Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Philippines & USA To Hold War Games In A Bastion Of Al Qaeda Lnked Rebels

Philippine and United States soldiers will hold war games this month in the southwestern province of Sulu, a bastion of Al Qaeda-linked rebels blamed for the Southeast Asian nation’s worst terror attack, military officials said. US forces routinely train and advise Philippine units, and conduct road-building and other humanitarian projects, as part of efforts with Washington’s closest ally in the region to defeat four Muslim militant groups and develop poor southern provinces.
The exercises in Sulu, a string of islands thick with jungle, “will happen in the next couple of weeks”, said Colonel James Linder, the American chief of a task force on joint operations. Linder declined to specify the size of the US contingent but said it would be made up largely of engineers, doctors and instruction crews. “No live fire will go on,” he said. Sulu was the scene of bloody fighting between islanders and US colonial forces in the early 1900s, but American soldiers have received a warmer welcome in recent years during regular humanitarian missions.
Some 5,000 Philippine soldiers were sent to Sulu’s main island of Jolo last year to hunt for members of Abu Sayyaf, the smallest group of Muslim radicals in the mainly Roman Catholic country with about 400 fighters.
Abu Sayyaf, suspected of close ties with and its regional arm al QaedaJemaah Islamiah, is blamed for killing more than 100 people near Manila in February 2004 with a bomb on a ferry and a series of deadly blasts last year in the capital and the south. Lieutenant-General Edilberto Adan, chief of the Philippine military’s southern command, said he had already been informed by the defence department about this month’s exercises designed to target Abu Sayyaf on its home ground.