Dupe entry: In Philippines, U.S. making progress in war on terror
I think 49 Pan has been telling us this!

CAMP BAUTISTA, Philippines — Thousands of miles from the bazaars of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, U.S. military forces are quietly helping defeat terrorists in the jungles of the southern Philippines, a forgotten front in the global war on terrorism.

Working behind the scenes with a rejuvenated Philippine military, U.S. special forces have helped kill, capture or rout hundreds of Abu Sayyaf guerrillas who have links to the Islamic terror groups Jemaah Islamiyah and al-Qaeda, Philippine and U.S. military commanders say.

The Abu Sayyaf, responsible for 16 years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in the southern Philippines, has been forced to flee into the mountainous terrain here on Jolo island in the remote Sulu Archipelago.

But its numbers are dwindling and its leadership almost wiped out, says Brig. Gen. Ruperto Pabustan, commander of Philippine special forces on Jolo.

"They are on the run," Pabustan says. "They are evading our troops now, and they are short of ammunition. … We are slowly neutralizing Abu Sayyaf."

American officials agree.

"I've felt a turn in the tide," says Kristie Kenney, U.S. ambassador to the Philippines. "There are a lot of good things going on."

Backed by U.S. intelligence, equipment and training, Philippine forces have killed or captured 200 of the 400 Abu Sayyaf fighters on Jolo since they began Operation Ultimatum last August, Pabustan says. Among the dead are Abu Sayyaf leader Khadafi Janjalani, whose corpse was identified in January four months after he suffered fatal wounds in a firefight with Philippine forces. Abu Sayyaf military planner Abu Solaiman was killed by Philippine special forces Jan. 16.

"They've been kicking some butt," says U.S. Army Maj. Kevin Brown, a member of the Utah National Guard based at this Philippine military camp on Jolo. "I think they're close to breaking this thing open."

Abu Sayyaf is the most notorious of several militant groups fighting to create a fundamentalist Muslim state in the Philippines. It mutated over time into a criminal gang, engaged mostly in lucrative kidnappings. Hiding on Jolo with the Abu Sayyaf survivors are a handful — fewer than 10 — members of Jemaah Islamiyah, including two suspects in the 2002 Bali bombing, the Philippines government says.

U.S. forces have maintained a low profile in the southern Philippines since early 2002. Numbers fluctuate, but there are now about 450 — more than half of them members of the special forces.

The U.S. force is split between Jolo and Zamboanga city on the large island of Mindanao, says U.S. Air Force Maj. John Redfield, U.S. military spokesman in Zamboanga. In 2002 they helped drive Abu Sayyaf off the island of Basilan.

"The U.S. has done much better than the critics expected," says Philippines specialist Kit Collier, visiting fellow at Australian National University. "Five years ago, when U.S. troops were first sent to Basilan, many predicted 'a new Afghanistan.' Instead, the security environment there has been transformed."

The U.S. role is controversial. The Philippine constitution forbids foreign troops from establishing bases in the Philippines and, by many interpretations, bars them from combat. So U.S. forces have played a limited role in areas such as:

•Fostering goodwill among the predominantly Muslim communities by conducting medical missions, paving roads and refurbishing schools.

•Using satellite imagery and other technology to help the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) track Abu Sayyaf.

•Equipping Philippine soldiers with night-vision goggles and other gear to give them an edge on the battlefield.

•Training Philippine troops, whose efforts to subdue Abu Sayyaf had failed.

"We have provided some assistance, but the AFP is doing the heavy lifting," says U.S. Army Col. David Maxwell, commander of the U.S. military task force in the southern Philippines.

Critics say military operations and aid projects aren't enough. The Muslims of the southern Philippines — a minority in a majority Christian country — have long-standing grievances. They are among the poorest people in the Philippines. They have long been ignored by the Christian political elite in Manila. Promised development money rarely arrives.

"I don't care how many medical missions the Americans do," says Astrid Tuminez, researcher with the U.S. Institute of Peace, a government-funded organization trying to help arrange a peace deal between the Muslim separatists and the government. "Those grievances are still there."
Posted by: Sherry 2007-02-27