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2 US Navy men, 1 Marine killed in Sulu land mine blast

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Two US Navy personnel and one Philippine Marine soldier were killed when a land mine exploded along a road in Indanan, Sulu Tuesday morning, an official said.

The American fatalities were members of the US Navy construction brigade, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. told GMANews.TV in a telephone interview. He did not disclose the identities of all three casualties.

The U.S. Embassy in Manila confirmed the incident, but withheld the names of the casualties pending notification of relatives.

“They lost their lives serving others and we will always be grateful for their contributions to improve the quality of life on Jolo," said U.S. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney.

Brawner said the AFP has no leads yet on who were behind the attack. The Philippine military is fighting the well-armed Abu Sayyaf, which is blamed for numerous bombings and kidnappings of Filipinos and foreigners in the south in recent years.

Tuesday's blast was believed to be the first incident where American soldiers were killed since U.S. troops were deployed to the southern Philippines to help combat militants from the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group in 2002.

“These U.S. servicemen, from the data that we gathered, were non-combatants. They were, in fact, members of the U.S. Seabees and they were there to supervise the developmental projects in the area when they were attacked," Brawner said.

"We would like to emphasize that they were not in combat and they were escorted and they were being secured by members of the Philippine Marines," he added.

Two other Filipino soldiers were hurt when the land mine, an improvised explosive device, tore through a military convoy as it was making its way to a road project in Brgy. Kagay, Indanan municipality in Sulu province, Brawner said.

A statement from the U.S. embassy sent to news agencies said: "The U.S. members of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines express deepest sympathy and condolences to the families and loved ones of the killed and wounded Philippine and U.S. soldiers."

Brawner said the soldiers were on board a U.S. Humvee and were supervising the construction of the five-kilometer Kagay to Langpas road when the blast occurred at about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

He said the American soldiers were part of the US Navy engineering unit assisting Philippine military personnel in various infrastructure projects in the area. The U.S. embassy statement said the soldiers "were conducting a resupply mission for a school construction project" when their vehicle struck the land mine.

An estimated 600 U.S. troops are currently stationed in the Philippines, mostly in the southern front lines of the Philippine military's operations against the Abu Sayyaf, which is suspected of sheltering the larger Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah.

"U.S. Forces are temporarily deployed at the invitation of the Government of the Philippines to conduct activities such as training exercises, professional exchanges, and civic action projects with the Armed Forces of the Philippines," according to the embassy statement.

Asked if there were any threats against the US soldiers, Brawner said, "We don't want to speculate on the perpetrators of this bombing."

But he added: "We know that the Abu Sayyaf is operating in the area." – Andreo Calonzo with a report from AP, GMANews.TV
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