AFP adopts US tactic vs terror
() - April 2, 2007 - 12:00am
Philippine troops will follow a US strategy in battling al-Qaeda-linked militants on southern Jolo island by carrying out civic projects to erode local support for the insurgents, the Armed Forces chief said yesterday.

The shift in battle strategy, which would start in about a week, would not mean a let up in military action against Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremists and Indonesian terror suspects in Jolo, or a reduction in the more than 7,000 troops pursuing them, military chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.

"We are about to shift to another kind of operations which will feature a lot of engineering, civic action and medical action programs," Esperon told ABS-CBN News Channel.

The civic projects are aimed at easing the plight of villagers displaced by clashes between troops and the insurgents in Jolo, and convincing them they are not the target of military assaults, Esperon said.

Predominantly Muslim Jolo, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Manila, is among the country’s poorest regions.

The military launched "Oplan Ultimatum" with the deployment of thousands of troops in Jolo last August, killing Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khaddafy Janjalani and his presumed successor, Abu Sulaiman, in battle victories that were praised by Washington.

Esperon told The Associated Press that humanitarian missions in Jolo’s impoverished regions where the Abu Sayyaf are most active would be carried out by Filipino soldiers not actively engaged in combat.

American troops have also undertaken similar civic work in Jolo, including road, school and hospital repairs, in an effort to win hearts in a region where stories linger of American occupation forces killing hundreds of Jolo villagers who had resisted the US presence in the early 1900s.

US troops have also provided high-tech surveillance assistance that enabled their Filipino counterparts to track Janjalani and other Abu Sayyaf commanders.

Aside from top Indonesian terror suspects Dulmatin, who goes by one name, and Umar Patek, Malaysian militant Zulkifli bin Hir is also believed to be hiding in Jolo, Esperon said.

Dulmatin and Patek are wanted by Philippine and Indonesian authorities for their alleged role in the 2002 nightclub bombings that killed 202 people on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali.

Washington last week added bin Hir, who goes by the alias "Marwan" and is suspected of plotting bomb attacks in the Philippines, on its list of most-wanted terror suspects and offered a $5 million reward for his capture.

Two Filipino security officials, however, said the Malaysian has been hiding for years in the rural strongholds of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a large rebel group engaged in peace talks with the government, in southern Maguindanao province.

The MILF has denied harboring bin Hir. – AP

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