- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday vowed support for the Philippine fight against al-Qaeda-linked militants and highlighted the U.S. military’s role in helping the country recover from deadly typhoons.

Clinton arrived on a two-day visit after devastating back-to-back storms last month killed nearly 1,000 people in the worst floods and landslides to hit the capital, Manila, and the country’s north in more than 40 years.

Hundreds of U.S. troops on counterterrorism exercises quickly responded with heavy equipment, ships and helicopters, cleaning streets clogged with debris and ferrying food to isolated villages.

“We were very pleased that we can respond quickly with our military assets,” Clinton told reporters. “Filipino and American doctors worked side by side to help thousands of flood victims. We saw our military forces working together to airlift thousands of tons of food, equipment and other vital cargo.”

During a visit to a three-story high school that was heavily damaged during floods in Manila’s Marikina city, Clinton announced an additional $5 million in U.S. aid. She spoke in front of hundreds of screaming students, some waving small U.S. and Philippine flags.

“We were severely devastated. I hope they will look at how much damage was caused,” said Kim Osorio, a senior at Malanday National High School.

She said a U.S.-Philippine military pact that allows the deployment of U.S. troops is an “important expression of our partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest.”

U.S. troops will continue to provide assistance in the Philippines, Clinton said, pointing to the Visiting Forces Agreement, a cornerstone of military alliance that has been criticized by Philippine left-wing and nationalist forces.

The Philippine Senate recently passed a nonbinding resolution calling on the government to renegotiate the agreement that allows about 600 U.S. troops to train and advise Filipino soldiers battling the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf in the country’s south.

Despite years of U.S. military training and assistance, Filipino troops have struggled to contain the militants, who have recently intensified attacks, blowing up bridges, firing mortar shells and setting off roadside bombs.

“I would just reiterate that the United States stands ready to assist our friends in the Philippines who are seeking to counter terrorism and the threat of extremism and we will be willing to support them in any way that is appropriate that they request,” Clinton said.

The 400-strong Abu Sayyaf has been suspected of getting funds and training from al-Qaeda and has been blamed for deadly bombings, beheadings and kidnappings that have victimized Americans and Filipinos. It is also suspected of sheltering militants from the larger Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, and the U.S. government has offered millions of dollars in rewards for the capture of its leaders.

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Teresa Cerojano and Oliver Teves contributed to this report.

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