Someone obviously forgot to tell the Pentagon that they are supposed to be too distracted by the run-up to the war on Iraq to do anything else.
Plans call for U.S. military assessment teams to begin arriving on the island of Jolo in the southern Sulu Archipelago "within days," the spokesman said, with the rest of the American force likely to follow in about a month. The U.S. contingent will consist of about 350 Special Operations forces in the Sulu area and about 400 support personnel in Zamboanga on the island of Mindanao, where the Philippine military maintains a regional headquarters.
In addition, two U.S. amphibious assault ships with 1,300 sailors and 1,000 Marines armed with Cobra attack helicopters and Harrier AV-8B planes will sail from Japan to the waters around Jolo to provide aviation support, logistical assistance and medical help and also serve as a "quick reaction" back-up force.
The Filipino government is billing this as a training mission. But they will be training where the Abu Sayyaf are most active. Also, its obvious the Cobra helicopters and Harriers are not being sent there for training.
The Abu Sayyaf group are considered to act as terrorists.
"The Philippines have a terrorist problem, and we have offered our assistance," a senior Pentagon official said. "Over time, that assistance takes different shapes and forms. The Philippines have invited us to expand our role with them."
The current governor of Sulu province is obviously a Muslim but a portion of the Filipino Muslim population has long opposed rule by non-Muslim governments.
Interviewed over the phone, Sulu Gov Yusof Jikiri, who just arrived from pilgrimage in Mecca, said, "he was not consulted in the holding of the Balikatan exercise in Sulu." But Jikiri said he would talk to his local leaders about it. He expressed hope that the exercise would bring development to the province.
The United States first started fighting Muslim rebels in the Philippines about a century ago.
Update: The Filipino government officially continues to deny a direct combat role for US troops while US officials off-the-record say US troops will directly engage Abu Sayyaf fighters.
...the American and Philippine governments agreed to place U.S. troops alongside Philippine soldiers in direct combat, defense officials said Thursday. They spoke on condition of anonymity.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2003 February 20 07:27 PM Military War, Rumours Of War|