In a month which has already seen a growing US attention in the Pacific, the Embassy of the United States of America in Palau has announced an increase of “planned military flights and vessel arrivals” in Palau, including eight navy personnel and one navy ship arriving today.
Eight US Naval Construction Battalion (Seabee) personnel arrive in Palau today on the incoming flight, to provide construction support to the Civic Action Team (CAT) stationed at Camp Katuu. The Seabees, whose specialty generally lies in construction, electrical, and mechanical work, are expected to continue to support projects for the CAT until their departure in March 2021.
The US Embassy has said that the eight personnel have already undergone two weeks of quarantine, and will undergo another two weeks in Palau, before beginning work on October 25 once they receive negative COVID test results.
This coincides with the arrival of the USS Comstock, a landing ship of the US Navy, which departed from Guam earlier this month and is expected to enter Palau’s waters today. According to the US Embassy, the navy ship is meant to patrol and to establish a stronger US presence in Palau’s exclusive economic zone, and to transport one or two Mark VI patrol boats, along with an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team. The US Embassy also asserts that “the personnel aboard the USS Comstock . . . have all been aboard the USS Comstock in a COVID-free bubble since June.”
While the crew of the USS Comstock are not expected to leave the ship, the EOD team of under 20 personnel are expected to land on Peleliu’s South Dock and move by foot to the Peleliu Airfield, where they will conduct unexploded ordnance (UXO) removal efforts. The Embassy asserts that the members of the EOD team, along with the crews of the Mark VI patrol boats, underwent two weeks of quarantine before boarding the USS Comstock.
The Mark VI patrol boats are expected to carry members of the US Embassy as well as the National Government of Palau, “likely” including President Remengesau, to the Southwest Islands, which, according to the Embassy, is an area which “is of strategic importance and ties into the overall strategy for the US defense of Palau”.
The USS Comstock, along with the EOD team on Peleliu and the Mark VI patrol boats, are expected to depart Palau on October 23.
Further US military arrivals this month include the returning Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia, which will continue to support the Aids to Navigation mission in Palau by improving infrastructural programs such as establishing buoys for shipping routes. The Cutter is expected to arrive on October 12 and continue until October 16, and the personnel are not expected to come ashore.
The flight on October 12 is expected to bring in 24 Air Force personnel, who will evaluate the serviceability of the runways and tarmacs for the airfields in Babeldaob, Peleliu, and Angaur, as well as two replacement CAT personnel. The Embassy has asserted that all of these passengers will have completed two weeks of quarantine prior to their arrival, and will complete another two weeks once they arrive.
The Embassy has also mentioned a five-person VIP flight which will arrive on October 18, and include a restricted-movement visit of under 24 hours. The Embassy asserts that the five personnel will have undergone several COVID-tests within seven days of the arrival.
This influx of US personnel and equipment builds on an ever-growing trend of US attention in Palau, with an increase in military-funded security programs, a visit from US Defense Secretary Mark Esper in August, and advanced Compact negotiations preceding it.
This attention has been met with welcome remarks from President Remengesau and many members of the administration. However, despite the amount of attention being paid to quarantine procedures, many residents of Palau have voiced their apprehension of so many foreign personnel coming in from areas deemed “high risk”.