Washington, May 20, 2003 - - The United States and the Philippines agreed 
on a new joint military effort to stamp out the Muslim Abu Sayyaf group 
"once and for all."

President George W. Bush also offered Philippine President Gloria Arroyo 30 
million dollars in new aid for training and equipping the Philippine armed 
forces, according to a joint statement issued after their talks during a 
White House state visit.

Bush had earlier publicly promised to make the Philippines a non-NATO  ally 
of the United States, clearing the way for increased US military loans, 
cut-price US military equipment and other training benefits for Manila's 
armed forces.

"The two presidents reaffirmed their commitment to destroy the Abu Sayyaf 
(ASG) group once and for all," the joint statement said.

"Toward that end, President Bush and President Arroyo agreed to hold 
another joint military activity in the near term, in which the United 
States will provide support to ongoing Armed Forces of the Philippines-led 
operations against the ASG."

US military aid to Manila rose to about 20 million dollars a year in 2002 
as US Special Forces troops deployed on the southern island of Basilan to 
train Filipino troops hunting down the Abu Sayyaf, which had kidnapped 
tourists including three Americans.
A second batch of US forces is expected in the western half of the Mindanao 
region as early as next month. But there was no detail in the joint 
statement of the rules of engagement for the US force, nor information on 
how large it would be.

A previous effort this year to launch an operation which could have seen US 
soldiers battling the rebels alongside Philippine forces foundered on a 
controversy over the rules of engagement for US personnel.

Both Washington and Manila have linked the Abu Sayyaf to the al-Qaeda 
network of Osama bin Laden .

Bush also offered the Philippine forces 20 UH-1H helicopters as "they 
become available" and said an additional 10 models would be deployed to 
ensure sufficient spare parts.

He agreed the US military would perform a comprehensive review of 
Philippine security needs and how it could help Manila's military.

Arroyo ordered a major offensive on southern Mindanao island at the weekend 
as she began her US visit, targeting Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 
guerrilla units blamed for a wave of bombings and raids that have claimed 
nearly 100 lives in the south since March.

The three day-old operation left about 70 rebels dead and displaced more 
than 2,000 families, military and relief officials said Monday.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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