Philippines to continue sending troops to Iraq

THE INCREASINGLY volatile situation in Iraq will not deter the Philippines from continuing to send peacekeepers to the country, senior military officials said Thursday.

On Wednesday, an explosion ripped through the Italian police base in the southern city of Nasiriyah, killing at least 18 Italians and nine Iraqis. Prior to that, suicide bombers had struck at installations of the United States and the United Nations, killing scores of people.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is committed to continue its support to the coalition operations in Iraq. Despite this [attack], the AFP is committed to replace all those [Filipino] troops presently deployed in Baghdad," said Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lucero, military chief information officer.

The Philippine military is set to send a set of personnel in February to replace the military component of the 96-strong Filipino peacekeeping force that went to Iraq in September, Lucero said.

But there are no immediate plans to add to the 55 military officers and men, 26 policemen and 15 social workers stationed in Babil and Wasit provinces, Basrah in Iraq and Doha in Kuwait, Lucero said.

"We have no such program yet," he told reporters.

So far, no Filipino peacekeeper has been hurt or fallen ill since arriving in Iraq, said Lucero, quoting from reports by peacekeeping force commander Brigadier General Pedro Ramboanga.

"We haven't received any [such] reports," he said, noting that the situation in the areas the Filipinos are in was "volatile but permissive despite the Ramadan."

Even so, the troops "are capable of protecting themselves" and have adopted some "force protection" standard operating procedures, he said, adding, "I believe they are very much prepared to confront any threat to their presence in those areas."


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