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U.S. Troops May Observe Philippine Companies on Patrol

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2002 – U.S. special operations forces may soon join Philippine soldiers "in the weeds" to observe and assess operations to root out Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the island nation.

Roughly 160 U.S. special operations advisers have been working with Philippine army battalions since February. Officials from both governments are now considering allowing the advisers to work with troops at the company level. This would give the Americans the chance to watch the Filipinos more closely than they've been able to at the battalion level.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a DoD spokesman, said this change has always been an option under the Terms of Reference signed by both governments to set the parameters for military collaboration. Officially, the effort is an exercise named Balikatan.

The special operations forces training Philippine soldiers are part of roughly 1,300 U.S. troops in the Philippines. Davis explained the rest are Navy engineers and their Marine security force, and aviation support.

The Seabees are working to rebuild Basilan Island in the southern Philippines, where Abu Sayyaf guerrillas have terrorized the local populace with murders, robberies and kidnappings.

Davis said the U.S. presence has improved Basilan's residents' lot tremendously. The number of guerrillas has fallen -- they've fled Basilan, he said, while construction and other civil-assistance projects have really buoyed residents' spirits.

"They've broken the vicious cycle of poverty and lack of government services," he said. "And the people are determined to keep the Abu Sayyaf out."

The American military's efforts in southern Philippines have helped restore safety and infrastructure to Basilan. "Now, aid groups and the government can come back in and provide services," Davis said.

He noted the American instructors have given the Philippine military "new skills and renewed self-confidence to give them a lasting capability to fight terrorism and prevent the Philippines from becoming a haven for other terrorist groups."

The Balikatan exercise is set to end July 31 and is not likely to be extended. "We think that that's a date that will be honored," Davis said.

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