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RP, US hold Joint Military Exercise
« on: October 16, 2007, 11:44:17 PM »
Agence France-Presse

About 6,500 Philippine and US troops began a joint training exercise Tuesday aimed at streamlining military cooperation between the two countries, officials said.

The annual maneuvers are to last two weeks and for the first time will this year involve ground, air and naval forces.

The exercises have "become more significant in the light of the current global and regional security concerns, foremost of which is the war against terrorism," said Philippine Marine Corps Commandant Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino.

He said the country faced with a "host of domestic threats" with communist and Islamic insurgencies plaguing the country.

Abu Sayyaf militants and members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) were also operating in parts of the southern Philippines, requiring a more concerted effort, he said.

"Great military undertaking is in progress to finish off the Abu Sayyaf group and their Jemaah Islamiyah cohorts in Basilan and the Sulu archipelago," Dolorfino said as he formally opened the exercises.

"It is only through enhanced inter-operability between our forces that we can effectively address any threat in this region," he said.

He said this year's training has been expanded to include all services of the Philippine military. Previous exercises only involved marines from both countries.

Dolorfino said the Philippine campaign against the Abu Sayyaf and JI "will pick up again this month because Ramadan is now past and we can now conduct wide-scale military operations."

The Abu Sayyaf, blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks, is believed to be shielding JI militants Dulmatin and Umar Patek in the south of the country.

Both are Indonesians and are wanted for playing key roles in JI bomb attacks that killed over 200 in Bali in 2002.

Small numbers of US special forces have been rotating in the southern Philippines in recent years.

They are not allowed to join actual combat, but have been providing intelligence data that led to the deaths of the Abu Sayyaf's top leaders over the last 12 months.

The Abu Sayyaf has inflicted heavy casualties on the Philippine military, beheading 10 of 14 Marines they killed in an ambush in July and killing another 16 Marines in a clash in August.


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