US, PH hold joint naval patrols in Sulu Sea

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The USS Coronado, a United States Independence-class littoral combat ship

The Philippines and United States navies held a joint naval patrol in the Sulu Sea off Mindanao on Saturday, as battles between troops and pro-Islamic State (IS) extremists in Marawi City continued.

The one-day joint naval patrol strengthened cooperation between the two navies and “enhanced both navies’ ability to respond to piracy and transnational criminal activity at sea,” according to the US Embassy in Manila.

The joint patrol was held upon the invitation of the Philippine government, the Embassy added.

Enhance regional peace

“These patrols enhance regional peace and stability. Our at-sea operations with the Philippine Navy demonstrate our commitment to the (Philippine-US) alliance and deter piracy and illegal activities,” Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson, Task Force 73 commander, was quoted as saying.

Crews from BRP Gregorio del Pilar, BRP Ramon Alcaraz and the littoral combat ship USS Coronado participated in the patrol.

During the patrol, Philippine Navy sailors embarked on the USS Coronado to coordinate communications and movements between the two ships.

The Philippine sailors also exchanged best practices with their US counterparts in visit, board, search and seizure techniques, and in information sharing.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz, a Philippine Navy frigate

Continued military exercises

The USS Coronado had also participated in the recent joint maritime training exercises called “Sama-Sama” held in the vicinity of Cebu from June 19 to 25.

The two naval exercises came as the US provided “technical” military support to Philippine ground troops fighting IS-pledged extremists in Marawi since May 23.

US forces are in Marawi providing crucial intelligence against the IS-linked fighters. They are barred from actual combat but can fire if attacked.

The Philippines has continued holding regular joint military exercises with the US despite President Duterte’s anti-US, and pro-China and pro-Russia statements.

There have been fears that fighters sympathetic to IS will cross maritime borders between Malaysia and Indonesia to join Muslim rebels who seized Marawi City five weeks ago.

About 300 militants, 82 security personnel and 44 civilians have been killed in the fighting.

Two weeks ago, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines held joint naval patrols in southern waters.

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