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US Sends More Troops to Philippines - 2003-01-17

American troops are preparing for another mission in the Philippines to train elite forces how to hunt terrorist groups. The southern Philippines has been plagued by violent Muslim separatists, kidnappers and suspected Southeast Asia terrorist cells.

More than 100 U.S. soldiers are arriving in the southern Philippines for next week's training exercises.

Their aim is to teach Philippine troops new skills in routing out and fighting terrorist groups. "The U.S. forces will be bringing in the new concept of training and share it with the Philippine troops," explained Ed Purificacion, the Philippines Southern Command spokesman. "This includes the light reaction companies, the battalions, and also the night flying capability of our pilots."

Philippine officials say the latest batch of U.S. military trainers would not operate near the islands of Jolo and Basilan, where Philippine troops are currently hunting down kidnapping groups linked with Muslim terrorists.

Fighting has been intense in the Southern Philippines this week against both rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf, the latter known for the kidnapping and murder of foreign tourists and on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist groups.

Southern Command Spokesman Purificacion says the most recent clash on Thursday was deadly. "A company of Philippines marines encountered around 200 Abu Sayyaf terrorists," he said. "We had three soldiers killed and six injured."

But Mr. Purificacion adds that a top Abu Sayyaf leader had been captured in Zamboanga City and was undergoing interrogations on Friday.

Last year, the United States deployed more than 1,000 troops to the Philippines as part of a six month anti-terrorism joint training exercise.