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U.S. Involvement in Philippines Might Extend Past July 31 Deadline

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2002 -- U.S. special operations troops' current mission of training Philippine military forces ends July 31, but further U.S. involvement under different parameters is likely after that, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today.

The secretary's announcement to reporters reverses what defense officials have been saying in recent weeks.

Roughly 160 U.S. special operations advisers have been working with Philippine army battalions since February. Officials from both governments were considering allowing the advisers to work with troops at the company level. This would have given the Americans a chance to see the Filipinos in action more closely than before. Now, Rumsfeld said, this may happen in "Phase 2," sometime after July 31.

He said the mission would likely transition to "a security assistance and counterterrorism program" in cooperation with the Philippine government and armed forces. Rumsfeld stopped short of saying U.S. forces would patrol with Philippine squads, as has been suggested by media outlets.

"It depends how you describe it," he said. "In training and exercising, you end up being around -- and if that's a patrol, it's a patrol. And if it's not, it's not. I don't know quite how the government of the Philippines wants to characterize it."

He described future military cooperation with the Philippines as similar to what has already been going on, but at a lower command level.

The secretary explained that U.S. military forces have been helping the southern Philippines in other ways as well.

"Navy Seabees and Marine engineers are helping restore a climate of safety and security in some of the stricken areas," Rumsfeld said. "On Basilan Island, the numbers of Abu Sayyaf terrorists, we are told, has been reduced fairly significantly. And displaced persons are returning to their homes in a more secure environment."

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