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Thursday, March 6, 2003



[ OUR OPINION ]

Limit U.S. advisory
role in Philippines


THE ISSUE

The Philippines is welcoming a U.S. military advisory role in its fight against terrorism but says ground fighting should be limited to Filipinos.


THIS week's bombing of an airport in the southern Philippines appears to be the latest atrocity in the long-running violence of Muslim extremists, but it should not prompt an attempt to revive the bungled plan to bring U.S. combat forces into that country's jungles. While no group has claimed responsibility for the blast, it may have been executed by a Muslim group that has no ties to the terrorist network involved in the Sept. 11 attack on the United States.

American forces were limited to an advisory role with the Philippine military in a six-month exercise last year and were allowed to fire only in self-defense. A more active role was described for more than 1,700 troops in a plan announced last week until it was abandoned in an embarrassing impasse following public outrage in the Philippines.

The Philippine constitution prohibits foreign troops from carrying out combat missions. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called the mission an "exercise" that would "more or less" resemble last year's mission, while Pentagon officials called it an "operation" involving combat by U.S. troops. The joint mission proceeded to evaporate.

Twenty-one people, including American Baptist missionary William P. Hyde, were killed and 148 wounded Tuesday in the bombing at an international airport in Davao City. The Philippine military has blamed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for a series of recent bombings, but a spokesman for the group has denied responsibility for the Davao airport blast.

That group, a Muslim separatist organization that numbers 12,500, should not be confused with Abu Sayyaf, a group of 250 terrorists that has been associated with al-Qaida and seems to have evolved from Islamic extremism to money-driven kidnapping. Because of those ties, which are increasingly questionable, Abu Sayyaf was the target of last year's exercise, called Balikatan, or "shoulder to shoulder," in which American troops assisted Philippine soldiers and marines.

That distinction does not contradict President Arroyo's condemnation of the airport bombing as a "brazen act of terrorism which will not go unpunished."

A White House spokesman said: "The United States will work shoulder to shoulder with the Philippine government to make certain that those responsible are brought to justice." Arroyo welcomed such help, saying fighting on the ground would be done "by our soldiers, but help on surveillance, help on hardware, help on training, providing light in night battles, all of those can be allowed."

Violence associated with a country's separatist movement does not warrant inclusion in the U.S. war against terrorism. This is particularly true in the Philippines, where renewed U.S. military presence could coalesce the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Abu Sayyaf, the 10,000-strong communist New People's Army and many Filipinos who continue to harbor resentment against Americans from colonial days.



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Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791; fbridgewater@starbulletin.com
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor 529-4768; mrovner@starbulletin.com
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762; lyoungoda@starbulletin.com

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748; mpoole@starbulletin.com

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