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Army Officers Set to Leave Philippines

June 15, 2002

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TIPO-TIPO, Philippines (AP) _ U.S. military engineers said Saturday they are almost done with finish infrastructure projects on a southern Philippine island where a Muslim extremist group is based, adding that there was little need to extend their stay.

Lt. Col. Brian Hearnsberger, who heads 340 Marine engineers and Navy Seabees, said he expects to finish all the infrastructure projects by early next month.

He and other officers said the projects, which include the building of roads, bridges, piers, water wells and repairing an airstrip, will benefit both the Philippine military and local residents.

Besides the engineers, about 160 U.S. Special Forces soldiers are on Basilan to train Filipino soldiers who are hunting the Abu Sayyaf. They are all part of a 1,000-strong U.S. contingent helping the Philippine military better fight extremists.

The projects are part of a six-month counterterrorism exercise involving U.S. and Filipino soldiers on the island of Basilan aimed at wiping out the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

The presence of U.S. troops has been a sensitive topic in the Philippines, which was a U.S. commonwealth from 1898 to 1946. But there have been repeated calls from Philippine lawmakers and for the troops to extend their stay beyond July 31 to ensure stability.

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