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Thursday, March 16, 2017

U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim inspects troops in Zamboanga

A U.S. Navy Sea Hawk chopper lands in Sulu province in the southern Philippines in this photo taken in February 2006. A small number of American troops are still deployed in the restive region and advising the Philippine military in fighting terrorism. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY – U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, visited the southern Filipino port city of Zamboanga on Thursday and inspected a small group of American soldiers helping local military forces in fighting anti-terrorism in the restive region.

The American official, accompanied by embassy staffs, also met with Filipino military commanders at the Western Mindanao Command where the U.S. maintains a small base. Zamboanga is also one of the areas in Mindanao where Washington is currently funding several infrastructure projects through the United States Agency for International Development.

The military did not issue any statement on the visit of the ambassador, but U.S. troops had been deployed in Zamboanga City since 2001 after the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham, and California man Guillermo Sobero. Both Sobero and Martin were killed by the Abu Sayyaf, and Gracia rescued in a U.S.-led military operation in Zamboanga del Norte province.

Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte cancelled a joint patrol with the U.S. military in the South China Sea and scrapped future war games between the two countries, and ordered American troops to leave the country.

But American soldiers are still maintaining a camp inside the Western Mindanao Command, which was previously used as headquarters of the defunct Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. The US military previously maintained a fleet of P3 Orion surveillance aircraft in Mactan Air Base in Cebu province in central Philippines and smaller unmanned aerial vehicles or drones in Zamboanga.

The aircraft are used in operations against the Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan and Sulu, and probably Indonesia and Malaysia to monitor activities of jihadist groups there allied with terrorist groups in the Philippines.

Security had always been tight in American military camps in Zamboanga, Basilan and Sulu and even Filipino generals cannot go inside these installations without prior clearance with the US Embassy in Manila.

Local journalists were not spared by some arrogant U.S. troops who harassed news photographers and television crew and had threatened to smash their equipment if they take pictures of American soldiers deployed in public places in Zamboanga, Basilan and Sulu. (Mindanao Examiner)

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