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Joint U.S.-Philippine Exercise Near

April 19, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

MANILA — The United States is sending 2,700 more troops to the Philippines for a joint military exercise, nearly three months after a smaller U.S. force was dispatched for a controversial counterterrorism training mission.

The three-week joint military exercise with 2,900 Philippine soldiers begins Sunday and is intended to help the Southeast Asian nation improve its defenses and ability to participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions, the Philippine military said Thursday.

The latest batch of troops comes on the heels of a 660-strong American military contingent, which began arriving in the southern Philippines in January to train Philippine soldiers to fight against a Muslim militant group believed to be linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

The military exercise will be held on the main island of Luzon, in the north of the archipelago, far from the ongoing six-month training mission in the south, where the Abu Sayyaf group has been holding an American couple and a Philippine nurse for more than 10 months.

Pentagon officials said the latest exercise is similar in scale to others conducted in the Philippines in recent years, and was planned before Sept. 11. The 2,700 troops will withdraw after the exercise.

"This is not a counterterrorism exercise," a Pentagon spokesman said. "It is not in any way related to what's going on in the south," he said, referring to the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.

Daily protests in Manila accompanied the start of the maneuvers in the south. The Philippine Constitution limits the activities of foreign troops, but the Supreme Court struck down a legal challenge.

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