Philippine troops take lessons from Marines

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

TERNATE, Philippines -- Snipers take out the kidnappers. Minutes later, Philippine marines in rubber boats storm the beach and rescue the captives. Backed by mortar fire, more troops drop by rope from a helicopter.

The staged hostage rescue on the shores of the northern Philippines on Tuesday was a joint training maneuver with the United States -- the geography and scenario all too familiar to local troops and their U.S. counterparts.

They will soon deploy to the southern island of Jolo for a second round of counterterrorism training aimed at combating the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf.

The lessons U.S. Marines pass on to the Philippine military are seen as essential to eradicating terrorism and gangs that have harassed the south for years.

"Joint operations are key to our dominance," said the Philippine military chief, Gen. Dionisio Santiago.

The Philippine military, struggling to train personnel and cope with outdated equipment, has been fighting Muslim separatist rebels and communist guerrillas for three decades.

After Sept. 11, Washington has made the Southeast Asian nation another front in the war on terrorism. Last year, about 1,200 U.S. troops, including special forces soldiers, trained Filipinos how to better fight the Abu Sayyaf.

On Monday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo approved another round of joint training on Jolo, where scattered Abu Sayyaf factions are believed to have fled following a U.S.-backed offensive against the group on the neighboring island Basilan.

Language was a barrier at first, but obstacles were soon overcome during the demanding drills, said Pvt. Joshua Stevens, 26, of Peabody, Mass.

And, in some cases, the training went both ways.

"We were able to learn from them about ambushes and other combat experiences," Stevens said. "We were able to intermingle our two concepts."

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