Naval exercises ‘not for intel gathering,’ says US admiral

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/4 July) – The naval exercises between American and Philippine troops in the seas of Mindanao are purely “to enhance interoperability and not to gather intelligence data” in this part of the country, US Navy Rear Admiral Thomas F. Carney Jr. said on Wednesday.

“The naval exercise is part of an open source project. We’re promoting maritime domain awareness with the Philippine Navy [through] the Coast Watch Stations,” said the US Naval head of delegation to the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2012.

WAR GAMES. US and Filipino Marines crouch in battle positions during a small-boat rescue drill held in Barangay Siguil, Maasim town in Sarangani province on July 4, 2012. The Philippines and the US are leading nine nations participating in the 18th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Exercise. MindaNews photo by Bong SarmientoFunded by the United States, the Coast Watch Stations are equipped with highly sophisticated surveillance equipment, including radars, capable of monitoring sea, air and land spaces.

The Coast Watch Stations are spread in the towns of Kiamba, Maitum and Glan in Sarangani; Kalamansig in Sultan Kudarat; Balut Island in Davao del Sur; and Cape San Agustin in Generoso, Davao Oriental.

The Coast Watch Station is part of the Coast Watch South, a defense project that is also supported by the Australian government.

With CARAT 2012 in its third day on Wednesday, Carney reiterated the exercises seek to enhance interoperability of the two countries’ naval and coast guard forces.

“We try to promote what’s operating on the maritime environment to help strengthen capabilities on anti-terrorism, anti-smuggling, anti-narcotics and in other venues of maritime security,” he told reporters.

Journalists were allowed Wednesday to board the missile guiding-frigate USS Vandergrift, one of the two US vessels docked at the Makar Wharf here. The other one is the cutter ship USCG Waesche.

They will be deployed on Friday to the seas outside Sarangani Bay for the on-shore naval exercises that would include live firing in an area spanning 100 by 140 miles. They are expected to be back at the Makar Wharf here on Sunday. CARAT 2012 will end on July 10.

Commodore Philip L. Cacayan, Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao commander, said that advisories have been issued to avoid accidents involving commercial vessels and fishermen while the naval exercises are ongoing.

“Appropriate maritime information has been disseminated to all units transiting the area for the actual at-sea exercises not only at the local but also at the national level,” he told reporters.

Carney said the training with the Philippine Navy in Mindanao is a “tremendous benefit to the US forces as [they[ are not familiar with the area.”

It’s an opportunity to train with forces that know the water space and familiar with the environment, he added.

Carney said the US troops in the CARAT exercises would be celebrating the American Independence Day with a social activity Wednesday night inside the Makar Wharf.

Although US troops in the CARAT exercises are banned from R & R, “they are enjoying the hospitability the Filipinos have shown them,” he added.

So far, the exercises have been in-land or in the shorelines, such as the small boat hostage rescue drill in the boundary of this city and Maasim in Sarangani.

Capt. Joseph Lipiec, who spoke for the US Marine team, appeared satisfied with the training exercises with the Philippine troops.

“I’m very impressed with the Philippine Coast Guard as well as the Philippine Marines,” he said.

Lipiec claimed that the night vision goggle “used by the Filipino troops is better than theirs.” (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)