US Special Forces in the PI


Note: SF soldiers from the 1st SFG(A) and the 19th SFG(A) have been in the PI supporting COIN operations for some time. (T_W)

Govt increases security for US forces in Jolo, PI

The Philippines tightened security on Monday around US forces building a road and a school in Jolo island after clashes broke out with Islamic rebels nearby in which six guerrillas were killed.

Brig. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu, commander of the Army Scout Rangers, said 13 soldiers were wounded in Sunday's clash with Abu Sayyaf rebels near Indanan town on Jolo island.

At the time, Philippine and US military engineers were building a road and a school-house, part of the annual "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games, in Indanan.

"We have to go on, the project must not be affected," Maj. John Redfield, spokesman of the US Joint Special Operations Task Force, told reporters in the southern city of Zamboanga, adding the clashes were near US troops building a road.

Brig. Gen. Ruperto Pabustan, the commander of elite Philippine army units on Jolo, said the fighting in Indanan posed no immediate threat to US military engineers, doctors, dentists and nurses deployed there.

But more troops had been sent to guard them, as a precaution, and to prevent the clashes from spilling out to other areas, he said.

Washington is spending $300,000 in humanitarian assistance during the two-week military exercise to help Manila combat the Islamic militants, who have suspected links to al Qaeda and the regional Jemaah Islamiyah network.

About 100 US Special Forces are deployed on Jolo to help train and provide intelligence to about 7,000 Philippine troops fighting the Abu Sayyaf.

In the latest clash, troops chased the Abu Sayyaf militants into a village controlled by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), who provided them shelter, the military said.

The moderate MNLF signed a peace deal with the Manila government in 1996, but the former rebels were allowed to keep their weapons in their recognised communities.

"They ran to the MNLF area and the MNLF aided them," said Mapagu, adding the fighting lasted for about 90 minutes before the combined group of Abu Sayyaf and MNLF withdrew deeper into forested areas.

The Abu Sayyaf has often sought refuge in MNLF areas when chased because they believe security forces will not attack the communities of former rebels because of the 1996 peace agreement.

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