- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

The Pentagon is moving ahead in its global war against terrorism by deploying more than 600 troops in the Philippines to help that nation battle Abu Sayyaf terrorists that have been linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
The Philippines have "a terrorist network in the country that has been active, that's taken hostages, that still has some American hostages. The government of the Philippines has been addressing it, and the United States has been working with the government of the Philippines," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
He told reporters at the Pentagon that about 250 American troops are in several locations in the Philippines for "training purposes" and exercises, and that several hundred more will be dispatched.
A small number of the U.S. troops are working with Philippine forces on Basilan Island, where Muslim guerrillas have been fighting and taking foreign hostages, Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The Philippine military has deployed thousands of soldiers in the southern Sulu islands to battle Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim rebel group that has been linked in the past to al Qaeda.
The group currently is holding three captives on Basilan, among them Kansas missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham, and Philippine nurse Deborah Yap.
Three Philippine soldiers and one civilian were killed yesterday after police opened fire on a group of Philippine army rangers near the southern town of Jolo, the Associated Press reported.
The deaths followed an incident involving the deaths of 15 persons at a rally for a former Muslim regional governor jailed on sedition charges.
Mr. Rumsfeld sidestepped questions about U.S. forces taking part in combat operations against Abu Sayyaf.
"I think the important thing about what's taking place in the Philippines is that this is a global problem, that we are addressing it globally, not just in Afghanistan, and that America does have military people in the Philippines working with the Philippine government from a training and exercise standpoint to help them deal with this problem," he said.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in Manila yesterday that the role of U.S. forces will be limited to training and will not violate a ban on having foreign combat troops in the country.
The U.S. deployment has led to some protests from Muslims in the country, as well as from opposition political leaders.
"I will weather the criticisms because in the end, if we get the Abu Sayyaf, we would have been victorious," Mrs. Arroyo said.
Philippine National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said up to 650 U.S. troops will take part in the maneuvers.
The Manila government will permit U.S. troops to be armed in combat zones but they are only to fire in self-defense, he said.
Fewer than 200 U.S. soldiers will travel into combat zones, and they will form in groups of 12 to assist units of up to 400 Philippine soldiers, Mr. Golez said.
The six-month training will involve night-flying operations in helicopters, psychological operations and intelligence work.
Asked if Abu Sayyaf has been linked by the United States to the September 11 attacks, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "There is no question that there have been linkages between al Qaeda and activities that have taken place in the Philippines, and second, the United States is clearly interested in al Qaeda."
The United States also is interested in stopping terrorists other than al Qaeda, he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said that although he is reluctant to deploy U.S. forces abroad for nontraditional functions, such as peacekeeping, the war on terrorism will require worldwide deployments.
The defense secretary said that "if we have to go into 15 more countries, we ought to do it to deal with the problem of terrorism, so we don't allow this problem to damage and kill tens of thousands more people."
Mr. Rumsfeld also said numerous "helpful" intelligence reports have been provided to the Pentagon about the whereabouts of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
At any given time, there are up to 100 reports saying that fugitive leaders are in a certain location, he said.
"Lots of information is coming in," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It's all specific. Most of it's wrong, but it's all specific we still believe they're in the country. We're still working on that basis, although we are looking some other places as well from time to time."
In other developments, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. forces in Afghanistan are set to turn over about 90 detainees captured in Afghanistan to the government of Pakistan.
"We've screened the individuals and determined that they should be returned to their own government for disposition. This transfer will occur soon," Gen. Myers said.
Currently, a total of 403 al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban militia members are in custody, with 50 of the detainees held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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