Monday, December 17, 2012

U.S. Special Forces Moving Closer to Sayyaf Lairs,

June 6, 2002, The Philippine Star, US special forces moving closer to Sayyaf lairs, by Roel Pareño,

ZAMBOANGA City — American troops dispatched to Basilan for training and to assist Filipino soldiers in combating the Abu Sayyaf are ready to be deployed "anytime" to areas closer to the bandits’ camps, a US military official said yesterday.

The Filipino soldiers stationed in Basilan said they are ready to go, hand in hand with their Green Beret advisers.

Army 103rd Brigade commander Col. Alexander Aleo said his men are ready to secure the 160 US Special Forces personnel against possible attacks by the Abu Sayyaf when they move down to the company level, the second phase of the Balikatan 02-1 exercises.

Aleo added that both the US and Filipino troops are waiting for the official order to begin operations from their superiors: "We are prepared anytime. Our counterpart(s) are also prepared to move out from the battalion level. So far, there is no official order yet that would mobilize us."

Insiders from the Balikatan directorate, however, said the delay in troop deployment at lower levels was caused by lack of funds.

Bringing the Balikatan exercise to the next level involves giving them a better appreciation and knowledge of the area used by the Abu Sayyaf as a home base for several years.

President Arroyo said in a radio interview that there are certain items in the Balikatan terms of reference that have not yet been put into practice. The President added that joint training exercises should go down to the tactical level to be more effective.

The US troops have been restricted to the battalion level since their deployment and have stayed behind whenever soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are sent out on patrol missions.

The existing terms of reference for Balikatan 02-1 are specific in barring US soldiers from engaging the bandits or other rebel groups in combat. However, the American soldiers are allowed to return fire if they are attacked while training.

The 160 Green Berets are part of the 1,200 contingent of American soldiers. These Green Berets were limited to battalion-level activities since they were deployed in Basilan and had not joined the smaller units of Filipino soldiers conducting combat missions against the Abu Sayyaf.

The bandits are still holding American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham and Filipino nurse Deborah Yap. The three hostages have been in captivity for over one year now and have been reportedly split up among smaller clusters of their Abu Sayyaf captors.

The residents of Lamitan town have also sent out a petition for the extended stay of US troops on the island. Lamitan was the site of a violent skirmish between the Abu Sayyaf and the military last year that resulted in the deaths of two soldiers and the near-destruction of the town’s parish church.

But despite the Lamitan petition signed by Catholic priest Cirilo Nacorda and his parishioners, another Church-based group said the Balikatan 02-1 has not helped diminish the threat posed by the Abu Sayyaf.

The Church group Cry Out Now! challenged the President to uphold Philippine sovereignty and decisively end the threat posed by the Abu Sayyaf without depending on US intervention.

"There are no significant results as far as the Abu Sayyaf problem is concerned, despite the training and sophisticated war materiel," Fr. Allan Arcebuche, Cry Out Now! convenor said.

Arcebuche accused the President of deceiving the public, adding that the move to extend the stay of US troops was orchestrated to make it possible for the US to "set up a forward base in the Philippines."

He added that "the growing US military presence (in the Philippines) is likely to escalate the armed conflict in the country."

Another anti-Balikatan group, US Troops Out Now! (Out Now!) concurred with Arcebuche's statement. Out Now! convenor retired Navy Capt. Danilo Vizmanos, said: "Having been given an arm, now the US wants the entire body. He said the visit of US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to urge Mrs. Arroyo to approve the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) will provide the US military with the legal mantle to justify all its overt and covert operations in the country in the guise of fighting terrorism."

Vizmanos, a former AFP Inspector General, 
added that the MLSA is a "thinly disguised access and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA) previously exposed and rejected as contrary to the historic 1991 decision to remove US military bases in the country."

AFP welcomes MLSA

But with outdated military equipment and hardware of World War II vintage still in use, the AFP has welcomed Wolfowitz’s proposal for the forging of the MLSA.

According to AFP spokesman Eduardo Purificacion, the US proposal will greatly improve the capability of the AFP in terms of communications, mobility and actual combat operations.

"If it will improve the capability of the AFP, why not? It is welcomed as long as our government will approve it," he said.

While Wolfowitz may have mentioned the proposed MLSA to the President, he has yet to officially transmit the proposal to the Philippine government.

Under the proposed MLSA, the US will put up storage facilities here and provide the AFP with surplus military hardware in exchange for assistance and logistical support for US troops.

"We are (conducting) our modernization program... and if the US wants to improve it some more with their high-tech equipment, I think that’s a welcome gesture... but it needs to be approved by our political leaders," Purificacion said.

Presidential Spokesman Silvestre Afable said Malacañang welcomes reports the US government is considering several options after the Balikatan exercises end on July 31.

Afable said the options before the US government are the following: extending Balikatan 02-1 under the present arrangement, extending the training in Basilan only, extending Balikatan 02-1 in other parts of the country, and opening new, bilateral counter-terrorism training exercises.

Afable added that the MLSA is "important to our strategic relationship with the United States and important to our national security," but said certain issues on the implementation of the MLSA will have to be resolved at the proper channels.

Sayyaf leader's son brought to Manila

After he tried, but failed, to convince his arresting officers that he was insane, 17-year-old Akmad Japilon, Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Japilon's son, was brought by lawmen to the Philippine National Police (PNP) detention center in Taguig to join the 50 other Abu Sayyaf detainees there.

The younger Japilon will be arraigned on charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention, along with the other Abu Sayyaf bandits jailed there.

The young Japilon was captured by the police at an Abu Sayyaf safehouse in the slums of Rhio Hondo in Zamboanga City early last month. In an effort to escape punishment, the young Japilon pretended to be deranged and was locked up in the Zamboanga Medical Center's mental ward.

However, hospital authorities said the presence of the young Japilon there triggered fear and anxiety among the hospital's medical staff and patients. It was also reported that the young bandit was visited by armed men.

Isnilon Japilon is the third-highest ranking Abu Sayyaf commander in Basilan and is one of five Abu Sayyaf leaders who carries a bounty of $5 million on his head for the kidnapping of the Burnham couple and Yap. The Philippine government has also put a separate P1-million bounty on the elder Japilon's head. — With Jaime Laude, Paolo Romero, Romel Bagares, Pia Lee-Brago, Marichu Villanueva, Sandy Araneta

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