Local groups demand review of US troops in Philippines

A U.S. patrol boat piloted by members of special-operations forces collided with a small fishing vessel in the waters around the Mindanao region of the island nation. 

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The American troops were returning from a humanitarian mission in the town of Hadji Mutamad near Basilan when they crashed into the fishing vessel, according to local news reports. 

A Filipino fisherman was killed and his son injured as a result of the crash, Col. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the Philippine Army’s 104th Brigade and Joint Task Force Basilan, said Thursday. 

Patriotiko Mindanao, a Filipino advocacy group based in Mindanao, called for a full review of American and Filipino operations in the region in the wake of the incident. 

“There is no doubt that we need to dig deeper into the reported incident involving the American troops, but we also need to double-check the facts before we could pass judgment,” Niel Murad, the group's spokesman, told reporters Friday. 

Basilan and Palawan in the southern Philippines have long been home to the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic terror group with ties to al Qaeda. 

A U.S. special-operations task force has been stationed in the region since 2001, supporting Filipino forces in their ongoing campaign against Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim extremist groups in the region. 

The task force is one of the longest-running U.S. counter-terror missions in the Pacific. 

U.S. and Filipino troops are also in the midst of a large-scale war game in Palawan, known as the Balikatan exercises.

Patriotiko Mindanao has organized protests against the exercise and the continued involvement of the U.S. military in the Philippines. 

The accident is only the latest incident that has roiled local citizens in the region. 

A new seaport being built by the Filipino government in the Spratly Islands has sparked concerns that it could become the Pentagon's military outpost in the hotly contested South China Sea.

Manila claims the effort is strictly designed to support commercial business and tourism to the island. 

Escalating tensions between China and the Philippines reached a boiling point this week when Beijing sent three warships to a region of the South China Sea off the northwest coast of the Philippines, to support a Chinese fishing ship being detained by the Filipino navy. 

Claiming territorial sovereignty over the coastal waters where the Chinese fishing vessel was detained, Manila has deployed an additional warship to the area.

As the United States continues to keep a wary eye on that situation, DOD planners are also looking at expanding the U.S. presence in the Asian country. 

An increased focus on the Pacific was the cornerstone of the Pentagon's new national-security strategy, unveiled by President Obama in February. 

In May, the Navy plans to launch a four-month humanitarian mission in the region, including stops in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia. 

Capt. James Morgan, commander of Pacific Partnership mission, told reporters on Tuesday that his forces may link up with with the U.S. task force in the Philippines as part of those operations. 

Hundreds of Marines are also 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, Va. 

Those additional deployments would be temporary and would not require any permanent Marine Corps installations in the country, Dunford said during the speech.