Philippines: May 19, 2003


President Bush and Philippines President Arroyo agreed to a deployment of U.S. troops to help battle Muslim rebels. An unspecified number of U.S. troops would be deployed to "support" operations against Abu Sayyaf rebels in southern Philippines.

The US is also rewarding the Philippines for its support in the war on terrorism, upgrading the bilateral relationship to that of a "major non-NATO ally". This puts the Philippines on par with countries like Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Egypt.

America would provide 20 helicopters to the Philippines military, and $65 million to train and equip it to fight terrorism. The US pledged $30 million in aid for the southern island of Mindanao and support for peace talks with the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Economic aid including tariff concessions were promised, with Washington promising to work to cut costs for Filipino workers abroad to send money home.

The Filipinos are shifting their own forces. The Armys 401st Infantry Brigade were able to enter Munai in the morning, following fierce artillery bombardment and aerial assault to which MILF offered no resistance. The town, which had been under the influence of rebels, had become a center of terrorism in the region and a major source of food for MILF. The rebels have built trenches and tunnels around the town, but only some positions on the outskirts of the town had been manned when the battle started. 

The 500-strong 3rd Marine Battalion Landing Team arrived at Polloc Port in Maguindanao. They will reinforce units already fighting Moro rebels in what is left of the former rebel stronghold in Buliok Complex in Pikit, North Cotabato. The combat-savvy 3rd MBLT was deployed in Central Mindanao in 2000 during the all-out war declaration made by then President Joseph Estrada against Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The unit was later transferred to Jolo to help other military contingents running after the Abu Sayyaf. 

Two more Marine battalions from Jolo are expected to arrive within the month. The Armys 66th Infantry Battalion from Bacolod City, is also expected to arrive soon, to serve as peace keeping force in South Cotabato province. - Adam Geibel


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