US, Philippine forces working to secure typhoon-ravaged areas

Marine Corps units are working hand in hand with Philippine forces to restore security in areas in the central part of the country hardest hit by Typhoon Hayian.

Roughly 300 U.S. military personnel, mostly from the Marines 3rd Expeditionary Brigade, are looking to lock down coastal areas in and around the city of Tacloban as part of U.S.-led disaster relief areas in the Philippines, a senior White House official said Wednesday. 

Sporadic violence by armed looters, looking to secure the limited humanitarian aid deliveries trickling into Tacloban and elsewhere, have begun to pop up across the wide swath of the country ravaged by the typhoon. 

Those attacks, along with disease outbreaks caused by the unsanitary living conditions left behind in the wake of the storm, are the two biggest security concerns for U.S. and Filipino forces, according to the official. 

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As a result, Marine Corps units are conducting security operations alongside their Filipino counterparts "to help them with that policing [mission]" the official added. 

That said, the official was adamant that American and Filipino forces would be able to maintain law and order in the area. 

"The security situation is well in hand," the official added. 

The typhoon, which slammed into the chain of islands in the central Philippines on Sunday, is reportedly the strongest to ever make landfall in the Pacific or elsewhere in the world. 

Current casualty reports show more than 1,000 perished in the massive storm, which reportedly took out whole villages and towns located in the coastal areas near the eye of the typhoon. 

Local government and humanitarian organizations fear that the death toll could reach 10,000 as rescue and recovery efforts continue in the country. 

However, American military and civilian disaster relief units were also able to open up roadways into Tacloban, allowing aid deliveries to move faster into the most devastated areas of the country. 

The open roadway, according to a second White House official, is "a pretty significant game changer" in the ongoing humanitarian aid mission. 

Prior to the roadway opening, disaster relief teams were limited to ferrying food, water and supplies and evacuating survivors by air into and out of the Visayas region of the central Philippines. 

So far, disaster relief teams have delivered more than 170,000 pounds of aid and supplies into Tacloban, Leyte and elsewhere in the Visayas. 

The officials' comments come on the same day that the Pentagon announced the Navy will be sending two Whidbey Island-class amphibious warships to the region, to assist with disaster relief efforts. 

The USS Ashland and USS Germantown will join the USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group already en route to the central Philippines, the Pentagon announced Wednesday. 

Four V-22 Osprey aircraft and three KC-130J cargo aircraft are also on station in the Philippines, to provide much-needed air power to back up Manila's efforts to deal with the typhoon's aftermath. 

Long-range U.S. surveillance drones based out of Andersen Air Force Base have also been flying reconnaissance missions over the disaster area, feeding back imagery of the devastation to humanitarian aid planners in Manila, the first administration official added. 

But the official noted that Washington has been "weighing very carefully what [military assets] we are brining in," to ensure the U.S.-led relief effort is not misinterpreted as an attempt to increase America's military presence in the country.