Top U.S. military officer General Richard Myers has visited the Philippines' Basilan Island, where 1,000 American troops are aiding Philippine forces in an anti-terrorism operation.
The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff was accompanied to Basilan by Philippine military southern commander Chief Lieutenant General Roy Cimatu for a security briefing with American forces.
Saturday, General Myers warned that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network is scouting for new bases of operations, possibly in Southeast Asia. Regional intelligence officials say al-Qaida has extended ties to radical Muslim groups in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.
U.S. Navy Commander in the Philippines John Fleming says the more than 3,000 American troops in the country are there only to assist the Philippine military. "We are here to assist and advise our Philippine counterparts against the global war on terrorism," explained Commander Fleming. "Our mission here is simply to train and advise our Armed Forces of the Philippine counterparts."
Commander Fleming said General Myers briefed U.S. troops in Basilan and had a look around the island, "getting what I would call an overview of the operation, and getting a personal look at the terrain, the geography, and the forces here in the field. He also wanted to meet his counterparts with the Armed Forces of the Philippines," he added.
Several Muslim separatist groups are operating in the southern Philippines. The most brutal, the Abu Sayyaf group which Washington has linked to al-Qaida, has been holding an American missionary couple and a Philippine nurse hostage for nearly a year.
The Abu Sayyaf has earned millions of dollars during the past two-years by kidnapping foreigners and Philippine residents and holding them for ransom. The remaining hostages are believed to be held on Basilan island.