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
“This is the deployment stage that
started today,” Philippine Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes told local
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.
troops to help in fight against rebels linked to al-Qaida
soldiers leave the Southern Command headquarters in Zamboanga city,
southern Philippines after meeting with Philippine military officials in
SENSITIVE TO FOREIGN
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
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.
TRAINING AND SUPPORT ROLE
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
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.
Philippines, Jan. 2 — Philippines
seeks U.S. Anti-Terror Aid
requests equipment to hunt Abu Sayyaf rebels
American military advisor, left, on a Philippine military helicopter after
visiting Basilan Island, in the southern Philippines, on Dec. 27.
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.
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
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
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
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