The first contingent of U.S. Special Forces soldiers has deployed in the southern Philippine island of Basilan, in what is being described as the largest counter-terrorism operation by the U.S. military since Afghanistan. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from the staging area at a military base near Zamboanga that security is tight following two bomb attacks in the region on Saturday.
With their blades blowing clouds of dust into the hot morning air, two Chinook helicopters Sunday airlifted several dozen U-S Green Berets to Basilan Island, 10 kilometers south of Zamboanga.
They are the first contingent of a group of 160 Special Forces that is to train one thousand Philippine troops trying to eliminate Abu Sayyaf guerrillas. For more than a decade, the Abu Sayyaf has terrorized inhabitants of the region.
The Americans' commander, Lt. Colonel David Maxwell, told reporters the Green Berets specialize in training soldiers in foreign settings. As a result, he expects positive results from the joint exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
"We look forward to working together with our AFP brothers and have a good exercise," said Col. Maxwell. "We expect to learn and to share information and our training. And we expect to have a very successful time here."
Special Forces officers say they will perform cross-training exercises, both teaching and learning with the Philippine rangers on Basilan.
They are also to train the Philippine troops in using new equipment, such as night vision goggles and high-technology communications gear.
The U.S. forces deployed under heavy security, one day after a grenade attack at a movie theater in Zamboanga wounded five people, and a bomb at an open-air market on neighboring Jolo Island killed one person and wounded more than fifty others.
Philippine officials say the joint exercises are to last for at least six months, despite opposition from some politicians and activists, who say the training violates the country's Constitution.