CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 23 Jan) – A battalion of highly trained soldiers, fresh from relief work in Tacloban City, arrived at the Lumbia airport here today to help counter the growing communist threat in Northern Mindanao.
Brig. Gen. Gerardo Barrientos, assistant commander of the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division based here, said the 1st Special Forces Battalion is a “welcome addition” to the 4ID that already has its hands full in the government’s fight against the New People’s Army (NPA).
Planners at the 4ID earlier sought the transfer of the battalion in the aftermath of the NPA attack on Del Monte and ambush of former Gingoog Mayor Ruthie Guingona.
Two Philippine Air Force C130 planes flew two sorties to ferry the soldiers from Tacloban to Lumbia airport, the former hub of civilian air transportation in Cagayan de Oro and Northern Mindanao.
Barrientos said the soldiers, who are highly trained in unconventional warfare and perform high-risk missions, will be assigned initially to train militiamen of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).
“Cafgus were involved in 70 percent of the 244 firefights recorded with our soldiers in 2013. The militiamen are our first line of defense,” Barrientos said.
He said the 1st Special Forces Battalion is noted for its successes in containing the NPA rebels in Quezon province in Luzon prior to their assignment in Tacloban City.
Lt. Col. Nasser Ledesma, the battalion commander, said they are glad that they left Tacloban after the city already recovered from typhoon Yolanda.
“Electricity has been recovered in Tacloban. More hotels have opened up for business. Tacloban is on the road to recovery. We are no longer needed there,” Ledesma said.
The battalion was supposed to arrive here last November but was deployed to Tacloban after super typhoon Yolanda destroyed the city.
Ledesma said they were among the first government troops to arrive in Tacloban and provided security around its airport, the main lifeline to aid from the outside.