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RP-US naval war games set in Abu Sayyaf bailiwick

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
Last updated 12:26pm (Mla time) 05/24/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Joint exercises between Filipino and American naval forces, which will open next week, will be staged for the first time in the southwestern Philippines, a known bailiwick of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, Philippine Navy officials said.

The Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) will open on May 31. The war games will be held in various sites in Zamboanga City and the nearby island province of Basilan, said Philippine Navy spokesman Giovanni Carlo Bacordo.

“All scenarios will be covered [in the exercise], anti terrorism, smuggling, ad other forms of transnational crime,” Bacordo told reporters

Around 600 troops from the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Marines will take part in the exercise. The Philippine military will also field three patrol ships and a landing craft utility for the exercise, he said.

The number of troops and sea crafts from the United States Navy that will be involved in the exercise was not immediately available, Bacordo said.

In 2006, the CARAT was held at the Subic Naval Base and waters off Zambales province in the north. It will be held in Zamboanga and Basilan for the first time this year, said Navy Ensign Annaleah Palad, the public affairs officer of the exercise.

Asked if the staging of the naval war games in the south was related to the pursuit for Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah militants, Bacordo said, “It’s more of practicing the fleet-marine concept.”

The fleet-marine concept of the Armed Forces of the Philippines aims to enhance the interoperability of the Philippine Navy with its combat arm, the Philippine Marines. In this line, Marine troops have been transferred to the southwest from central Mindanao.

On Wednesday, troops raided a suspected Abu Sayyaf lair in Basilan province and seized several firearms and ammunition. The bandits were reportedly doubling as private armies for politicians.

Abu Sayyaf leaders are reportedly hiding in Sulu province, also in the southwest, along with two Jemaah Islamiyah militants who allegedly masterminded the 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, Umar Patek and Dulmatin.

The CARAT exercise is covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty between the longtime military allies, the Philippines and the United States.

It is different from the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games, which were held earlier this year. This year’s Balikatan was scaled down to classroom teachings after the custody battle for a US Marine convicted for raping a Filipina delayed preparations for field exercises.

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

ThuUTC2007-05-24T05:55:55+00:00UTC05bUTCThu, 24 May 2007 05:55:55 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am05

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