American Forces Press Service

U.S. Forces to Help Philippines Fight Terrorists

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2002 -- U.S. forces are moving into the Philippines, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters today.

The movement of the troops is in response to addressing the global aspects of terrorist groups, he said. "The Philippines has a problem with terrorists and terrorism," Rumsfeld told reporters. He said the Al Qaeda terrorist network has been linked to terrorist activities that have taken place in the Philippines.

Rumsfeld, a critic of spreading the military too thin in the pre-Sept. 11 world, said U.S. forces should be prepared to combat terrorists and terror organization. "If we have to go into 15 more countries, we ought to do it to deal with the problem of terrorism so we don't allow this problem to damage and kill tens of thousands," he said.

The Abu Sayyaf group is active and has taken hostages - including two Americans. At one point, the group had as many as 2,000 adherents, said Philippine embassy officials. Abu Sayyaf allegedly is pushing to establish an Islamic Republic on islands in the southern Philippines. But, said embassy officials, past moves have cut off the group's funds. One embassy official described the group as "little more than bandits." Abu Sayyaf's main base is Basilan Island, near the island of Mindanao.

The Philippine government has thousands of troops engaged in anti-terrorism efforts. "We have between 240 and 250 American military personnel in the country," Rumsfeld said. The service members are located at many points in the country and "many hundreds" more are going in.

U.S. forces will help train Philippine soldiers and help them with logistics, intelligence and communications. U.S. troops will also participate in exercises.

The initiative grew out of meetings in Washington last November between President Bush and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. According to a joint statement, the two discussed "an integrated plan including a robust training package, equipment needed for increased mobility, a maintenance program to enhance overall capabilities, specific targeted law enforcement and counter terrorism cooperation and a new bilateral defense consultative mechanism."

Bush has pledged to work with Congress to increase the Foreign Military Financing program with the Philippines from $1.9 million to $19 million for fiscal 2002, and to continue these levels in fiscal 2003.

Rumsfeld also discussed the Al Qaeda's quest to develop weapons of mass destruction. To date, he said, he's only seen things showing the terrorists' appetite for weapons of mass destructions -- diagrams, materials, reports that things were asked for and reports of things discussed at meetings. He said he doesn't have hard evidence the terrorists actually have such weapons.

U.S. Central Command officials said troops have searched 45 of 50 suspected weapons of mass destruction facilities in Afghanistan. The results of chemical analyses of materials found in these areas are not complete and there are still some sites to explore, they said.

In Afghanistan, U.S. and coalition forces continue the hunt for Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership and pockets of resistance, said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. U.S. aircraft flew a number of sorties Jan. 15, but dropped no bombs. They remain on call to engage emerging targets, Myers said.

The chairman said 403 Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are under U.S. control in Afghanistan. An Air Force jet delivered 30 detainees today to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This brings the number of detainees at the holding facility to 80. Rumsfeld said the interrogation of the terrorists has not begun at the facility.

Myers said U.S. forces returned 90 Pakistani detainees to their own government "for disposition."