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RP deploys more troops to Western Mindanao

MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) -- The Philippine Navy is deploying three new multipurpose attack crafts and augmentation troops to Western Mindanao as the military steps up campaign against threat groups in the region, especially the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Navy chief Vice Admiral Ferdinand Golez sent off the ships today at rites held at the Navy headquarter in Manila. They will be assigned with the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, one of the operating units under the military's Western Mindanao Command.

Golez also sent off the newly-retrained and newly-refurbished Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT) 8 which will be deployed to Palawan. A C-130 plane flew them to Palawan, which hosts a small number of communist insurgents.

The MBLT 8, composed of about 600 officers and men, will replace the MBLT 9, which has the same number of personnel that will be flown by the same plane to the Abu Sayyaf-infested Western Mindanao.

Two other ships were sent off by the Navy chief during the ceremony. One of them will be assigned in Palawan while the other will be detailed in Eastern Mindanao.

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"The deployment of the 8th Marine Battalion and our floating assets to their respective AOR (area of responsibility) is in response to the requirements of higher headquarters to address the need for increased tempo of operations in the operational area," Golez said.

Golez said he expects the troops and the assets he sent off " shall live up to their reputation and sacred honor in pursuing their mission." He asked them to "faithfully execute the pertinent phases and aspects of our operations up to their successful conclusion."

Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo said the MBLT 9 will be initially staying at Zamboanga City, home of the Westmincom. He said the augmentation battalion will later be deployed either to Basilan or Sulu.

"The intensified drive to flush the Abu Sayyaf bandits and other lawless groups from their lairs in southwestern Mindanao takes a sharp turn in favor of the government with this fresh input of a battalion of battle-hardened marines," Arevalo said.

The bandits are still holding a number of hostages in the region the most prominent is Italian Eugenio Vagni, part of the original three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross who were snatched last Jan. 15.

Arevalo said the newly-acquired multi-purpose attack craft that are being deployed to Western Mindanao are greatly needed in addressing the threats posed by the Abu Sayyaf.

The attack craft, which can cruise at top speed of 42 knots, are mounted with caliber 50 machine guns, and can load up to 20 fully armed Marine Force Recon or Navy SEAL Teams.

"Taken altogether, this deployment of naval assets and the rotation of two marine battalion landing teams (MBLTs 8 and 9) is a welcome development in the operational landscape in southern and western Philippines," said Arevalo.

He said the ships that were dispatched will also "run after violators of maritime, environmental, anti-drug, tariffs and customs, and immigration laws."

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