PH to send troops to aid in evacuation of Filipinos in Middle East
MANILA, Philippines — Two battalions composed of hundreds of troops from the Armed Forces of the Philippines would be deployed “as soon as possible” to assist in the repatriation of Filipinos in the Middle East amid the increasing tension between the US and Iran.
“The two battalions will not be there to engage in combat, but to facilitate or help assist in the repatriation of the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) especially in Iraq,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on the sidelines of the Department of National Defense-AFP New Year’s call on Wednesday.
The troops would likely come from the Philippine Army and Philippine Marines, he said.
AFP chief Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. said they are awaiting the approval diplomatic clearances so they can position their troops and assets in their recommended locations.
“We have some recommended places, countries for stage points in case (the situation) worsens,” he told reporters.
Philippine Navy chief Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad said they are ready to deploy their landing dock ships and possibly a Del Pilar-class offshore patrol vessel “within 72 hours.” A landing dock vessel can accommodate around 750 people including crew.
Over the past few days, the Philippine government has been planning the contingency measures for the evacuation of the Filipinos in the Middle East.
There are more than 7,000 Filipinos in Iran and Iraq.
President Rodrigo Duterte has earlier ordered the AFP to prepare its air and naval assets in case there is a need to bring home Filipinos who want to return to the Philippines.
Aside from deploying the available military assets like the landing dock ships and C-130 planes, Lorenzana said the government is considering to rent cruise ships or charter commercial planes to evacuate the Filipinos there.
The Philippine Coast Guard’s newest French-built offshore patrol vessel, the BRP Gabriela Silang, which was supposed to be on its way home to the Philippines, will sail from Malta to the Middle East to start ferrying Filipinos to safer areas.
A special working committee was also formed to craft a plan for the evacuation of the Filipinos there should the situation worsen in the Middle East.
Tension between the US and Iran escalated after an airstrike in Iraq killed Iran’s top general Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week. On Wednesday, Iran launched over a dozen ballistic missiles on Iraqi bases housing American troops in retaliation for the killing of the Iranian official.
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