- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

American soldiers in the Philippines can engage in combat if they come under attack, the Philippines ambassador said after four members of the U.S. Special Forces entered a combat zone yesterday.
U.S. troops assisting the Philippines against the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf movement are armed but under orders not to engage in combat. But if they are attacked, "they are expected to take up arms in self-defense," Ambassador Albert Del Rosario said.
Mr. Del Rosario was responding to a news report that four Green Berets had tried to rescue two Filipino soldiers who were wounded in combat yesterday on Basilan, a jungle island 620 miles south of Manila.
The report said the Americans were unable to advance because of hostile fire and the wounded soldiers were rescued later by their Filipino colleagues.
"I think it takes a case-by-case basis," Mr. Del Rosario said. "If my information is correct, their presence [in the combat zone] was with the intention of executing a humanitarian action to help wounded Filipino soldiers."
The United States has sent 660 troops to train 3,800 Philippine soldiers on Basilan.
The training includes jungle warfare, air and night exercises and physical and psychological tactics. This phase of the joint campaign began in February and was to last six months. More joint campaigns are expected to follow depending on the outcome of the current phase, Mr. Del Rosario said at a Heritage Foundation panel discussion yesterday.
The ambassador said American soldiers would not be involved in direct combat against Filipino citizens and that such action would violate his country's constitution.
No permanent U.S. military base is planned in the Philippines, Mr. Del Rosario said, but 160 Special Forces troops are on the ground and 1,700 more are due to arrive next month.
"It is urgent for us to silence the guns of violence," Mr. Del Rosario said of the guerrillas, who are holding hostage an American missionary couple from Kansas and a Filipino nurse. Ransom paid to free other hostages financed more terrorist activities, Mr. Rosario said.
The U.S. government is providing soldiers and increasing military assistance to the Philippines from $2 million in 2001 to $20 million in 2002.
The problem is not only fighting terrorism, but deterring people from getting involved at all, Mr. Del Rosario said.
To this end, the United States has provided $55 million of financial assistance to the poor and largely illiterate region of Basilan. The U.S. Agency for International Development is providing training to former rebel fighters on how to produce high-quality corn crops and set up farming cooperatives, Mr. Del Rosario said.
"Poverty is the breeding ground of terrorism," Mr. Del Rosario said. He does not believe Abu Sayyaf is a Muslim group, but uses Islam "to explain their criminal behavior."
Mr. Del Rosario said there was no truth to a Manila Times report that China and North Korea were funding Filipino terrorists.


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