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U.S. Special Forces Make Camp in Philippine Jungle

January 20, 2002|From Associated Press

Philippine troops have set up a jungle camp for U.S. Special Forces who will train local soldiers in missions designed to wipe out a Muslim extremist group linked to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network, a military spokesman said Saturday.

The "forward base" is on the southern island of Basilan, where the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas are holding an American couple hostage, said Capt. Noel Detoyato of the Philippine military.

About 7,000 Philippine soldiers have been deployed to Basilan in a major offensive, but the 800-strong Abu Sayyaf has eluded capture for months after starting a wave of kidnappings last May.

Detoyato said it appears the guerrillas are hiding in jungle caves with their remaining hostages-- missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan., and Philippine nurse Deborah Yap--complicating the search.

Five American soldiers met with Philippine army commanders and logistics officers Saturday at the main army camp on Basilan outside the provincial capital, Isabela. He said they did not visit the forward base.

The five are part of an advance team of about two dozen troops. About 660 U.S. soldiers, including 160 Special Forces, are to take part in the training exercise. Most will be support and maintenance personnel.

Officials said U.S. troops will be allowed to visit the front lines to assess the equipment needs and training for Philippine soldiers. The U.S. troops cannot engage guerrillas in combat, but they can defend themselves.

Meanwhile Saturday, Philippine officials said a cache of explosives they seized in a southern city after arresting an Indonesian man last week was intended for bombing attacks in Singapore.

Officials said more than a ton of TNT was unearthed Thursday after authorities arrested Fathur Rohman Ghozi of Indonesia on suspicion that he was part of a Jemaah Islamiah terrorist cell intercepted recently in Singapore.

Police found the explosives and arrested three men Thursday.

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