[QODLink]
Asia-Pacific

Philippines to strengthen special forces unit

Move to triple size of battalion which operates against armed groups follows casualties suffered in Zamboanga last year.

Last updated: 07 Jan 2014 13:13
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
The Light Reaction Battalion has been battling Abu Sayyah among other armed groups [Reuters]

The Philippine government is to triple the size of a special forces military unit that operates against armed fighters responsible for bombings and kidnappings of Westerners, officials say.

The Light Reaction Battalion is to be built up to regiment size, Philippine Army chief Lieutenant-General Noel Coballes said on Tuesday, with an increase from about 500 soldiers to as many as 1,500.

"We have seen how effective they are, so we are strengthening the unit in terms of anti-terrorism. From a battalion we'll increase it to a regiment," he said.

The unit is fighting the Abu Sayyaf, a group of several hundred armed fighters who are behind the country's deadliest attacks as well as kidnappings of Western targets.

Voltaire Gazmin, defence secretary, said the battalion had taken substantial casualties during a three-week battle against fighters in the southern port of Zamboanga in September last year.

The fighters were followers of former rebel leader Nur Misuari, who went into hiding as hundreds of his men infiltrated Zamboanga to oppose a proposed peace treaty between the Philippine government and a rival Muslim armed faction.

The fighting left more than 240 people dead and displaced about 116,000 people as entire districts of the city of nearly a million people went up in flames.

"As you have seen, we lost a number of our men in the Zamboanga incident, which led to a shortage that needed to be addressed," Gazmin said.

Neither official gave a timetable, but Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala, an armed forces spokesman, said the unit would be bulked up within the year.

"Based on what happened in Zamboanga, our military leadership saw a need to increase the strength of the Light Reaction Battalion to be able to address contingencies anywhere in the country," Zagala told AFP news agency.

292

Source:
AFP
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge is the third major offensive on the Gaza Strip in six years.
Muslims and Arabs in the US say they face discrimination in many areas of life, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks.
At one UN site alone, approximately four children below the age of five are dying each day.
Featured
A handful of agencies that provide tours to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea say business is growing.
A political power struggle masquerading as religious strife grips Nigeria - with mixed-faith couples paying the price.
The current surge in undocumented child migrants from Central America has galvanized US anti-immigration groups.
Absenteeism among doctors at government hospitals is rife, prompting innovative efforts to ensure they turn up for work.
Marginalised and jobless, desperate young men in Nairobi slums provide fertile ground for al-Shabab.
join our mailing list