USSF - Philippine Exercises

1st Special Forces Group (Airborne)

15 January 2002 


U.S. Special Forces and local troops in the Southern Philippines began Tuesday, as Manila stepped up its effort to rid the country of Muslim guerrillas linked to Osama bin Laden.

AROUND TWO DOZEN troops are in Zamboanga, the headquarters of the Philippines’ southern military command, for the joint exercises, senior Philippine army officials told Reuters.
       “This is the deployment stage that started today,” Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes told local radio.
       By mid-February, the full contingent of about 160 special forces — including Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, Marines with special operations capabilities and Air Force special forces — will be deployed to help in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf rebels.
       They will be backed by about 500 U.S. support and technical personnel, Reyes said.
       It is the most significant expansion of Washington’s war against terror beyond Afghanistan.
       The joint exercises formally began on Tuesday and were expected to last at least until June and could be extended until the end of the year, Reyes said.

       Reyes said the objective of the training is to strengthen the nations’ “combined capability to fight terrorism.”
       He said at least six U.S. military officials have arrived in Zamboanga to prepare for the training, which counts on modern U.S. weaponry and aircraft, including helicopters capable of night flights.

U.S. troops to help in fight against rebels linked to al-Qaida

U.S. soldiers leave the Southern Command headquarters in Zamboanga city, southern Philippines after meeting with Philippine military officials in December.


Image: U.S. soldiers leave the Southern Command headquarters in Zamboanga city

       Officially, the U.S. forces will only provide advice, technical support and an assessment of the Philippine troops. But they will accompany local soldiers on patrol in rebel-infested areas, will be armed and authorized to fire in self-defense.

Philippine officials have gone to considerable lengths to emphasize that U.S. soldiers will not participate in combat because of local sensitivities on the role of foreign troops.
       The Philippines was a U.S. colony from 1898 until 1946, but, for many, only a 1991 decision to end a U.S. lease on local military bases signified true independence.
       The constitution now prohibits foreign troops from being based in the country except for training.
       The powerful Roman Catholic Church has also disapproved of the U.S. troop presence here, saying it led to increased prostitution.
       But Manila has always had warm ties with the United States and has been eager to show renewed solidarity after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, which the U.S. has blamed on bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited Washington in November and returned with promises of over $100 million in military aid.
       A five-year plan of military exercises forged by the United States and the Philippines last year was amended to accommodate the anti-terrorist exercises in Zamboanga and Basilan, Reyes said. Previous exercises focused on ways to deal with attacks from other countries.

       Reyes said again on Tuesday that the U.S. troops would only be in a training and support role. But he added they would accompany Philippine troops on patrol on Basilan, the rugged and jungle-clad island stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.

“We will do the fighting. It is the Filipino soldiers who will go out and they will be assisted by the American forces in terms of advice and joint assessment and sharing of expertise and equipment,” he said.
       “The Abu Sayyaf is a problem of the Philippines, and the United States is only helping us,” Reyes said.

 Some 5,000 Philippine troops have been fighting on Basilan for months to counter the 1,000 or so Abu Sayyaf guerrillas there.
       The hostages still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf — missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham from Wichita, Kan., and Filipina nurse Deborah Yap — were among scores taken in a kidnapping spree that began in May. Several hostages, including Corona, Calif., resident Guillermo Sobero, were killed in captivity. Others either escaped or were freed for ransom.
       The government says about 50 soldiers and about 160 guerrillas have been killed on Basilan and on Jolo, an island farther south where the Abu Sayyaf also operates, since last June.
       The United States has said the Abu Sayyaf is linked to the al-Qaida network of Saudi-born bin Laden.

MANILA, Philippines, Jan. 2 —  Philippines seeks U.S. Anti-Terror Aid

Military requests equipment to hunt Abu Sayyaf rebels

An American military advisor, left, on a Philippine military helicopter after visiting Basilan Island, in the southern Philippines, on Dec. 27.

The Philippine military has sought surveillance equipment from the United States to help its troops rescue an American couple held hostage for seven months by the Muslim rebel Abu Sayyaf group, officials said on Wednesday.

Image: American Advisor Rides Chopper In Southern Philippines

ARMY SPOKESMAN Lt.-Col. Jose Mabanta told reporters local troops needed to upgrade “target acquisition assets” and night-fighting capability because of the difficult terrain on the southern islands where the Abu Sayyaf operates.
       The military blamed the mountainous and thickly-forested terrain on southern Basilan island, where the Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and Filipina nurse Deborah Yap, for failing to meet its self-imposed target of rescuing them by the end of 2001.
       “We need to upgrade this equipment. What we have is mostly first-generation equipment,” Mabanta said.


U.S. Special Forces in Philippines
Mon Feb 18, 6:47 AM ET

By PAT ROQUE, Associated Press Writer

UPPER MAHAYAHAY, Philippines (AP) - U.S. special forces ventured Monday to within a few miles of a jungle stronghold of the Muslim extremist group targeted in counter-terrorism exercises with the Philippine military.

U.S. Special Forces members headed by Army Maj. Mark Gatto from New Jersey, third from left, are briefed by their local counterpart Philippine Marine Maj. Jessie Bulaong, left, and Maj. Elmer Bustillos, right, as they conduct a site inspection at the Marines advance command post in the mountain area of Maluso town in Basilan island in southern Philippines on Monday, Feb. 18, 2002 . The U.S. Special Forces were involved in a counterterrorism exercise just a few kilometers from a known jungle stronghold of muslim extremist guerrillas, the Abu Sayyaf group, who are still holding two American nationals and a Filipino nurse. Accompanying Major Gatto are Master Sgt. Gene Wesley from North Carolina, second left, Technical Sgt. Scot Nowlin from Seattle, thirdfrom right, and Staff Sgt. Bryan Davis from Texas. (AP Photo/Pat Roque)

Four American soldiers, their Philippine military escorts and journalists surveyed the area from a hilly Philippine marine camp in Maluso town on the southern island of Basilan before more special forces arrived.

American soldiers stayed three hours to watch a helicopter landing, eat lunch and meet with more than 100 Philippine marines. The command post was about six miles from Mount Puno Mahaji, which one Philippine marine called an Abu Sayyaf rebel "playground."

It also is about the same distance from another area where suspected Abu Sayyaf recently beheaded a Philippine military guide, underscoring risks that U.S. troops are taking as they bring the war on terrorism to the violence-prone southern Philippines.

The four Americans were among the first of a 160-strong special forces contingent involved in a training exercise designed to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network believed responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

More than 500 American troops are in the Philippines for six-month maneuvers ending in June.

American troops later may go to combat zones to observe Philippine troops roaming the island to search for the fewer than 100 guerrillas holding Wichita, Kan., missionaries Gracia and Martin Burnham and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap hostage.

The small, ragtag rebel force is what's left of a violent, 2,000-strong Abu Sayyaf force that has been hammered by a nine-month military offensive involving 5,000 soldiers.

The Americans will be armed but can only fire in self-defense because of Philippine constitutional restrictions on the presence of foreign troops.


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