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Americans Arrive in Philippines U.S. Special Forces To Aid Filipino Army In Threatened Areas

By Steve Vogel
THE WASHINGTON POST -- U.S. Special Forces have begun arriving in the Philippines to assist Philippine troops in their fight against Muslim guerrillas linked to Osama bin Laden, a significant expansion of the U.S. war on terrorism outside Afghanistan.

Although the deployment is a training exercise, the U.S. troops will accompany front-line Filipino forces on patrols in guerrilla-threatened areas in the southern Philippines. Approximately 650 U.S. soldiers, including 160 Special Forces, will take part in the exercise, defense officials said Tuesday.

“It is not a modest number, it’s several hundred plus,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview with radio journalists. “But it is a group of people that are going to be with the Philippine forces for the purpose of training.”

Even as Pentagon officials say the focus of the war will remain on Afghanistan, the dispatch of several hundred U.S. troops to the Philippines underscores the Bush administration’s intention to wage its fight against terrorism on a global scale.

Having put aside such targets as Iraq, at least for now, the administration is working with friendly governments such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore that are seeking help in rooting out terrorist groups. It’s also looking to such countries as Indonesia, Yemen and Somalia, where al-Qaida cells are believed to be located.

The U.S. forces moving to the Philippines will help the Philippine army in the fight against Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group that Washington says is linked to bin Laden, whose al-Qaida network is blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States.

“United States military trainers will be helping the Philippine government and Philippine armed forces to deal with the terrorist threat they have that affects their interests, as well as ours,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview Tuesday with ABC News.

A shipment of weapons from the U.S., including automatic rifles and grenade launchers, arrived in the Philippines recently, part of a package of American military assistance.

Over the next 30 days, about 150 U.S. troops, primarily Army special forces, will arrive in the Philippines and begin accompanying Filipino forces on patrols on Basilan, a rugged, jungle-clad island that is a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf.