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US Studies Letting Advisors Go on Anti-Terror Patrols With Philippines Troops - 2002-05-30

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he has made no decision yet to allow U.S. military advisors to take a more active role in anti-terrorist operations in the southern Philippines.

Pentagon sources say the new commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific favors a plan to let U.S. military advisors go out on patrol with Philippine units pursuing Muslim rebels.

But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he has not yet discussed the proposal with the commander, Admiral Thomas Fargo, and he makes clear no decision has yet been made to go ahead with the idea.

"I have not decided on that," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "I am waiting for the new combatant commander in the region to make his recommendations to me. I think it is scheduled for sometime later this week or next week."

There are now a total of about 1,200 U.S. troops in the Philippines, about 160 of them actual advisors on the rebels' southern island base of Basilan.

Currently they are restricted to conducting training at the battalion or headquarters level and do not go out on actual anti-terrorist patrols.

The rebels are holding two American hostages along with a Philippine nurse.

On Wednesday, the U.S. government offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of the top five leaders of the rebel group, Abu Sayyaf. The Bush administration has linked the group to the al-Qaida terrorist network.