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Philippines gets U.S. aid to fight extremists

©Associated Press
December 21, 2001

MANILA, Philippines -- The U.S. Army on Thursday gave hundreds of weapons, including sniper rifles, mortars and grenade launchers, to the Philippine military for use against a Muslim extremist group linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The arms are part of a military assistance package promised by President Bush when Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited Washington in October.

"Our troops need this very badly," said Philippine army spokesman Lt. Col. Jose Mabanta Jr. "We expect more in the coming months."

Mabanta said the arms are meant to "reciprocate" Arroyo's condemnation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and "our government's role in leading the war against terrorism in Southeast Asia."

The Philippine government is fighting the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf, which is holding American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan., and a Filipino nurse, hostage on southern Basilan island. The group is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations and has been linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

At the handover at Philippine army headquarters, U.S. envoy John Caulfield said the arms and equipment were only a "small part" of the U.S. military aid package.

"Our nations have stood together in the past and we stand together in the new millennium," Caulfield said. "We are now in an era of cooperation in the global war against terrorism."

A C-130 transport plane arrived last month along with 16,000 pounds of military hardware. The Philippine military had only one operational C-130 aircraft, which was used to transport troops and for disaster relief.

Philippine defense officials said U.S. military hardware to come includes a Cyclone-class patrol boat, 100 army trucks and about eight Huey helicopters, as well as funds to upgrade their poorly equipped army.

Along with the hardware, U.S. forces will train a local special forces unit called the Light Reaction Company in Zamboanga City near Basilan. The first such unit trained by U.S. experts already has seen action on Basilan and is believed to be at the spearhead of the operation to rescue the U.S. and Filipino hostages.

Yemen searches for members of al-Qaida

ABYAN, Yemen -- Yemen buried 18 soldiers killed pursuing suspected Osama bin Laden operatives as teams went house-to-house Thursday looking for al-Qaida members, government and tribal officials said.

Searchers backed by U.S.-trained special forces were in villages in Marib, Shabwa and al-Jawf provinces, security officials in Marib said. Tribal elders said no suspects had been captured.

Defense Minister Abdullah Ali Eleiwa and senior Interior Ministry officials were in the region directing the search for suspected members of bin Laden's al-Qaida network, the security officials said. Ministry officials could not be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, Yemeni special forces moved on several villages in the al-Halsun region of Marib with tanks, helicopters and artillery after the Abida tribe refused to turn over five suspects.

Sixteen members of the Abida tribe, including five children and four women, were killed in addition to the 18 soldiers.

Yemen's sweep appeared to be the most serious military operation yet by an Arab country against al-Qaida.

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