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U.S. seeks expanded role for military in Philippines

By Floyd Whaley

New York Times

LAST UPDATED: 10:06 a.m. HST, Jul 13, 2013

MANILA » The United States is negotiating an agreement to allow it to position military equipment and rotate more personnel into the Philippines while avoiding the contentious issue of re-establishing U.S. bases in the country, according to officials from both countries.

The negotiations for increased military access come amid simmering tensions between the Philippines and China over areas in the South China Sea claimed by both countries and moves by the United States to ensure that it retains influence in the region even as China’s grows.

The Philippines, which has a small navy and air force, has been relying on support from the United States, a close ally, to modernize its military and upgrade its abilities. Part of this relationship has involved regular short-term visits by U.S. military forces for joint training, humanitarian work and disaster response.

The arrangement under negotiation now would allow U.S. forces to visit for longer periods and be stationed on Philippine military bases.

On Thursday, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, the head of the Pacific Command, said the United States was looking for access that would enable it to help the Philippines in their defense as well as to aid in responding to disasters. The admiral, who was responding to questions at a news conference, reiterated stated U.S. policy that it would not reopen bases in the Philippines.

The United States maintained large military bases in the Philippines for nearly a century to counter imperial Japan’s expansion before World War II and, later, to ensure a regional presence in the Cold War. In 1992, the last U.S. base in the country closed after street protests against what some saw as a painful reminder of decades of U.S. rule, and a decision by the Philippine Senate to discontinue the U.S. military presence.

The presence of U.S. military forces in the Philippines remains controversial, however.

James Hardy, Asia-Pacific editor for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, said a likely model for the use of such forces in the Philippines was the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, a contingent of about 500 members of the U.S. military who come from various branches.

The task force, which focuses on counterterrorism, has been based on a Philippine military base in the southern Philippines since 2002 in a facility that is officially considered temporary.

The United States has also used its former naval base in Subic Bay for ship visits.

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