Despite a series of local victories by US-trained counter-terrorism troops across the Philippines, the Pacific Rim country continues to be plagued by three antigovernment rebel groups. The United States acknowledged those threats with the promise of $78 million in military aid during 2003, which includes $20 million to finance the purchase of American-made weapons and services. The Filipinos would also get $21 million worth of secondhand US military weapons and equipment, along with $2.4 million in grants for military education and training.
On 14 January, 29 New People's Army (NPA) voluntarily surrendered to the army on the island of Mindoro south of Manila. About 1,047 NPA rebels had been arrested as of December 2002.
On the 13th, the 18th Scout Ranger Company and the 26th Special Forces Company clashed with several dozen Abu Sayyaf members on Jolo Island. The exact count could not be confirmed beyond one dead rebel, although the army suspected there were more. However, one soldier was killed and eight others wounded in the firefight.
Philippine Army troops were also returning 1,000 civilians forced to flee their village on 11 January, after driving away over 700 Muslim rebels and their criminal allies. At least 20 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels and "Pentagon" kidnapping-gang members were killed in Filipino air and ground assaults during the 72-hour long battle at Polomolok (in the mountainous Sultan Kudarat province). The troops also discovered an abandoned rebel training camp near the village, with an obstacle course, trenches, food and medical supplies. The military's figures had been based on intercepted radio messages, since the rebels bury their dead at once (which makes an actual physical count impossible).
The rebels denied that any of their troops were killed and that only three were wounded. They counter-claimed that three soldiers were killed and 14 others (including 11 from pro-government militiamen) were wounded in the clashes.
The Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines is due to start another series of classes soon. The latest group of American advisors and trainers will be mostly be posted to a jungle camp on the outskirts of Zamboanga City and will stay clear of nearby rebel strongholds on Basilan and Sulu islands. - Adam Geibel