U.S. troops will enter combat zones in Philippines,
By JIM GOMEZ, Associated Press
Published 8:50 a.m. PST Saturday, Feb. 2, 2002
ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) - U.S. special forces sent
to the Philippines on an antiterrorism training
mission will enter combat zones but will use their
weapons only in self-defense, their commander said
Brig. Gen. Donald Wurster also rejected comparisons
between the American war in Afghanistan and the
six-month mission in the Philippines.
"The comparisons are, I think, not terribly dramatic
other than the fact that we have an ally that wants to
destroy terrorism," Wurster told Associated Press
"We want to destroy terrorism and they've asked for
certain kinds of help. We're offering that certain
kind of help."
That help does not include combat assistance, which
was rejected by the Philippines, Wurster said.
The U.S. military is providing training and weapons to
the poorly equipped Philippine military to help
destroy the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group, which
is holding Wichita, Kan., missionaries Gracia and
Martin Burnham and Filipino nurse Deborah Yap on
nearby Basilan island. They are the last of scores of
hostages seized since May. Some, including Guillermo
Sobero of Corona, Calif., have been beheaded. Others
escaped or were freed, reportedly for large ransoms.
Abu Sayyaf has been linked to Osama bin Laden's
al-Qaida network believed to be responsible for the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Although most American troops haven't arrived yet, the
training exercise started Thursday.
Potentially, about 160 U.S. special forces could be
among the 660-strong American contingent accompanying
Filipino troops to war zones on Basilan, where the
rugged jungles in the southern Philippines have seen
frequent bloody clashes with the rebels.
Many Filipinos, exasperated with their military's
failure to crush the Abu Sayyaf, have welcomed the
But left-wing groups and many intellectuals
traditionally wary of Washington have opposed it with
small, rowdy protests at the U.S. Embassy and the
presidential palace in Manila.
Late Saturday, about 200 supporters of the leftist New
Patriotic Alliance marched with torches to the
embassy, chanting, "U.S. imperialist - No. 1
terrorist!" The protesters dispersed peacefully.
Some question whether the exercise could violate
Philippine constitutional limits on the presence and
activities of foreign troops. President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo, whose economic development plans in
the impoverished south have been stymied by
law-and-order problems, maintains the exercise is
allowed under a bilateral 1999 agreement.
Wurster said it was important for U.S. soldiers to
observe their counterparts in combat, and for both
sides to cooperate on intelligence work to support
"I would not understate the fact that there are going
to be American forces that are accompanying Philippine
commanders and their units into dangerous places,"
"It's inherent in any military man's frame of
reference that the right to defend oneself is assumed.
I don't think that should be a point of debate."
Wurster also acknowledged that "there are many people
who would like to hurt us here." On Wednesday, a U.S.
Air Force plane sustained light damage when it was hit
by gunfire during a training exercise in the northern
No one was injured and the source of the small arms
fire has not been determined, Philippine Air Force
A communist rebel spokesman denied Saturday that
guerrillas fired at the plane. The Communist Party of
the Philippines opposes the joint maneuvers.
Wurster said U.S. planes no longer would fly over that
Despite the risks, Wurster emphasized the need to
immediately end the Abu Sayyaf threat in Basilan
because "a small number of terrorists hold the entire
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