Skip to comments.US Troops Move Closer To Philippine Combat Zone
Posted on 06/03/2002 5:22:04 AM PDT by blam
U.S. Troops to Move Closer to Philippine Combat Zone
Mon Jun 3, 7:27 AM ET
By Erik de Castro
ISABELA, Philippines (Reuters) - The Philippines and the United States agreed Monday to move U.S. special forces closer to combat areas in the country's south in a stepped-up manhunt for Muslim guerrillas linked to Osama bin Laden (news - web sites).
The presidential palace in Manila announced the decision as U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz flew to the southern island of Basilan, stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, and met U.S. troops training Filipino soldiers in counter-terrorism.
Delayed military reports said six guerrillas and a soldier were killed in fighting Sunday with another Abu Sayyaf group operating on Jolo island, near Basilan. The fighting broke out when troops raided a guerrilla lair in the Jolo hills.
"There was consensus that training will be intensified and pushed forward to the company level," Philippine presidential spokesman Silvestre Afable said after talks between Wolfowitz and government officials.
"It implies that this is closer to the action," he told a press briefing.
But U.S. troops will not be allowed to engage the rebels in combat as "this is the war of our own armed forces," he added.
Although fully armed, they can fire only in self-defense.
Both sides said the two governments were also considering extending the joint military exercises in the country's south aimed at wiping out the rebels but no decision had been taken.
"That's one of the questions I hope to be better informed about when I leave here. Those are decisions that have to be made by both our governments," Wolfowitz told reporters after talks with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Around 1,000 U.S. troops are training Filipino soldiers fighting the Muslim Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, who have held two Americans and a Filipina nurse hostage for more than a year.
The southern Philippines exercises, which began in February and are due to end next month, represent Washington's biggest troop deployment in the war on terror after Afghanistan. Most of the joint exercises have been held near military camps on Basilan, the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf fighters 900 km (560 miles) south of Manila.
If deployed at the company level, the U.S. troops would be spread over a wider area of the jungle-clad island with a higher chance of contact with the guerrillas.
Wolfowitz was met by Basilan's Muslim provincial governor Wahab Akbar and about 100 residents dressed in traditional tribal costume when he arrived aboard a U.S. army helicopter at an army camp in the provincial capital Isabela.
Wolfowitz, dressed in a pink polo shirt, immediately went into a closed door huddle with Philippine and U.S. commanders.
Arroyo said she favored deploying U.S. troops closer to the front lines to enable them to better train local soldiers.
The Abu Sayyaf, which claims to fight for a separate Muslim state but pursues kidnap for ransom as its main activity, holds the three hostages, including U.S. missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham, on Basilan.
The area which Wolfowitz visited is about 18 to 25 miles from the hills where the Burnhams are believed to be held.
The United States has linked the Abu Sayyaf to bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, prime suspects in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
It's so much easier now, lettin' our enemies know our troop movements via the internet.