KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian army and the US military have kick-started their first joint military exercise at Kampung Tanduo in Sabah to boost security at the exact location that was invaded by Filipino gunmen more than a year ago.
The Malaysia-United States Amphibious Exercise (Malus Amphex) began on Monday with the aim of improving troops' readiness and amphibious training such as assault and landing, the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur said.
For nine days, the two forces will train in areas including shipboard familiarisation, medical and dental capabilities, weapons familiarisation, amphibious rehearsals with ship-to-shore connectors, live-firing ranges and Rapid Response Planning Process, the embassy added.
The exercise in Kampung Tanduo, a small village surrounded by oil palm plantations in eastern Sabah, is a symbolic location as it was bombed by Malaysian security forces to drive out gunmen from southern Philippines who had claimed sovereignty of the area and held villagers hostage in February last year.
The military operation to flush them out killed more than 100 people, including at least 10 Malaysian soldiers and policemen.
Mr Shahriman Lockman of Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and International Studies said that over the years the US has supplied Malaysian armed forces with radars to enhance security in eastern Sabah.
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The long and porous Sabah coastlines, and proximity to southern Philippines where many insurgents are holed up, have made it easy for terrorist groups to kidnap tourists for weapons and money. Since April this year, there have been four abductions, including the latest case last month, when a policeman was kidnapped in a shootout.
Asked about the joint exercise being held in Kampung Tanduo, Mr Shahriman told The Straits Times yesterday: "The US is merely responding to up Malaysia's capabilities to address the rising security concerns in east Sabah."
Those involved in the joint exercise include personnel from the 7th and 22nd Royal Malay Regiments based in Sabah, as well as US marines and sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group.
Malaysian and US armed forces had been involved in various joint exercises in the past, the most recent being the Cope Taufan and Teak Mint Exercise in June. That exercise featured the newest US Air Force fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, in its maiden exercise in South-east Asia.
Dr Oh Ei Sun of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies told The Straits Times that the US military presence is generally welcome in the region as a stabilising and balancing force.
"Such an exercise could have a deterrent effect on the armed terrorists," he said, "lest the terrorists think they are immune from the collective wrath of Malaysia, the Philippines and the US."
This article was first published on August 27, 2014.
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