US embassy: They lost their lives serving others
MANILA - Two US soldiers were killed in a landmine explosion in Jolo island on Tuesday, marking the first reported casualties among US soldiers deployed in Mindanao since 2002.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said 1 Filipino soldier was killed while two others were also wounded when the vehicle they were riding in struck an improvised landmine near Indanan town on the island of Jolo, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf militants.
"At 8:30 a.m., September 29, there was an [improvised explosive device] attack in front of the Philippine Marines detachment which is based between Luamsing and Kagay barangays. As a result of this, two US servicemen were killed and one Philippine Marine was also killed and two other Philippine Marines [were] wounded," he told reporters.
A separate report from ABS-CBN Regional Network Group identified the wounded soldiers as Sgt. Dexter Ubag, Private First Class (PFC) Damas and a certain PFC Estrada. The three were brought to a trauma hospital for treatment.
Brawner said the US soldiers were escorted by members of the 3rd Marine Brigade to supervise the construction of the 5-km Kagay road as well as the construction of a medical clinic, an elementary school and various other projects in the area.
"These US servicemen, from the data, that we gathered were non-combatants. They were in fact members of the US Seabees [CBs or construction brigades] and they were there to supervise the developmental projects in the area when they were attacked. They were riding on a Humvee vehicle," he said.
He said the Army is still determining if the landmine was remotely detonated.
Brawner said the Army has no leads on who perpetrated the attacked, but conceded that the terrorist Abu Sayyaf is operating in the area.
US soldiers lost lives serving others
The US embassy, meanwhile, confirmed the American casualties in Jolo and expressed “deepest sympathy and condolences to the families and loved ones of the killed and wounded Philippine and US soldiers.”
“They lost their lives serving others and we will always be grateful for their contributions to improve the quality of life on Jolo,” US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney said.
The US embassy said the names of the US servicemen who were killed were still being withheld pending notification of their respective next of kin.
They were the first deaths since 2002 among US forces deployed in the southern Philippines. In that year, one soldier in a restaurant was killed by a bomb on a motorcycle parked outside.
The statement added that “US forces are temporarily deployed at the invitation of the Government of the Philippines to conduct activities such as training exercises, professional exchanges, and civic action projects with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
US servicemen in Sulu are attached to the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines.
The current stay and activities of US forces in the Philippines, however, has been the subject of controversy after senators asked President Arroyo and the Philippine foreign affairs department to renegotiate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US government. The VFA is the basis for the stay and activities of US forces in the Philippines.
Senators led by Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a political ally of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, argued the agreement was a one-sided deal in favor of Washington.
The senators said the VFA had not been beneficial to the Philippines because the United States failed to provided enough aid to modernize the country's military capabilities. It also did not guarantee the rights of Filipinos in criminal cases filed against US troops.
They also cited media reports that claimed US troops deployed in the southern Philippines had engaged in combat with Abu Sayyaf rebels in violation of the agreement, which only provides for training and logistical support to Filipino troops.
"Why are they there in that conflict area?" asked Santiago, referring to the troops killed on Tuesday. "They should only be in the military camps advising and helping train Philippine soldiers." With reports from Leila Vicente, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga and Reuters