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US Admiral in Vietnam to Discuss Anti-Terror Mission - 2002-02-02


The U.S. Pacific Forces commander says the United States' new military presence in the Philippines will only last for a matter of months. Admiral Dennis Blair explained the scope of the U.S. anti-terrorist mission during a five-stop tour of Asia.

U.S. Pacific Forces commander, Admiral Dennis Blair stressed Saturday that American troops who landed on the island of Mindanao last week were only there to train the Philippine Army to fight Muslim rebels with suspected links to Osama bin Laden.

Admiral Blair said it is impossible to set a timetable for the operation, but he expects it to last months, and not years.

Hundreds of American troops began training exercises Thursday with Philippine forces in intelligence gathering and technology to help fight the extremist Abu Sayyaf rebels who have kidnapped dozens of foreigners over the past several years. Washington believes Abu Sayyaf has ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

The operation is the first Southeast Asian theater in the U.S. led war against terrorism.

Admiral Blair was speaking at a briefing in Hanoi Satrurday, his third stop on a five-nation Asian tour. He previously visited Malaysia and Singapore and goes to Japan and South Korea before ending his trip.

During his visit to Hanoi, Admiral Blair met with officials of the Vietnamese government and military, nearly 30 years after Washington pulled troops out Vietnam. The U.S. backed the South Vietnamese, who were defeated by the communist North in 1975.

In a sign of the changed relationship between the two countries, Admiral Blair said it is time to look forward, not back. He invited Vietnamese military observers to the annual Cobra Gold joint military exercise in Thailand, one of the largest U.S. military exercises with Asian allies. The exercise this year will focus on anti-terrorism and peacekeeping drills.

Admiral Blair also raised the possibility that U.S. ships might one day dock at the strategic Cam Ranh Bay naval base in central Vietnam, now that Russia has given up its lease on the base.

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