AFP ‘ready to deploy anytime’ to evacuate Filipinos in Middle East
MANILA, Philippines – In case tensions between Iran and the US escalate, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is ready with a plan to evacuate Filipinos from Iran and Iraq, newly-installed AFP chief of staff Lieutenant General Felimon Santos Jr said on Monday, January 6.
“Right now, we are ready to deploy anytime, when the indicator shows and the decision of the government for us to deploy, we will deploy immediately,” Santos told reporters in a briefing at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier summoned the AFP top brass and other security officials to an emergency meeting in Malacañang on Sunday, January 5, to discuss the security situation in the Middle East. He ordered the military to prepare to deploy assets to bring home thousands of Filipinos should fighting break out in the region.
“Ang mga assets na gagamitin natin is of course our air assets na available, the C-130s, and our naval assets na available, ‘yung ating mga bagong frigate na kayang mag-travel in that area,” Santos said.
(The assets we would use is of course our available assets, the C-130s, and our available naval assets, our new frigates that are able to travel in that area.)
The Philippine Air Force currently has 3 operational C-130 transport planes in its fleet. The Philippine Navy has two upcoming frigates built in South Korea: the BRP Jose Rizal set to be delivered by April, and the BRP Antonio Luna expected in September. Besides these, the Navy has two landing dock ships, the BRP Tarlac and BRP Davao del Sur, that are able to transport hundreds of people at a time.
Santos said they presented plans to Duterte on possible routes, asset capacities, and the “nitty-gritty” of evacuation plans.
“We are improving our plans not only on Iran and Iraq but... the whole Middle East. We don’t know; it might spread to other countries, especially if you know the history of the war, it might spread to Israel. There are probabilities like that,” Santos added.
On January 3, the US launched an air attack on an airport in Baghdad, Iraq, that killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, said to have wielded Iran’s influence over the rest of the Middle East, and a key figure in the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group in the region.
Iran has threatened to retaliate against the US, which in turn threatened to hit back in case of Iranian aggression. The tension has caused fears of yet another war in the Middle East that could spread beyond the region. – Rappler.com