CLARK AIR BASE, Philippines — One sniper, wearing tiers of shredded sandbag as camouflage, reflected on the months of rigorous training. Another said lying prone for 12 hours under the hot sun really got him.
After four months of training with U.S. Army Special Forces from Okinawa, the third Light Reaction Company of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, or AFP, graduated Friday after a dramatic urban assault demonstration at this former U.S. Air Force base near Manila.
Under a barrage of gunfire and concussion grenades, two truckloads of scout rangers stormed a former barracks and killed assailants while saving hostages.
The demonstration showed the skills the company learned: “Small unit tactics and close quarters combat,” said the U.S. training commander, who, for security, asked to remain anonymous. “Moving, shooting and communicating.” The company now serves with the national-level counter-terrorism force.
The training and equipment was paid for with a U.S. State Department counter-terrorism grant. It was one of several security assistance training modules funded this year by a $25 million grant to help the AFP become a more effective force in its fight against domestic terrorism, according to U.S. Embassy officials.
The AFP soldiers were outfitted with reinforced vests, weapons and other gear. The grant also paid for ammunition for shooting practice. The AFP can’t afford the same amount of shooting time U.S. soldiers get.
“A lot of things we took for granted coming in,” the commander said. “Not because of the soldiers abilities, but because they haven’t had the training.”
The AFP soldiers praised the training, even if it was tough.
“The Americans are very disciplined and very strict with their training,” one sniper said.
The training also focused on organization. Non-commissioned officers were given a much larger role in leadership and decision-making, something foreign to the AFP. Non-commissioned officers from the first Light Reaction Company trained in 2000 now serve as trainers, with U.S. support.
“It’s still U.S.-led,” the commander said. “It gave them a little more confidence.”
The demonstration showed off one of the key pieces of the training — close quarters urban assault in which soldiers burst into rooms and decide in a split second whether an occupant is friend or foe. It tests a soldier’s alertness and skill.
“How to identify the real target before firing a shot,” said AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Narciso Abaya following the demo. “It would be difficult to be a ‘good shot’ if you’re hitting the hostages.”
Snipers used real ammunition in the demonstration. One later proudly examined the posters of terrorists used as targets in the building: one with two small holes through the center of the terrorist’s forehead and the other with two centered on the heart.
The training is meant to be long-term and self-sustaining, rather than U.S. supported.
The first company, trained in 2000, went to combat immediately after graduation. The final two groups were trained this year.
Nearly 30 U.S. trainers from the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group from Torii Station in Okinawa served as trainers for the current group in the past five months.
The two nations have had increased military cooperation in training and exercises over the past several years to thwart terrorism in Asia.