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US bolsters AFP strength with $18-M missiles

UNITED States National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien yesterday formally handed over to Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. a new missile package valued at about US$18 million (about P867 million) to strengthen the Philippine Government’s anti-terrorism capabilities and address internal and external security concerns.

“This transfer underscores our strong and enduring commitment to our critical alliance,” O’Brien said at a joint press briefing with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in Manila adding “we hope these precision guided missiles and munitions will help the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) protect Philippine lives in Mindanao and end the needless sufferings imposed by ISIS East Asia.”

The US military has been at the forefront in the fight against ISIS and has provided technical assistance and enemy surveillance to the AFP to neutralize terrorists.

O’Brien also said the the US will always support and defend its treaty ally under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

He said the US looks forward to the Visiting Forces Agreement continuing to facilitate both countries’ cooperation in combating terrorism.

“We also hope to expand our cooperation across the whole range of security challenges, from disaster relief to maritime security. Know that the US stands shoulder to shoulder with the Philippines,” he said.

O’Brien said America stands with the Philippines “in protecting your sovereign rights, your offshore resources and all of those rights that are consistent with international law.”

He reiterated US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement in February that “any armed attack on Philippine forces’ aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger our defense obligations.”

“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 United States and the Philippines will continue to ensure peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” O’Brien said.

For his part, Locsin thanked the US for the donation saying the new defense articles are “a fulfillment of a promise” made by US President Donald Trump to President Rodrigo Duterte during their phone call in April.

“These smart bombs will boost the capability of our armed forces in neutralizing identified or specific threats to national security particularly in counter terrorism operations in spite of the challenges we face due to the pandemic,” Locsin said.

He added “this gesture reflects our strategic alignment of interests and our shared aspirations for enduring peace and stability for both our countries and the greater region. It is demonstrative of President Trump’s staunch support for the Philippines to counter both internal and external security threats and emblematic of our two leaders’ trust in each other.”