Philippine troops set up jungle camp for U.S. training forces
Sunday, January 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Philippine troops have set up a jungle camp for U.S. Special Forces who will train local soldiers in missions designed to wipe out a Muslim extremist group linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization, a military spokesman said Saturday.
The ``forward base'' is on the southern island of Basilan, where Abu Sayyaf guerrillas are holding an American couple hostage, Capt. Noel Detoyato of the military's Southern Command said in Zamboanga, across a strait from Basilan.
About 7,000 Philippine soldiers have been deployed to Basilan in a major offensive, but the 800-strong Abu Sayyaf has eluded capture for months after starting a wave of kidnappings last May.
Detoyato said it appears the guerrillas are hiding in jungle caves with their remaining hostages _ missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan., and Filipino nurse Deborah Yap _ complicating the search.
Five American soldiers met with Philippine army commanders and logistics officers Saturday at the main army camp on Basilan outside the provincial capital, Isabela. He said they did not visit the forward base.
The five are part of an advance team of about two dozen. Some 660 U.S. soldiers, including 160 U.S. Army Special Forces, are to take part in the training exercise. Most will be support and maintenance personnel.
Officials said U.S. troops will be allowed to visit the front lines to assess the equipment needs and training for Filipino soldiers. They said Filipino forces would receive training in psychological and intelligence operations as well as flying helicopters at night.
The U.S. troops cannot engage guerrillas but can defend themselves.
The military of the mostly Roman Catholic Philippines has been fighting Islamic separatists on Basilan and other Muslim-dominated southern islands for a decade.
Meanwhile Saturday, Philippine officials said a cache of explosives they seized in a southern city after arresting an Indonesian man last week was intended for bombing attacks in Singapore.
Officials said more than a ton of TNT was unearthed Thursday after authorities arrested Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi of Indonesia on suspicion that he was part of a terrorist cell intercepted recently in Singapore.
``The explosives seized from Al-Ghozi were intended for terrorist activities in Singapore,'' army chief Lt. Gen. Jaime de los Santos told a news conference where Al-Ghozi was shown to reporters. Officials said Al-Ghozi, 30, was arrested Tuesday in Manila.
Singaporean authorities suspect he is a key leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a group that also has cells in neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia, Philippine officials said. Thirteen suspected members have been arrested in Singapore, and police there say eight of them received al-Qaida training in Afghanistan.
The group allegedly planned attacks on U.S. and other foreign interests in Singapore. Authorities alleged that Al-Ghozi went to Singapore in October to help with the bombing plans.
Police found the explosives buried in the backyard of a house and arrested three men Thursday in General Santos City, about 625 miles southeast of Manila. They said they also recovered 300 detonators and 17 M-16 assault rifles.