US TROOPS INSPECT MINDANAO TRAINING SITES

A Philippine Army scout ranger aims his sniper rifle during a training exercise in the southern Basilan island. Some 300 US troops are expected to arrive in the southern Philippines in February to train hundreds of Philippine soldiers in the southern Philippines in February to train hundreds of Philippine soldiers. Zamboanga City, Jan. 25, 2003 (Story and photo by Al Jacinto, PHNO Mindanao Bureau) - An advance team of US military soldiers has inspected training facilities in the southern Philippines in preparation for the arrival of some 300 special forces' members, a US security official said Saturday.

Capt. Steve Wollman, of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, said the team, composed of 12 special forces soldiers, have inspected training sites in the village of San Ramon.

"They have visited and inspected many training sites and they are now working closely with their Philippine counterparts in preparation for the arrival of American trainors," Wollman told reporters in Zamboanga City.

US military commander Brig. Gen. Donald Wurster earlier said last week that some 300 American special forces are arriving in Zamboanga City to train at least 16 Light Infantry Battalions and four Light Reaction Companies, an elite unit specialized in hunting down terror groups.

Wollman said the US military team, from the Army's First Special Forces, arrived Jan. 18 from Okinawa, Japan. "They are the advance party of the trainors and part of the five special forces team that are due to arrive here next month," Wollman said.

Security has been tightened in Zamboanga City to protect the US trainors against threats of attacks by the Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebels, the commander of the military's Southern Command Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya said.

"We have tightened security to protect the US soldiers against threats of attacks by the Abu Sayyaf. The threats remain there as in the past Balikatan exercise. There will be forced protection and we will deploy our soldiers to protect the US and Philippine troops involved in the training," Abaya said.

Abu Sayyaf guerrillas have killed one US soldier, participating in a joint antiterror training, in October last year after detonating a powerful bomb outside a bar in Malagutay village here, near the Philippine Army base where the training would be held. Two other Filipinos were killed in the attack and a second US soldier who were among the 23 people wounded in the blast, died several days later.

Abaya said the training would involved the US Army, Marines and Air Force and their Philippine counterparts. "It would be held in batches and most of the soldiers will be out in the jungle for the actual training," he said.

He said the American soldiers would stay away from Jolo and Basilan islands, where Philippine troops are hunting down Abu Sayyaf rebels, whose group has been linked by the United States to Al Qaeda network.

Last year, US forces trained Filipino soldiers in Basilan island and assisted and advised local military commanders in hunting down the Abu Sayyaf. US Special Forces also trained a light reaction company of the Philippine Army, now being used against the Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan and Jolo, both traditional strongholds of Muslim rebels.


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