Pentagon looks at more troops for Philippines

Friday, May 31, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Muslim extremists holding an American couple hostage in the Philippines stand to come under increased pressure from the U.S. government.

The Pentagon is debating a recommendation by its Pacific commander to move U.S. military advisers already in the Philippines closer to the search for the couple, defense officials said Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

At the same time, the U.S. government also is offering a reward of up to $5 million for help capturing leaders of Abu Sayyaf, the group that has held Kansas missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham for a year.

"We look at that as a big boost and a big compliment to our program," Philippine national security adviser Roilo Golez said of the reward announced Wednesday.

Both moves come as the clock ticks down on the Defense Department's six-month deployment to help the Asian ally fight terrorism on its soil.

Some 1,200 Americans are scheduled to be in the Philippines until July 31 to train and advise local forces fighting Abu Sayyaf, which is loosely linked to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. The Americans include 160 military advisers, intelligence and logistical support and some 300 Navy Seabees -- engineers there to improve military infrastructure.

But since their arrival in mid-February on the rebels' southern island base of Basilan, U.S. advisers have been confined to battalion training and remain behind when Filipino troops hunt the enemy.

Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, has recommended the Green Berets begin training Filipinos at the lower company level, which would allow them to go with patrols and give on-the-spot advice as Filipino troops pursue the rebels, officials said. Some 50 to 60 additional troops might be sent, not necessarily to add to the number of advisers but to provide additional support services for forces already there.

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