It's official - up to 1,800 Americans will enter the fight against 500 Abu Sayyaf rebels in the Philippines. The point of the United States' spear will muster about 350 US special operations personnel (mostly Army Special Forces). They will be involved in the Philippine military's offensive in the Sulu Archipelago, which is focused on the island of Jolo. The combat missions are in addition to the joint training exercises set for next week
The Special Operations folk will be supported by about 400 more US troops based in the port city of Zamboanga (730 km south of the capital). Offshore, about 1,000 Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (based onboard the USS Essex) will be available to respond on short notice. The Marines will also be have Cobra attack helicopters and AV-8B Harriers on call, as well as logistics help and medical aid.
This deployment is the culmination of months of planning and coordination between the commander of American forces in the Pacific Admiral Thomas Fargo, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and top Philippine officials, including the President.
Abu Sayyaf may not be the only rebels American forces have to keep an eye on.
Tausog "suicide bombers" told the press that they were ready to sacrifice themselves killing US troops scheduled to arrive in Jolo. According to a Muslim historian, there remains "bad blood" to this day between the Tausogs (native to Sulu) and Americans dating back to the Moro-American War (1899 to 1913).
About 100 km north of the site of joint US-Philippine counter-terrorism exercises, communist MILF rebels killed 16 people in a raid and two bombings on the 19-20th. MILF also toppled six electric towers. The Philippine military is convinced that MILF is now targeting civilians, an act of desperation on their part that the rebels deny.
On the 19th, President Arroyo said she had approved a draft peace agreement with MILF that may end 31 years of fighting. However, MILF said it would not resume the peace process that stalled in October 2001 until Philippine troops were pulled out of territory captured last week. - Adam Geibel
Philippines map, online at:
Jolo Island map, online at:
Two bombs went off outside a shopping mall in the south, wounding three civilians. The MILF is suspected.