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Amphibious ships, 900 Marines replace GW group in Philippines

Marines load jet fuel from a forward refueling point at Guiuan into a V-22 Osprey on Friday. After more than week on the ground helping Typhoon Haiyan victims, the Marines are packing up and heading back to Okinawa.

GUIUAN, Philippines — Two amphibious ships, the USS Ashland and the USS Germantown, along with 900 Okinawa-based Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, have arrived in the Philippines to boost Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts.

The ships and extra Marines will add logistical capacity to forces already working in affected areas, according to a statement by Lt. Gen. Alan R. Luga, vice chief of staff for the Philippines armed forces.

The ships and Marines are showing up at a time when the need for U.S. military support appears to be slowing dramatically.

They replace the USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group, which carried 23 helicopters and had been transporting food, water, personnel and equipment to typhoon victims.

Luga, in a joint statement issued Friday by U.S. and Philiippine forces overseeing relief efforts, said the aircraft carrier had played an important role in air transport when most airports were nonoperational in areas ravaged by the storm.

In Guiuan, which, along with Tacloban, which has been a major hub for airlifts of food and water for typhoon survivors, officials said that the U.S. military is in the process of handing the airfield over to locals.

A battalion of Philippine troops arrived Thursday to take over security duties from U.S. Marines, who had been there for about a week.

On Friday morning, the Marines packed their tents and emptied jet fuel from a Forward Aircraft Refueling Point into aircraft parked on the flightline. About 30 Marines boarded two of the V-22 Ospreys and left for Okinawa by way of Clark Air Base that afternoon.

John Patterson, the U.S. Agency for International Development military liaison in Guiuan, said the U.S. military had filled a gap by airlifting food and water before roads could be opened for trucks and Philippine air force helicopters arrived.

“It (aid delivery) is transitioning from U.S. military helicopters to, primarily, trucks run by the local government,” he said.

The military effort is drawing down dramatically in Guiuan, Patterson said.

“We have worked the last couple of days to do a transition and slowly pull back,” he said. “We don’t want people to feel we just up and left.”

The joint statement said the Ashland and the Germantown carry landing craft that can move large amounts of cargo and equipment ashore, while the Marines on board bring heavy equipment that could be used to move debris.

“These are more suitable assets, and combined with the naval vessels from Japan, Australia, and other nations, we continue to be postured to help wherever the Philippine Government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines needs us,” U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, the commander of the U.S. relief effort, said in the statement.

robson.seth@stripes.com

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