U.S. to Deploy Troops to Battle Militants in Philippines
Pentagon officials said that the mission, unlike previous deployments to train Filipino troops, is a combat operation.
“The Philippines have a terrorist problem and we have offered our assistance,” a senior Pentagon official told the New York Times.
Last year the United States sent some 1,300 troops to the Philippines to participate in “training” exercises. This time U.S. special operations forces will oversee or conduct jungle patrols aimed at finding and destroying Abu Sayyaf elements.
“About 350 U.S. special operations personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force will work with Philippine soldiers in the Sulu Archipelago. Another 750 Americans will provide logistics support from the headquarters in Zamboanga on Mindanao Island,” the Armed Forces Information Service reported.
U.S. officials said the special operations forces will coordinate and conduct combat patrols on Jolo Island in Sulu province, which they said is a new base of operations for Abu Sayyaf.
“Elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, based in Okinawa, Japan, and the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group will provide additional support if needed. The forces afloat bring quick reaction teams, command and control assets, aviation support and medical support to the effort,” the AFIS said.
The aviation units reportedly include Harrier fighter jets and Cobra attack helicopters.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Weber, Marine Corps commander for the Pacific, will command U.S. forces.
Pentagon officials said Philippine President Gloria Arroyo requested the help of the U.S. military in dealing with the group, which has allegedly participated in assassinations, kidnappings and attacks on military and civilian targets. The group is accused of killing an American soldier and two Filipinos in a nightclub bombing last October.
The Bush administration has accused Abu Sayyaf of having loose ties to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network and of having recently linked up with other South Asian terror groups.