Philippines Deployment: Sign of US Resolve ; Special Forces Advise Local Military in Effort to Root out Insurgents

Article excerpt

In the second overt US military deployment in the war on terror, the deployment of US special forces troops and weaponry to the Philippines is likely to help defeat the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group there, and possibly rescue American hostages.

Yet few experts see the defeat of Abu Sayyaf - with as many as 1,000 fighters - as a major prize in the war on global terror, or even the most important potential terrorist target in the Philippines.

Instead, they say Washington's decision to send troops to the Philippines marks a relatively quick, easy way to deliver a message, both to the American public and to the rest of the world, that the US military role in the anti-terror campaign will not end with Afghanistan.

"The important thing about what's taking place in the Philippines is that this is a global problem, that we are addressing it globally, not just in Afghanistan," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The deployment comes amid new, dramatic revelations of the extent of international terrorist networks in Southeast Asia - including the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia --findings that have apparently caught both local governments and US officials off guard.

"The scope of the Al Qaeda network in Southeast Asia has taken everyone completely by surprise," says Zachary Abuza, a professor at Simmons College in Boston and an expert on Southeast Asian terrorism. "No one had started to connect the dots between terrorist groups in one country and another," Mr. Abuza said in a phone interview from the Philippines, where he is interviewing military and intelligence officials for a book on the subject.

Distant cells

The threat of Southeast Asian terrorism has been underscored in recent days by the breakup in the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia of a terrorist cell - linked to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network - that was allegedly plotting to bomb Western military, government, and commercial targets in the region.

In the past decade, Al Qaeda leaders - including Mr. bin Laden's brother-in-law, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa - forged ties with several domestic insurgent groups in the region, including Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Kumpulan Mujahedeen Malaysia (KMM) in Malaysia, and the Indonesian-based regional militant group Jemaah Islamiah.

Such groups had emerged since the 1970s along with a revival of fundamentalism, political activism, and economic grievances among Southeast Asia's 300 million Muslims. …


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