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US stealth ships to join drills in Philippines

Philippines, US troops to conduct joint anti-piracy, disaster response exercises

Gulf News

Navy ships from the Philippines and the US Pacific Fleet will be carrying out joint anti-piracy and humanitarian drills in waters off the central Philippines, as part of the two allies’ mutual security commitments, officials say.

A statement issued by the United States embassy yesterday did not mention the exact date of the start and duration of the naval drills, code-named “Sama-Sama” — a Filipino term for “together” — but some of the one of the vessels that will take part in the exercise have already been sighted off Cebu. The stealth profile “littoral combat ship,” the USS Coronado was photographed sailing near Cebu.

The stealth profile “littoral combat ship,” the USS Coronado was photographed sailing near Cebu.

As a littoral vessel, the USS Coronado can operate closer to shallow waters despite its size.

“The training we will perform over the next week will provide excellent opportunities to deepen our long-time maritime partnership with the Philippine Navy,” said Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson, commander of Task Force 73.

Maritime piracy has been an increasing concern for the Philippines as bandits and groups that claim to have political objectives, such as the Abu Sayyaf continue to prowl the seas it shares with Malaysia, the Sulu Sea and the Celebes Sea, with Indonesia.

In recent months the three countries agreed to conduct joint patrols, leading to a decrease in piracy incidents.

Warships from Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia held manoeuvres on Monday in waters plagued by insurgency and banditry off north Borneo, launching coordinated patrols in a region where Daesh influence is growing.

Helicopters and surveillance planes flew overhead as ministers and army chiefs from the countries attended ceremonies to launch the patrols, with security taking on added urgency after militants overran a town in the southern Philippines.

The Philippine military has said that some of the militants, both domestic insurgents who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State and some foreign fighters, may have mingled with evacuees to slip away during the battle for Marawi City that has raged for almost four weeks.

“We need to watch out for the 500 to 600 terrorists there, 257 of whom have been killed already. The rest, based on information we are getting, are blending in with refugees to get out,” said Indonesian military chief Gatot Nurmantyo.

The spectacular collapse in security in the southern Philippines has alarmed neighbours such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

Indonesia has deployed three Sukhoi fighters to help with security in case militants try to flee southwards towards Indonesia, the head of the Tarakan air base, Colonel Didik Krisyanto, told the state news agency Antara.

Indonesia also inaugurated a maritime command centre in the naval base of Tarakan, a town in the province of North Kalimantan on Borneo island, witnessed by the defence ministers and army chiefs from the three countries.

Malaysian defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the three countries would increase the sharing of information because what had happened in Marawi could happen elsewhere.

The neighbours would not allow Islamic State “to set foot, even just an inch, in our region”, he said.

Maritime command centres will also be set up in Tawau in Malaysia’s Sabah state, also on Borneo, and Bongao in the Philippines.

Philippines military says seizes drugs worth millions of dollars in besieged city

MARAWI CITY, Philippines The Philippine military found methamphetamine worth between $2 million to $5 million while clearing rebel positions in besieged Marawi City, officials said on Monday, boosting suspicions Islamist militants are being funded by the narcotics trade.

The 11 bags of shabu, the local name for methamphetamine, were recovered on Sunday along with four assault rifles in the kitchen of a two-storey concrete house believed to be occupied by fighters from the Maute militant group.

“This strengthens our findings that these terrorists are using illegal drugs,” Major-General Carlito Galvez, military commander of western Mindanao, said in a statement.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who launched a ruthless ‘war on drugs’ after coming to power a year ago, has said the Marawi fighters are being financed by drug lords in Mindanao, an island the size of South Korea that has suffered for decades from banditry and insurgencies.