In counterterrorism exercise, U.S. troops also learn from Filipino soldiers
Wednesday, April 24th 2002, 12:00 am
News On 6
ANULING, Philippines (AP) _ Usually they are counterterrorism teachers, but a dozen U.S. Special Forces soldiers and Navy SEALs on Wednesday became students for a day for one of the Philippine military's specialties: jungle survival training.
Their instructor, Master Sgt. Jaime Agonoy of the Philippine special forces, focused on the basics of living off the land, such as finding food: those nasty-looking monitor lizards that abound in the forests taste just like chicken.
But he also emphasized the importance of keeping a positive attitude when alone in the jungle.
``I can make it. I can survive. I can go home to my beautiful wife,'' was his mantra. ``Your body will be healthy and you can live longer and fight the enemy.''
Walking with his students outside the southern city of Zamboanga, he pointed out edible and medicinal plants, including one that could be ground up to staunch a bleeding wound. He demonstrated how to make fire from dried bamboo and how to skin and cook the lizards.
Agonoy, a 25-year Philippine army veteran and a jungle survival instructor since 1992, also showed how to make traps _ both for animals and enemies _ including one fashioned from a banana stalk festooned with bamboo spikes that falls from treetops after being triggered by a tripwire.
The Americans are part of a 660-strong U.S. military contingent involved in a six-month training exercise _ an extension of the U.S. war on terrorism _ that is focused on helping local troops wipe out the Abu Sayyaf group linked to al-Qaida.
U.S. Special Forces Sgt. David Lewton said the Americans have undergone jungle training before, but making fire from bamboo was new.
``We got a lot of helpful, useful information,'' Lewton said. ``Each environment, each country is different.''
A U.S. master sergeant who identified himself only as Kent said he learned how to make a chicken trap and that it was the first time he had seen a monitor lizard skinned.
``Many different things could happen where you could find yourself separated,'' Kent said. ``Hopefully, we'll never get in a situation where we'll need these, but it's a skill that will help if we are alone.''
About 160 Special Forces soldiers are deployed on nearby Basilan island south of Manila to train Philippine troops pursuing and occasionally clashing with the Abu Sayyaf, which has been holding an American missionary couple and a Filipino nurse for nearly 11 months.
Another 340 U.S. Marine engineers and Navy Seabees have been deployed to Basilan, some 550 miles south of Manila, for infrastructure projects.
Philippine Maj. Donato San Juan said two 15-man U.S. Special Forces teams have already undergone similar training on Basilan since the counterterrorism exercise started in January.
``This survival training is our expertise,'' he said. ``Every time they come here, they are requesting this kind of training.''