JOLO ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 26 Jun) – The U.S. Pacific commander, Adm. Timothy Keating made a surprised visit Tuesday on the southern Filipino island of Jolo, where American troops are helping the Philippine military defeat terrorism.
Keating was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney and Philippine military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, who were briefed by local commanders on the progress of an ongoing operation against the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya on the island, about 950 km south of Manila.
Clad in a green camouflage uniform, Keating met with U.S. troops stationed inside a Philippine Army base near Patikul town and then hiked Mount Tugas where Filipino commanders showed him a captured Abu Sayyaf base.
Keating used a broken tree branch as a cane to help him climb Mount Tugas, where he inspected bunkers and trenches and secret tunnels previously used by the Abu Sayyaf.
Local commanders also briefed Keating on the progress of the hunt on Abu Sayyaf terrorists.
“We welcome the visit of Adm. Keating in our area, particularly in Jolo. It also gives a moral booster to the U.S. and Filipino troops. The visit gives us a higher spirit because it recognizes the efforts of the Filipino soldiers and our country in the fight against terrorism.”
“His visit is a manifestation of a strong U.S. support in our fight against international terrorism,” a regional army commander, Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, told the regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.
Keating visit coincided with the killing of local policeman who was ambushed by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants in Calingalan Kaluang town.
U.S. and Filipino troops guarded Keating while in Jolo. Philippine Air Force MG-520 attack choppers and a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance plane flew overhead during the jungle trip.
The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) is a unified command – based in Hawaii - which includes about 300,000 military personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps (about 20 percent of all active duty U.S. military forces).
In April, Keating told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that: "We intend to concentrate on winning the war on terror, advancing security cooperation and engagement in the theater, making sure that our forces are properly postured and equipped to respond to crises should they develop."
Hundreds of U.S. troops are deployed in the southern Philippines and training local soldiers on the request of the Filipino government. (Mindanao Examiner)