ZAMBOANGA CITY, Mindanao – Harry K. Thomas, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines, and several officials from the U.S. and Philippine governments visited Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City and islands in the Southern Philippines Mar. 21-22 to meet and greet service members.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila is taking a “3D” approach to combating terrorism, employing diplomacy, development, and defense, with the latter coordinated through Joint Special Operations Task Force, Philippines (JSOTF-P). U.S. forces are temporarily deployed to the Philippines in a strictly non-combat role to advise and assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to fight terrorism and deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of the Philippines.
During the visit, the Ambassador also attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony with AFP Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer and JSOTF-P Commander Capt. Robert Gusentine, USN, to open a Joint Fusion Cell at West Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM) headquarters.
The Joint Fusion Cell, a 600-square-foot refurbished space, will serve as an area for Philippine Security Forces to plan and implement future operations supported by JSOTF-P, to make the Southern Philippines an unwelcome place for violent extremist organizations to operate.
Later in the morning, the Ambassador addressed AFP and U.S. service members stationed at Camp Navarro.
“Today, we are celebrating a small example of how our two nations cooperate for the cause of peace,” said Thomas. “Without the assistance of JSOTF-P and its many dedicated members who support our friends in the Philippines Security Forces, I would not be able to do my job here in the South, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you,” he added.
United States Agency for International Development – Philippines Mission Director Gloria Steele and several other senior government officials joined Thomas during the visit. “JSOTF-P not only represents the “Defense” pillar of the U.S. Embassy’s 3D approach, it also serves as USAID’s key partner in implementing our development programs in conflict areas and in providing disaster assistance,” said Steele.
While in Mindanao, Thomas visited with senior officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at WESMINCOM. The Ambassador also had tours at the Ateneo de Zambaonga University, a local university, and at the Visayan Forum Halfway House that provides refuge and rehabilitation for victims of human trafficking. On the second day of the trip, the ambassador visited some of JSOTF-P’s outstations on the Islands of Sulu and Basilan to get a first hand look at JSOTF-P support for AFP operations.