Tag Archive: US Military

Poro Point, La Union – One of the US’ newest sealift vessels was not challenged by Chinese ships while heading to the port here for humanitarian activities, a ranking US military official said.

Captain James Meyer, commander of the Task Force Forager on board the USNS Millinocket, said they did not even see any Chinese ship while en route.

“Very well, uneventful, great voyage, no problems,” Meyer told reporters in a briefing Thursday.

Captain Joel Roos, surgeon of the US 7th Fleet, said even the commercial plane he rode from Japan was not challenged.

“I flew on a Philippine Airlines from Tokyo so if there was a challenge, it could be in the news right now,” Roos said in jest.

Reporters asked the US military officials if they experienced being challenged by Chinese ships while heading for La Union, a province facing the West Philippine Sea.

Last May, a Chinese warship told a US Navy Poseidon surveillance plane to leave while the latter was flying over those waters.

The incident was recorded and reported by international news network CNN, whose crew joined the flight.

The USNS Millinocket, a ship that can carry as many as a battalion of troops and entered service only in May 2014, arrived in Poro Point, San Fernando City, La Union, on Tuesday to serve as a secondary platform for the humantarian aid program Pacific Partnership.

Another ship, the floating hospital USNS Mercy, serves as the primary platform and is docked in Subic Bay, Zambales, which is also facing the West Philippine Sea.

Also docked in Subic Bay is the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Chicago, who is in a visit to showcase the latest capabilities of the submarine fleet.

While the Millinocket, Mercy, and Chicago are all docked in the country, it was learned that several other US vessels were underway near the Philippines as August began.

Among them are the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen and the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth, who were at the Philippine Sea and at the South China Sea, respectively, on August 1, according to information from the US Pacific Fleet website.

At the Pacific Partnership in La Union, a US medical task force will embark on technical exchanges and medical engagements, while Filipino and American troops are also set to build three two-room schoolhouses, conduct disaster preparedness seminars, and tabletop exercises that simulate disasters, Meyer said. (John Roson)

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Three Malaysian operatives of the Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) were reportedly spotted among Abu Sayyaf members as government troops figured in another clash with the bandit group in Patikul, Sulu, Thursday.

The military revealed the information as it announced that 14 Abu Sayyaf members have been confirmed killed and 19 more were injured in previous clashes in Patikul on Wednesday.

“There is an information” on the three Malaysian JI operatives’ presence, Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command, said by phone.

Elements of the 14th Scout Ranger Company clashed with the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan “with the three JI Malaysian nationals” in Sitio Kanjimaw, Brgy. Tugas, 9:15 a.m., according a a report from the AFP Joint Task Group (JTG) Sulu.

“Civilian tipsters revealed that the three Malaysian members of the Jemaah Islamiyah were coddled by the group of Sawadjaan,” AFP public affairs office chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said in a statement.

Captain Antonio Bulao, JTG Sulu public affairs officer, said the firefight with the Abu Sayyaf men and their JI cohorts lasted for almost 15 minutes.

No soldier was injured in the fighting, while the Abu Sayyaf is believed to have suffered “casualties” because blood trails were seen along the bandits’ route of withdrawal to Sitio Gabang, Brgy. Bakong, Bulao said.

Troops of the 35th Infantry Battalion later discovered an encampment that can accommodate at least 50 persons, Cabunoc said.

16 dead, 35 hurt

The fresh clash occurred after troops battled about 300 Abu Sayyaf members led by Sawadjaan in Brgy. Tanum, also in Patikul, on Wednesday.

Two skirmishes occurred in Tanum, leaving a total of 16 combatants dead and 35 others wounded from both the government and Abu Sayyaf.

Fourteen Abu Sayyaf men were killed while 19 other bandits were hurt in Wednesday’s clashes, Muyuela said.

Some of the slain bandits were identified as Berhamin Jawhari, Musar Sawadjaan, Jani Madjid, Adzmar Muhammad, Ompoy Uran, and Mussal Jawhari, according to a report from JTG Sulu.

Eight other slain bandits have yet to be identified, but they were traced to have come from Luuk, Patikul, and Indanan, according to the report.

Bandit commander hurt

Soldiers are also checking information that Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan was injured in Wednesday’s clashes, Muyuela said.

“‘Yun po talaga ang report na nakarating sa amin, injured siya (Sawadjaan), kaya parang di masyadong makagalaw itong Abu Sayyaf from their position sa Patikul,” a military official based in Sulu said.

Sawadjaan, said to be almost “equal” in stature with Abu Sayyaf top leader Radullan Sahiron, is implicated in several incidents of kindapping incidents in Sulu.

“Nakita din ‘yung grupo ni Furuji Indama, na sa Basilan talaga nakabase, na kasama nila,” the Sulu-based official said on condition of anonymity.

Wednesday’s clashes also resulted in the death of two soldiers and wounding of 16 other troopers.

Killed were Cpl. Lonell Bautista, of Cavite; and Pfc. Ervin Roquero, of Negros Occidental, Cabunoc said, citing information from JTG Sulu.

Among 16 wounded are 1Lt. Ramsel Dugan and 2Lt. Bernard Mabazza. Most of the wounded were hit by shrapnel from 40mm grenade launchers, he said.

U.S. choppers to the rescue, again

The wounded soldiers were brought from the clash site to the Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Hospital in Jolo via military helicopters, according to JTG Sulu.

They were later transferred to Zamboanga City via choppers of the U.S. military’s defense contractor, Evergreen, the task group reported.

Evergreen helicopters were also seen helping transport some of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) members who were injured in the deadly clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last January 25.

“Okay lang ‘yun, what is wrong with an ally helping another?” AFP spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla told reporters when asked if the U.S. assistance was legal.

“They (U.S.) are not directly involved in the operation because that will be violative of the Constitution… They share information and they assist in casualty evacuations,” Padilla added. (John Roson)

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The United States military has started downsizing its anti-terror task force in Mindanao and only 30 troops will remain, possibly by next year, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

“Hindi total pullout. May 30 personnel na maiiwan… by May 2015, subject to change,” the defense chief said in an interview via text message.

Gazmin was referring to the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), which is based in Camp Navarro, Zamboanga City, also home of the AFP Western Mindanao Command.

According to Gazmin, the JSOTF-P has already reduced its personnel from 500 and now only has 200 members.

“‘Yung reason [for the downsizing] is because hindi naman talaga sila permanente,” the defense chief told reporters, adding that American troops greatly helped improve security in Mindanao.

“Nakita naman na sunud-sunod ‘yung huli natin sa mga Abu Sayyaf… malaki ang improvement,” he said.

Kurt Hoyer, U.S. Embassy spokesman, said the JSOTF-P’s success led American and Filipino security officials “to begin working on a transition plan where the JSOTF-P will no longer exist as a task force.”

He, however, said many of the JSOTF-P’s capabilities will remain under an “augmentation team” of the U.S. Pacific Command.

The U.S. started deploying JSOTF-P troops to Mindanao on January 28, 2002, a year after the deadly Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by the al Qaeda terror network in New York City and Washington D.C.

The deployments were in support of “efforts to counter the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah – terrorist groups affiliated with al Qaeda,” according to a U.S. Embassy fact sheet. (John Roson)

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The Philippine government wants US forces to have a rotational presence in the country, but only for a period less than 20 years, a senior official said.

Foreign Affairs Asec. Carlos Sorreta, member of the panel negotiating for an “increased rotational presence” of American troops, made the remark as the second round of talks on the issue ended in Washington D.C. on Friday (Philippine time).

“For the Americans, they typically have agreements like these that have a duration of 20 years. Right now, the Philippine delegation is looking at a much shorter duration,” Sorreta said in a statement released by the defense and foreign affairs departments Saturday.

The “substantive” issue of duration is among “a number” of provisions in the proposed framework agreement for the increased rotational presence that are still up for further discussion, he said.

Defense Usec. Pio Lorenzo Batino, head of the Philippine negotiating team, said for his part that both sides understood that US troops will not establish a “permanent presence.”

“That was clear during the discussion,” he said.

Sorreta, meanwhile, said the two teams of negotiators had “specific understandings” on some issues concerning the prepositioning of US troops and equipment in the country.

Among those are Philippine ownership of facilities used for prepositioning and authority in matters of security, as well as removal of any construction by the US after an “approved activity.”

The two sides also had understandings on a stronger language on non-prepositioning of prohibited weapons and that any prepositioning or activities should not violate Philippine environmental laws, Sorreta said.

During the second-round talks, both sides agreed that joint exercises and activities will require the approval of the Philippines and will be mutually beneficial to the individual and collective defense capabilities of the two countries, Batino said.

The next round of talks will be held in the second week of September in the US. (John Roson)

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At least 1,000 square meters of the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan was damaged because of the grounding of the US Navy ship USS Guardian, the Coast Guard said.

“Initially, 1,000 square meters of the reef was damaged,” Coast Guard spokesman Cmdr. Armand Balilo said, citing results of an investigation by Joint Task Force Tubbataha.

The task force, led by Department of Transportation and Communications Usec. Eduardo Oban, is still conducting “further assessments,” Balilo said.

Members of the task force include the Coast Guard, AFP Western Command (Westcom), Philippine Navy, Tubbataha Management Office, and local government units.

A Nomad plane of the Air Force conducted another reconnaissance flight over Tubbataha on Wednesday morning, according to Westcom.

A rubber boat, apparently from the US, was seen approaching the USS Guardian around 8 a.m., a Westcom official said.

The USS Guardian, a minesweeper, ran aground at the reef’s “South Atoll” on Jan. 17, three days after making a port call in Subic Bay, Zambales. (John Roson)

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Tubbataha management to fine US Navy

Big waves slamming the USS Guardian at Tubbataha Reef (photo from AFP Western Command)

Big waves slamming the USS Guardian at Tubbataha Reef (photo from AFP Western Command)

The agency supervising the Tubbataha Reef in Palawan said it will fine the US Navy for the damage caused by the grounding of the USS Guardian at the natural park.

“We will ask them (US Navy) to take responsibility, and immediately pay the fines that can be estimated at this time,” the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) said in a statement.

The statement was issued Tuesday afternoon after Palawan Gov. Abraham Khalil Mitra, who co-chairs the TPAMB, called for a board meeting.

“This is an unfortunate incident. No one wanted this to happen. But, damage has been done,” the board said.

Under Republic Act No. 10067, the TPAMB is tasked to protect, preserve, and promote the resources of Tubbataha Reef.

“We are duty-bound to enforce the law. In order to fulfill our mandate and uphold the rule of law, it is the TPAMB’s intention to serve the US Navy with a formal notice listing violations of the law,” the board said.

Among the violations “evident at this time,” are unauthorized entry, non-payment of conservation fees, damages to the reef, and destruction of resources, according to the TPAMB.

“The park has suffered physical damage, the extent of which cannot be accurately estimated at this time,” the board said.

The board said it will also sue the US Navy for obstruction of law enforcement.

Earlier, the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) said the USS Guardian did not inform park rangers of its presence and situation and was only discovered via radar.

“Marine park rangers radioed the USS Guardian, introducing themselves as law enforcers. They informed them of their violations and announced their intention to board the vessel. However, upon approaching, they saw soldiers taking position with their weapons and, since radio contact was unanswered, the boarding protocol was aborted,” the TMO said.

“The ship’s commander ordered a general alert and deployed personnel into battle position when our rangers tried to approach their ship to assess the situation, forcing them to back off,” Tubbataha park superintendent Angelique Songco said.

The USS Guardian, an Avenger-class minesweeper, run aground at the Tubbataha Reef on Jan. 17, three days after making a port call at the former US naval base in Subic Bay, Zambales. (John Roson)

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The USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper stuck at the "protected" Tubbataha Reef natural park (Photo courtesy of AFP Western Command)

The USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper stuck at the “protected” Tubbataha Reef natural park (Photo courtesy of AFP Western Command)

A US Navy ship ran aground at Tubbataha Reef in Palawan early Thursday, authorities said.

The USS Guardian, an Avenger-class minesweeper, ran aground 2:25 a.m. while transiting the Sulu Sea, according to a statement at the US Navy 7th Fleet’s web site.

No one was reported injured in the incident, according to the statement.

Maj. Oliver Banaria, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 6th Civil Relations Group based in Palawan, confirmed the incident, saying it occurred some 98 nautical miles from Puerto Princesa City.

The incident occurred just a few days after the USS Guardian made a port call in Subic on Jan. 14, Banaria said.

Another photo showing the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper stuck at the "protected" Tubbataha Reef natural park (Photo courtesy of AFP Western Command)

Another photo showing the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper stuck at the “protected” Tubbataha Reef natural park (Photo courtesy of AFP Western Command)

The military’s Western Command has already sent a Nomad plane and the patrol craft PG-383 to conduct reconnaissance at the site of the incident, he said.

“Nagpunta na dun sa area ‘yung mga assets natin para makita kung ano ‘yung assistance na puwede nating ibigay sa kanila (sailors aboard the USS Guardian),” Banaria said in a phone interview.

It was not immediately known what the US Navy vessel hit, but Banaria said corals are abundant in the area.

Tubbataha Reef, a 130,028-hectare “protected area,” is a popular diving spot for local and foreign tourists because of various species of corals and other marine life.

It is located at the heart of what is called the “Coral Triangle,” the global centre of marine biodiversity.

Former President Corazon Aquino declared Tubbataha Reef as a national marine park – the first of its kind in the country – in 1988.

Tubbataha Reef was included in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage list in 1993. (John Roson)

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The US Navy 'target drone' found off Masbate (photo from Masbate PNP)

The US Navy ‘target drone’ found off Masbate (photo from Masbate PNP)

A “target drone” of the U.S. Navy was found in waters off Ticao Island in Masbate on Sunday, police said.

Fishermen Jolly Llacer and Ricky Cantoria found the drone near Sitio Tacdugan of San Jacinto town and reported it to police past 9 a.m., Senior Supt. Heriberto Olitoquit, Masbate Provincial Police director, said.

Unang inakala ng mga mangingisda, bomba, pero vinerify ng EOD, di naman bomba… US property na drone,” Olitoquit said in a phone interview.

A local measuring the drone (photo from Masbate PNP)

A local measuring the drone (photo from Masbate PNP)

The US-made unmanned aerial vehicle, which had the markings BQM-74E Chukar III, is 12’11” or 3.94 meters long, has a wingspan of about 1.76 meters, Olitoquit said in text message.

The drone was first brought to the San Jacinto Police Station before it was turned over to the Philippine Navy.

The BQM-74E Chukar III is the latest of a series of aerial target drones produced by American aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman.

The remote-controlled drone, launched from warships, can fly as fast as Mach 0.86 and altitudes from 10,000 meters to 12,000 meters.

It was not immediately known where the drone found off Masbate came from, but several US ships that have made port calls in nearby areas are known to use such UAVs for targets. (John Roson)

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The United States will ensure freedom of navigation in the seas and will stand by its defense treaty with the Philippines, US Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear said Thursday.

“We will ensure that there is freedom of navigation,” Locklear, chief of the US Pacific Command, said in a press briefing with Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa at the military headquarters in Manila.

“We stand by the defense treaty as it is,” Locklear said, referring to the 61-year-old mutual defense treaty between the US and the Philippines.

Before the briefing, Locklear and Dellosa attended a meeting of the two countries’ mutual defense board.

Issues in the South China Sea were discussed in the meeting, Locklear said, without specifying what topics were tackled.

The meeting “focused more” on preparations for next year’s bilateral military exercises, Dellosa said.

Next year’s exercises will have a “minor change” in activities, focusing on humanitarian disaster response operations and inter-operability of the two countries’ militaries, he said.

There will be no increase in the number of US forces participating for next year’s exercises compared to last year, Dellosa added. (John Roson)

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US Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear on Thursday criticized North Korea’s missile launch, calling it a “provocative act.”

“(The launch is) not a good thing for the security environment,” Locklear said in a press briefing at the military headquarters in Manila.

“In my view, it should have been a lower priority for the North Korean people… they spent a billion or so dollars to do this [but] at the same time have internal problems with their own population, they’ve not been able provide them the quality of life that they need,” Locklear said. (John Roson)

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