

A U.S. CH-53 D Sea Stallion helicopter took off yesterday as a group of Marines tried to protect themselves and their equipment from the wind at the Marine base in Ternate in Cavite province, south of Manila. Some 600 Marines and their counterparts from the Philippines are conducting a joint exercise dubbed Marine Interoperability Exercise '03. More American troops are being sent to the region to participate in a fight against terrorists.

Some Hawaii-based
soldiers will join
Philippines operation


By Gregg K. Kakesako

About 350 Army Green berets, some from the Special Operations Command Pacific here, will be part of the first U.S. combat operations in the Philippines against Abu Sayyaf rebels, the Pentagon said.

Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo T. Reyes will be stopping here Sunday, en route to visit in Washington, D.C. with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. military officials. While in Honolulu, Reyes will meet Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, Pacific Forces commander.

Last month, the Special Operations Command had about 200 special-operations soldiers training with Filipino soldiers in Luzon as part of a $25 million security assistance program. That was a continuation of a six-month, U.S.-sponsored anti-terrorist training program that began in January 2002, in which 125 soldiers from Camp Smith's Special Operations Command participated on a rotating basis, said Maj. Cynthia Teramae, an Army spokeswoman.

Army Special Forces soldiers from Hawaii also have been in the Philippines since last summer working on medical and humanitarian assistance programs. Teramae said the military has assisted in digging 25 new wells, built 14 schools, 17 clinics, one hospital and renovated two others.

However, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, Pentagon spokesman, said there will be no Pearl Harbor-based sailors or Kaneohe Bay-based Marines among the hundreds of U.S. forces planned for the operations, which could begin sometime next month.

U.S. Army Green Berets disembarked from a U.S. Air Force Globemaster C-17 cargo plane yesterday after landing at Zamboanga city airport in the southern Philippines from Okinawa, Japan.

Last year, 180-man security task force was sent from Kaneohe Bay to the jungles of Basilan island in Mindanao. The Kaneohe Marines were there to protect Marine engineers and Seabees while they built bridges, roads and landing zones. Another 60-member Marine security force was sent to the Philippines last month.

The Kaneohe Marines were part of the more than 1,300 U.S. troops sent to the southern Philippines to train Filipino soldiers in jungle warfare and counterterrorism to help them defeat the Abu Sayyaf rebels.

This time, the 1,000 Marines are part of the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, and their lead ship is the USS Essex, based at Sasebo in Japan, Davis said.

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