MANILA: The Philippines on Monday received nearly $18 million worth of weapons systems from the US to help the government in its anti-terror fight, officials said.
Visiting US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien highlighted the transfer of precision-guided munitions to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the presence of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr.
“On behalf of (American) President (Donald) Trump … I am pleased to transfer a package of precision-guided missiles, munitions ... to the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” O’Brien said.
Locsin, on behalf of the Philippines government, received the package which included 100 tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) 2A missiles, 12 improved target acquisition systems (ITAS), and 24 mark 82 (MK-82) bombs.
O’Brien said a US military plane delivered the smart weapons which will aid the Philippines military in its fight against Daesh-aligned groups operating in the southern part of the country.
“It’s a fight that’s been bravely undertaken by the men and women of the Philippines Armed Forces,” he added. According to O’Brien, the transfer underscored Washington’s strong and enduring commitment to its “critical alliance” with the Philippines.
“We hope these precision-guided missiles and munitions will help the AFP protect lives in Mindanao and end the needless suffering imposed by ISIS-East Asia,” he said.
The adviser added that America had been at the forefront in its fight against Daesh and that US forces in the Middle East had destroyed 100 percent of its physical caliphate.
“That was a caliphate the size of Great Britain extending across Syria and Iraq. It was destroyed under President Trump’s orders. Further, President Trump gave the orders for a daring nighttime raid that led to justice being brought to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader (of Daesh).
“Now, President Trump is standing with (Filipino) President (Rodrigo) Duterte as we combat (Daesh) here in Southeast Asia,” O’Brien said.
Locsin expressed gratitude for the weapons donated by the US. “This is the fulfillment of a promise made by US President Donald Trump to President Duterte during their phone call in April.
“We are looking forward to training on the use of these weapons with the best and undisputed military power in the world and the only one in history selflessly dedicated to the freedom and independence of other countries whatever threat in the world,” he said.
The foreign secretary pointed out that the “smart bombs” would further boost the AFP’s capabilities in “neutralizing identified or specific threats to national security, particularly in counterterrorism operations.”
Meanwhile, AFP military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, told media that “these smart munitions with such capability and precision will aid immensely the AFP in ridding the country of terrorist menaces.”
He said: “We may have been successful in counter-terrorism operations — most notably in Marawi — with ordinary munitions fitted in our legacy aircraft. But with the advent of these missiles and munitions, we are certain that they will greatly boost our campaigns and contribute to the global drive to fight and defeat terrorists.”
In a separate message, O’Brien added that the US welcomed Duterte’s recent decision “to extend the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).”
Locsin in a note to O’Brien earlier this month had conveyed the president’s decision to suspend the abrogation of the VFA by another six months, to enable both sides to find a “more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward.”
The VFA was scheduled to be terminated on Aug. 9, but the Philippines government in June suspended the move in light of “political and other developments in the region.”
The suspension was delayed for six months until December, but the Department of Foreign Affairs said it could be extended for half a year more.
“We look forward to the VFA continuing to facilitate our closer cooperation in combatting terrorism,” said O’Brien.
The VFA is the bilateral agreement that establishes the rules by which military personnel, vessels, and aircraft may enter the Philippines. It also stipulates how criminal offenses committed by US military personnel should be prosecuted.
Besides addressing the problem of terrorism, O’Brien said the US also hoped to expand its cooperation with the Philippines on a range of security challenges, such as disaster relief and maritime security.
He also welcomed recent statements by Duterte and Locsin at the US-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit, calling on all nations, “including a certain large nation in the neighborhood,” to respect international law in the South China Sea and reiterated the US’ commitment to defend the AFP if it came under armed attack in the disputed territory.
“As we approach the 70th anniversary of our Mutual Defense Treaty next year, we celebrate the strength of our important alliance, and we look forward to working hand-in-hand for generations to come. Together, the US and the Philippines will continue to ensure peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” said O’Brien.
The US official also expressed condolences to the Philippines for the lives lost and devastation caused by super-typhoon Goni, and typhoon Vamco.