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Rumsfeld Talks Philippines Mission, Middle East Peacekeeping at Lewis

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2002 – DoD doesn't anticipate hiking current levels of U.S. military support to the Philippines as part of efforts to suppress terrorists, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today at Fort Lewis, Wash.

The secretary also told reporters there are no current plans to send U.S. troops to the Middle East to act as peacekeepers, "although, as we all know, it's something that gets discussed from time to time."

At Fort Lewis to observe soldiers training with the new Stryker multiwheeled, light-armored vehicle, Rumsfeld told reporters "we have no current plans to expand" military assistance to the Philippines.

For months now the United States has been working with Philippine authorities and providing military training and other support in efforts to uproot the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyef terrorists there.

Rumsfeld noted Philippine authorities had "requested and we've agreed to provide some joint training, where our forces are there working with them with respect to things like intelligence and logistics and communications." Anti- terrorist operations in the Philippines are going well, he said.

Rumsfeld said it's important to keep up pressure on terrorists in places like Yemen, the Philippines and, especially, Afghanistan, "so people can go about their business and that country isn't turned into a terrorist- training site and a deployment site again."

Rumsfeld noted that the United States has been putting in some construction folks in the Philippines to help build roads and other needed civil-works projects needed from the Philippine army's standpoint.

He said the U.S. military has personnel in Yemen providing training and assistance in port and airfield management. In addition, "a relatively small number" of military trainers are in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Rumsfeld said.

The Georgians have a problem in the Pankisi gorge area, near Chechnya, he said, so the trainers will be helping in "relatively small numbers and for a relatively short period of time."

The defense secretary said the Oct. 1 establishment of U.S. Northern Command will enable a unity of focus on homeland security and improve military support capabilities to that mission. NORTHCOM will be a new unified combatant command, part of recently announced Unified Command Plan changes.

In any homeland defense contingency, the U.S. military currently serves in a supporting role to the civilian first responders, Rumsfeld said, and that will continue. First responders include the states, local governments, the FBI, and local police forces and firefighters.

NORTHCOM, he noted, will also have NORAD and the air defense mission. "It will have the area out 500 miles outside the shores of our country; and it will also include the border areas," he continued.

Rumsfeld doubted the individual citizen would notice the new organization "unless there were a very serious crisis." Then, he said, "we would very likely be able to respond more rapidly, more skillfully, and in a manner that is better connected to the state and local governments."

The National Guard, too, is available to be called up by state governors" in time of national emergency, Rumsfeld remarked. "If there were a ... movement of water or sanitation issues or quarantine issues," he added, "obviously, the defense establishment has experience in doing those kinds of things."

Asked by reporters on the whereabouts of fugitive al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Rumsfeld said searchers continue looking for him. "I suspect, if he's alive, we'll find him, eventually," he said. "There are other people who can operate that al Qaeda network around the world. We're putting pressure on them, as well, and we intend to keep it up."

Regarding al Qaeda and other global terror networks "what we need to do is to freeze their finances, make it difficult for them to move between countries, make it difficult for them to recruit and retain people and create an environment that's inhospitable for countries that like to provide haven or sanctuary to terrorists," Rumsfeld said.

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