ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 27 Sept) Some 140 U.S. soldiers participating in a new joint anti-terrorism training in the southern Philippines were briefly by Filipino immigration authorities in Zamboanga City after some problems with their documents.
The soldiers arrived on a chartered plane late Tuesday and were held at the Zamboanga International Airport for several hours until all their papers and identities had been properly processed by immigration people.
Col. Antonio Supnet, a local army task force commander, said the U.S. troops arrived to train Filipino troops in fighting terrorism in the restive region, where local security forces are hunting down members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and the Jemaah Islamiya.
"They are here to train our soldiers and conduct humanitarian mission as part of a bilateral agreement between the Philippines and the United States. They will replace some soldiers who are to return home after being here for a while," Supnet told the Mindanao Examiner.
Supnet said immigration people allowed the U.S. troops after thoroughly examining their documents. "The U.S. soldiers went through a routine immigration process just as every foreigner coming here. There is a documentation process and we have to follow this rule," he said.
The U.S. were later allowed to go to a Philippine Army base called Camp Arturo Enrile in the village of Malagutay to join other American forces stationed there, he said.
Supnet said the soldiers will later be deployed in Jolo island in the Sulu Archipelago and in central Mindanao to train local troops in anti-terrorism warfare. "This is a routine. U.S. soldiers come and go," he said.
Many U.S. troops deployed in the southern Philippines came from military bases as far as Hawaii and Japan. It was not immediately known how many U.S. soldiers are returning to their bases, but among those who are leaving is Army Col. James Linder, commander of U.S. military forces.
Col. David Maxwell will replace Linder as new commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. Linder had served for almost a year as task force commander. The U.S. military, on the request of the Filipino government, is assisting and advising the Armed Forces of the Philippines in fighting homegrown terrorism.