The United States has formally ended a six-month anti-terrorism training exercise in the southern Philippines aimed at wiping out the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf rebels. Military leaders are hailing the effort a success.
U.S. and Philippine military officials have declared that their six-month joint training mission has crippled the Muslim separatist group, Abu Sayyaf.
At a closing ceremony in the southern city of Zamboanga Wednesday, the Commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Thomas Fargo, praised the exercise as a "job well done." He said the Abu Sayyaf are now "on the run" and its senior leadership "being eliminated."
Philippine Armed Forces Chief, Lieutenant General Roy Cimatu, says his troops are now better equipped and prepared to fight terrorists.
The exercise, the largest deployment of U.S. troops after Afghanistan, started in February as part of Washington's assistance to the Philippines in the war against terror.
Some 1,000 U.S. Special Forces troops trained Philippine soldiers on the use of high technology intelligence systems and anti-terrorism tactics. While U.S. military engineers helped in public work projects to alleviate poverty in the south, which both Washington and Manila say can breed insurgency movements.
U.S. officials say the Abu Sayyaf has links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.
The Abu Sayyaf claims to be fighting for a separate Islamic state in the predominantly Christian Philippines. But in recent years, the group has been notorious for its kidnap-for-ransom activities and violent executions.
Until June, the Abu Sayyaf held two Americans and a Philippine nurse captive. An American woman was rescued, while the two others were killed during the operation.
As the deployment ended Wednesday, some opposition lawmakers and nationalist groups again protested against U.S. troop presence saying it violates the country's sovereignty.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dismissed their concerns.
"We shall uphold the constitutional rights of our people with the full force of a strong republic," she said. " But let me serve warning, we shall not relent in the fight against terrorists."
President Arroyo has said she wants more training exercises with the United States. Military cooperation is expected to be high on the agenda during talks between Ms. Arroyo and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell later this week. Another joint exercise, aimed at improving the Philippine Air Force, is slated to kick off in October.