- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Agence France-Presse) — The world’s biggest anti-terrorism exercise will be held this year on Guam, underscoring the Pacific island’s growing importance to Washington, officials said yesterday.

Exercise TopOff4 is part of a series of large-scale maneuvers established to strengthen the U.S. ability to respond to terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction.

William Marhoffer, the U.S. Coast Guard commander in Guam, said the TopOff4 exercise would be bigger than last year’s Valiant Shield war games, in which the United States mobilized 30 ships, 280 aircraft and 22,000 military personnel.

“It will be bigger in some ways. Valiant Shield was a military exercise. It was a show of force. It was the first time we had three carrier strike groups in combined operations in the Pacific since the Vietnam War,” he said.

TopOff4 “is a domestic counterterrorism exercise. … It involves the intelligence communities, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Coast Guard.” The exercise is expected to simulate a maritime terrorist attack.

Vice President Dick Cheney is to visit Guam later this week.

“This exercise highlights Guam’s strategic value and will show the world that we are prepared to defend our island and our nation from any threat of terrorism,” Gov. Felix Camacho said in his State of the Island address.

Guam and neighboring U.S. territories, including the Northern Mariana Islands, are considered by the United States as strategic locations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Guam is home to one of the largest U.S. military naval bases in the region, and 8,000 Marines will soon be relocated there from Japan.

The island, with a population of 171,000, is banking on the U.S. military buildup to bail it out of its economic woes.

The United States and Japan are spending $15 billion on the relocation of the Marines from Japan, which is expected to further boost Washington’s military strength in the Asia-Pacific.

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