US troops instructed to go home

CLARK FIELD, Pampanga — Some of the American troops participating in Balance Piston, a joint RPUS military exercise in Luzon have started pulling out of this former US Airforce base.

A top Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) Commission who arrived here Thursday said that at least 300 US Air Force and Army troopers have been ordered to return home.

The VFACom officer who requested anonymity told local newsmen the US troops sent home will no longer finish the joint war exercises scheduled to be conducted at Clark and Ft. Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija up to Feb. 15.

Balance Piston is part of another VFA exercise dubbed Balikatan 2002 in Mindanao.

The VFACom officer, however, dismissed speculations that the early pullout of some US troops from Clark Field is related to recent events in which two foreign tourists were fired upon, leaving one of them dead near the foot of Mt. Pinatubo in Pampanga.

Last January 30, an American MC-130H cargo plane being used in the ongoing Balance Piston sustained two bullet holes after unidentified men fired upon it in Northern Luzon.

USAF officials met with Philippine Air Force (PAF) chief Lt. Gen. Benjamin Defensor, Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Jaime de los Reyes and Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Senate committee chair on defense, in Clark immediately after the shooting last week.

The presence of US troops in Clark and in other parts of the country has been a center of criticisms during the past few days due to opposing political groups.