Philippines: June 8, 2002


The Manila Times reported on 7 June that US Special Forces in Basilan took a big step toward a possible direct encounter with Abu Sayyaf terrorists by joining Philippine soldiers in conducting hot spot checkpoints on the 6th. Basilan Governor Wahab Akbar's office confirmed that American soldiers had gone with troops of the 32nd Infantry Battalion to the dangerous areas between Lamitan and Tipo-tipo towns. 

However, provincial information officer Chris Puno insisted that, the checkpoints are manned by Filipinos only. Around 160 US Special Forces are in Basilan as advisers in the ongoing Balikatan 02-01 joint military exercises which end on July 3l. The US and Philippine governments may extend the Special Forces' operation.

The Philippine military will form two special 90-man rapid-response companies to take over from US Special Forces in dealing with terrorists and other armed threats on Basilan. The two air-mobile ``strike forces'' would undergo crash combat courses over the next few weeks at a camp in nearby Zamboanga city. These new units would be separate from two Philippine Army Light Reaction Companies trained and equipped by US forces last year. 

The operation carried out against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Zamboanga del Norte on the afternoon of the 7th was planned by government forces with the aim of rescuing kidnapped American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham. Sadly, only Gracia Burnham was rescueed by the military as Martin and another hostage, Filipino nurse Ebidorah Yap, were killed in the encounter in Siraway town. 

The Fillipino's US-trained Light Reaction Company has secretly fanned out throughout the area of coconut groves and farms over the last few days, after solid indications that at least one of the Burnhams was held near there.

Meanwhile, Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya is "possibly" with the terrorist group now in a running gunbattle with government forces in Siraway, Zamboanga del Norte. Six Scout Rangers were wounded but there were "no reports" of any government soldiers KIA, while four Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed. 

The Abu Sayyef terror group is estimated to currently have less than 100 effectives left on Basilan, but they have become more publicly cocky after surviving four months of being hunted by reinvigorated Filippino troops backed by US satellite technology, night-vision equipment and spy planes.

Meanwhile, American engineers cutting roads into the island's jungles that support troop movement will also allow farmers to better get their crops to market. - Adam Geibel

In the south, six MILF rebels were killed in a clash with the army.


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