Marines eye larger presence in the Philippines

Hundreds of Marines are expected to flood into the Philippines as part of the service’s growing focus on the region, Assistant Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford said last month. 

The four-star general did not go into specifics regarding those future deployments during his March 29 speech in Arlington. 

American and Filipino troops have already begun bilateral exercises in Palawan in the southern region of the country. 

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Dunford did note that those additional deployments would be temporary and would not require any permanent Marine Corps installations in the country, according to the Marine Corps Times

However, local residents claim that Manila is already building a new facility to house the incoming Marines. 

A new seaport being built by the Philippine government in the Spratly Islands could become the Pentagon's military outpost in the hotly contested South China Sea, according to news reports. 

The Philippines is rebuilding a seaport and adjoining runway on Pagasa Island, part of the chain of islands off the coast of the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. 

The Philippine government claims the effort is strictly designed to support commercial business and tourism to the island. 

But local opponents of the new seaport say the construction is the first step in creating a mini-naval base for U.S. and Philippine troops. 

Currently, the only permanent U.S. military outpost in the country is the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Southern Philippines. 

The base is geared toward providing support to Philippine-led counterterrorism operations against Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic terror groups with ties to al Qaeda. Roughly 400 American special forces troops are attached to the task force, which was created shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

News of the additional Philippine deployments came days before the first contingent of Marines arrived at the newly-created U.S. base in Darwin, Australia. 

Roughly 200 Marines arrived at the base on April 4. The Darwin facility is expected to house more than 2,500 Marines once all deployments are complete. 

Additionally, the Navy is preparing to send four next-generation littoral combat ships to Singapore to further extend US military presence in the Pacific.  

The Marines's increased presence in Australia, Singapore and now the Philippines is part of the Defense Department's new strategy for the Asia-Pacific region. 

The White House's new national security strategy, unveiled in February, stressed a larger role for U.S. forces in the region as American troops begin to pull out from Iraq and Afghanistan.