ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ Chances of rescuing two Americans held hostage by Muslim extremists will increase during a six-month counter-terrorism training mission involving U.S. troops, the Philippine military spokesman said Friday.
Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan said sophisticated surveillance and communications equipment brought by U.S. forces could increase the mobility of Filipino troops pursuing Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.
The exercise, aimed at wiping out the Abu Sayyaf, involves 660 U.S. troops. That includes 160 from the Special Forces assigned to various Philippine combat units on Basilan island, where the guerrillas hold American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham from Wichita, Kan., and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap.
``There is a big chance that during this period ... the Burnhams would be eventually recovered and the Abu Sayyaf will be weakened,'' Adan said. ``The Americans are saying, 'Here we are. Use us ... Here is our equipment. Here are our troops. Use us.'''
Adan said the Philippine military, one of the most poorly equipped in Southeast Asia, has been relying on informants to learn about rebel movements in the jungles of Basilan. It usually takes hours before commanders are able to react.
He said that with the U.S. military's satellite-based radios and helicopters that can fly at night, ``the deficiencies of the armed forces of the Philippines in terms of tactical mobility ... can be surmounted.''
The U.S. military, however, said the helicopters will be used mainly for night ``air ambulance'' service. Its troops are armed for self-defense only.
On Thursday, Philippine television showed video footage obtained by a Western news agency of Martin Burnham reading a statement from the Abu Sayyaf. In the video, Burnham said his captors are linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.
The Abu Sayyaf is ``targeting U.S., European and citizens of other Western Nations'' because of the ``continued desecration of the island of Arabia, especially Mecca and Medina by the presence of U.S. and European troops and their business interests,'' Burnham read in the video.
He also said the rebels also wanted those nations to end their support for Israel and withdraw sanctions on Iraq and Libya.
The video reportedly was made in mid-January, but Adan said the Philippine military doubts it, believing it may have been taken sometime in October after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.