VILLAMOR AIR BASE, Philippines – The U.S. military is sending roughly 1,000 more troops, along with additional ships and aircraft, to join a massive effort to assist typhoon victims in the Philippines — a mission one Philippine military official on Friday called a "game changer."
"We are increasing our presence based on the request of the government of the Philippines," said Col. John Peck, chief of staff for the 3rd Marines Expeditionary Battalion, which is coordinating the U.S. operation from a Philippine air force base next to Manila's international airport.
The U.S. military — looking to both help an ally and show its commitment to remaining the leading power in the Pacific amid the rise of China — has been extremely fast in responding to the disaster.
About a half dozen countries — including Japan, Indonesia, and Singapore — have offered military assistance to Manila, and many more have sent supplies. Chinese troops, however, have been prominently absent, in large part because of a territorial spat between the two nations.
According to Lt. Col. Rodney Legowski, the first U.S. Marines arrived in the Philippines in response to the disaster within six hours, and began flying supplies to affected areas less than 18 hours after that. By Friday, there were 400 Marines in the country.
The USS George Washington aircraft carrier and its battle group are also in place off the hard-hit islands of Leyte and Samar. So far, the U.S. military has moved 174,000 kilograms (190 tons) of supplies and flown nearly 200 sorties.
"Having the U.S. military here is a game changer," said Col. Miguel Okol, a spokesman for the Philippine air force. "For countries that we don't have these kinds of relationships with, it can take a while to get help. But with the U.S., it's immediate."
With roughly 600,000 people displaced by the typhoon and millions still in need of aid, the Marines said in a statement Thursday that about 900 more Marines based on Okinawa, Japan, were to arrive early next week aboard two U.S. Navy amphibious ships.
Another 100 Marines from Okinawa will come aboard aircraft.