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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the news ...

"The Philippine mission is a rarity in the U.S. war on terror: a largely successful counterinsurgency at minimal cost in lives and dollars.

...The number of Abu Sayyaf militants went from a peak of 1,200 in 2001 to about 400 today, according to the Philippine military.

Under an agreement with the Philippine government, the U.S. forces cannot engage in combat. However, with the help of U.S. intelligence, the Philippine military has killed or captured 28 Abu Sayyaf leaders, according to the Special Forces task force. Twenty-four remain at large.."

read the full story from USA Today:  (rv)

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

U.S. Ambassador Visits JSOTF-P in Southern Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Mindanao – Harry K. Thomas, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines, and several officials from the U.S. and Philippine governments visited Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City and islands in the Southern Philippines Mar. 21-22 to meet and greet service members.

The U.S. Embassy in Manila is taking a “3D” approach to combating terrorism, employing diplomacy, development, and defense, with the latter coordinated through Joint Special Operations Task Force, Philippines (JSOTF-P). U.S. forces are temporarily deployed to the Philippines in a strictly non-combat role to advise and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to fight terrorism and deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of the Philippines.

During the visit, the Ambassador also attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony with AFP Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer and JSOTF-P Commander Capt. Robert Gusentine, USN, to open a Joint Fusion Cell at West Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM) headquarters.

The Joint Fusion Cell, a 600-square-foot refurbished space, will serve as an area for Philippine Security Forces to plan and implement future operations supported by JSOTF-P, to make the Southern Philippines an unwelcome place for violent extremist organizations to operate.

Later in the morning, the Ambassador addressed AFP and U.S. service members stationed at Camp Navarro.

“Today, we are celebrating a small example of how our two nations cooperate for the cause of peace,” said Thomas. “Without the assistance of JSOTF-P and its many dedicated members who support our friends in the Philippines Security Forces, I would not be able to do my job here in the South, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you,” he added.

United States Agency for International Development – Philippines Mission Director  Gloria Steele and several other senior government officials joined Thomas during the visit. “JSOTF-P not only represents the “Defense” pillar of the U.S. Embassy’s 3D approach, it also serves as USAID’s key partner in implementing our development programs in conflict areas and in providing disaster assistance,” said Steele.

While in Mindanao, Thomas visited with senior officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at WESMINCOM. The Ambassador also had tours at the Ateneo de Zambaonga University, a local university, and at the Visayan Forum Halfway House that provides refuge and rehabilitation for victims of human trafficking. On the second day of the trip, the ambassador visited some of JSOTF-P’s outstations on the Islands of Sulu and Basilan to get a first hand look at JSOTF-P support for AFP operations. 

Philippine and U.S. Forces Conduct School Turn-over Ceremony at Bulol, Pikit, Cotabato Province

The Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion, along with Civil Affairs Team 351 of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), representatives of the Municipality of Pikit and Department of Education, and local leaders, conducted a ribbon-cutting and school-opening ceremony on March 15, 2011 in a rural community previously ravaged by conflict.

This project, initiated over a year ago by the Local Government Unit and JSOTF-P, resulted in a school building with three classrooms, a water tank, basketball court, comfort room, administrative building, and generator shed that will serve more than 200 students.  The students also received a donation of two basketballs and a volleyball set.  According to the school principal, the students previously walked up to 20 kilometers to go to the nearest school.

A 7th Infantry Battalion Civil-Military Operations Officer noted that there has been a positive change in the attitudes and disposition of the population in this conflict-affected area since the school was built. 

Parent-Teacher Conference Association President Mr. Yaqob stated that he was very pleased to see the presence of U.S. forces. “It was necessary to have U.S. forces and Philippine Army working together as a united front to bring peace and order to Mindanao,” he said.  
JSOTF-P supports and shares information with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and delivers humanitarian assistance to the people of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago at the Philippine Government’s request and in support of the Philippine Government’s Internal Peace and Security Plan.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

USAID-Philippines Mission Director Visits Mindanao Area

A member of Joint Special Operations Task Force, Philippines, welcomes Mission Director, United States Agency for International Development - Philippines, Gloria Steele upon her arrival at Camp Luis Biel in Bgy. Tabiawan, Isabela City Feb. 24, 2011. 

Commander of Joint Special Operations Task Force, Philippines, Capt. Gusentine discusses JSOTF-P activities in Basilan with Director Steele Feb. 24, 2011. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Philippine and U.S.Military "Bayanihan Drills" Save Local Family Adrift at Sea

The Philippine Navy’s Task Force-62 together with the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines saved a family of five who had been floating for over twelve hours at sea near Tawi Tawi Island, located at the southwestern tip of the Sulu Archipelago in the Southern Philippines.  The family had left for Sitangkai, an island to the southwest of Tawi Tawi, at four in the morning when their boat capsized due to rough seas.

The Philippine and US military personnel were completing their joint military drills they call "Bayanihan," a Tagalog expression for mutual assistance, that evening when they spotted a man in the sea clinging to floating debris.  A US Special Boat Operator rushed outside and without hesitation jumped off into the water and swam for 300 meters without a life jacket to save the man, who was barely conscious from exhaustion.

Once the US sailor reached him, the father of two, unable to speak, and pointed to the general direction where the rest of his family was adrift.  Only an hour of daylight remained to find the remaining survivors.

The Philippine-US Navy team quickly joined forces and dropped a rescue boat into the water to search for the remaining family members.  The mother, two children, and their grandmother were floating, barely holding on to plastic containers and wood debris, when they were found.

“I am thankful to the sailor who risked his life to save my father,” stated the young boy who is recovering from second-degree burns from the boat's gas spill. The family thanked profusely the joint forces that provided them first aid, clothes, and food before they were brought back to Tawi Tawi, to Bongao City Mayor Jasper Que for custody and care.

“We felt so blessed and thankful to Almighty Allah who gave us this second chance in life,” the father said. The family members have fully recovered and were released from the Bongao Hospital on February 22 to return to their home in Sitangkai.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Philippine and U.S. Forces Support ‘Bayanihan’ Medical and Veterinary Outreach to Rural Communities in Sultan Kudarat Province

 The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 33rd Infantry Battalion conducted a joint Medical/Veterinary Civic Action Program on February 23, 2011 in various Barangay Pimbalayan and other barangays in the Municipality of Lambayong, Province of Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao, the Southern Philippines. The Medcap/Vetcap was supported by members of U.S. Task Force Mindanao and multiple local non-governmental organizations such as ACIM-Asia (spell out first time) and Notre Dame College. The area of Pimbalayan has a long history of being a conflict area, according to Mayor Florante L. Agduma, who as a young man fought against lawless elements and nearly lost his life in the same area where the Med/Vetcap took place.

According to Ronnie G. Dardo, the new Deputy Chief of Police for the municipality of Lambayong, the area has recently been peaceful - a very different experience than what he was used to in his previous assignment in Makilala, Cotabato. He said they’ve accomplished great things considering the 33 officers cover the municipality’s 26 barangays.

The Medical Civic Action Program treated more than two hundred residents from around Barangay Pimbalayan, with treatment ranging from common cold remedies to dental work requiring tooth extraction.

Concurrently, a Veterinary Civic Action Program was also taking place nearby in four separate locations; Barangays Bagumbayan, New Cebu, Caridad, and Zeniban. Civil Affairs Team 351 assisted the provincial veterinary officer, Nestor Casador in treating a total of 79 carabao, 33 cows, 14 goats, and 2 dogs.

Pimbalayan Barangay Captain Alex Pablo and Mayor Agduma greatly appreciated the program’s benefit in bringing health and veterinary care services to the families and farmers of his rural community. They were pleased to have the presence of U.S. Forces in their area, working as partners with the AFP.

The event exemplified the ‘Bayanihan’ spirit of helping each other and showed the commitment of the local government unit, Armed Forces of the Philippines, JSOTF members, Non-Profit Organizations, and the Philippine National Police to work to provide livelihood enhancement, peace, and security to the people of Lambayong. The 33rd Infantry Battalion’s mission continues to demonstrate within Mindanao that the ‘Bayanihan’ effort is best demonstrated through action, not just words.

U.S. Task Force Mindanao and its higher headquarters, Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P) works by, with and through the Armed Forces of the Philippines in their mission to confront terrorism, support its Internal Peace and Security Plan, and deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Mindanao.