Philippines: February 18, 2003


: President Arroyo gave the go-ahead for joint Philippine-US military exercises in Sulu, a group of islands where remnants of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf group are believed to be hiding. US Special Forces, part of a group of 300 trainers, will arrive in Zamboanga City to train four Philippine Army light reaction companies, a unit specialized in antiterrorism, and 14 light infantry battalions. The USMC's 3rd Marine Expeditionary Unit at Ternate were already training Filipino troops in hostage rescue tactics (while learning jungle ambush lessons in return). However, the Philippine military has contradicted earlier US reports and said it would not allow US forces to fight alongside with Filipino troops against the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group on the southern island of Jolo. 

The upper portion of the MILF stronghold in Maguindanao could be the Philippine military's next target in its bid to totally crush the Muslim rebels, but the recent victories against MILF units had apparently been executed by regular infantry and marine battalions. Earlier in the month, the Armed Forces of the Philippines had put five battalions on alert (two from the military's rapid deployment force "Task Force Arrowhead" and one each from three major service commands: Army, Air Force and Navy) in anticipation of "possible" terrorist attacks from Islamic extremists.

The units that were operation against MILF have done an excellent job. Government troops mopping up around Pikit on the 16th seized boxes of documents from the house of a Muslim separatist leader, including manuals on assassination, ambush and bombing techniques. The retreating MILF rebels attacked a military post and wounded four marines. About 51,000 people had fled their homes during the fighting. - Adam Geibel

Fighting with the MILF  has left six rebels, four civilians and seven soldiers. 


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