ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 23 Jan) – Philippine and American soldiers are to start a large-scale joint military exercises on the strife-torn island of Jolo, south of Manila, where Filipino security forces are battling members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiya.
The annual war games, dubbed as Balikatan 2007, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder,” will begin on February 18 until March 4, the U.S. Embassy said on Tuesday.
Last week, Filipino troops, guided by U.S. military intelligence, raided an Abu Sayyaf hideout on Bud Dajo (also called Mount Daho) in Jolo’s Talipao town and killed a senior militant leader, Jainal Antel Sali, Jr. alias Abu Solaiman.
Both the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya are included in the U.S. list of international terrorist organizations, blamed for the kidnappings of foreigners and spate of bombings in the Philippines and Indonesia.
The exercise will also focus on humanitarian projects in Mindanao, especially on Jolo.
U.S. Navy ship visits and a joint or combined exchange training exercise will also take place in several locations in the Philippines during Balikatan 2007.
Philippine and U.S. military officials did not how many soldiers or vessels or aircrafts would be involved in the war games. Several hundreds U.S. troops are deployed in Filipino military bases the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Sulu Archipelago and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where they advice and assist local troops in fighting terrorism.
The Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya are both in the U.S. list of international terrorist organizations, blamed for the kidnappings of foreigners and spate of bombings in the Philippines and Indonesia.
Southern Philippines military commander Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo said two Jemaah Islamiya bombers, Dulmatin and Umar Patek, are hiding in Jolo and being protected by the Abu Sayyaf, whose chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani was killed in a clash with troops in September. (Mindanao Examiner)