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U.S. Troops Training in Philippines

March 4, 2002

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ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ U.S. troops training Philippine soldiers in counter-terrorism in the southern Philippines will increase night flying exercises in coming days using helicopters, a U.S. military spokeswoman said Monday.

An MH-47E Chinook helicopter has arrived in the Philippines to replace one that crashed Feb. 22 in deep waters north of Zamboanga city, killing all 10 people aboard, Maj. Cynthia Teramae said.

The three Chinooks now in the country, all belonging to a special operations company based in Taegu, South Korea, will move to an air force base in Zamboanga from their temporary base on Mactan island in the central Philippines.

The joint Philippines-U.S. Balikatan or ``shoulder to shoulder,″ exercise, with 660 U.S. troops, including 160 from the special forces, is aimed at wiping out the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group.

The special forces soldiers, armed only for self-defense, have been deployed to Basilan island close to Zamboanga to observe Filipino troops fighting Abu Sayyaf guerrillas who hold an American couple and a Filipino nurse hostage.

The three Chinooks, mainly to transport cargo and troops, would add to three Pave Hawk helicopters, another version of the popular Army Blackhawks, already in Zamboanga.

The redeployment of the Chinooks followed construction of three helicopter pads at Zamboanga’s Edwin Andrews Air Base, Teramae said.

About 60 U.S. soldiers in Cebu would redeploy to this southern port city with the helicopters, she said.

The U.S. Army Chinook helicopter that crashed was one of two returning to Mactan after delivering equipment and U.S. special forces troops to Basilan.

Teramae said the helicopters will provide ``night air ambulance″ service between Zamboanga and Basilan.

``There has been several training exercises and they are going to continue this week in practicing the air medevac operations,″ she said. ``They have to get the timing down and they have to do it over and over again to ensure that they know the route.″

Lt. Col. Danilo Servando, spokesman for the Philippine military’s Southern Command, said the force build up and the integration phase``of the training exercise are finished and the two sides are now planning actual training.

Meanwhile, the Southern Command reported one soldier was injured in a clash with about 15 Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in Tuburan town in Basilan on Saturday. The wounded soldier was treated by U.S. medics at an army hospital. There were undetermined rebel casualties, the report said.

The same day, soldiers captured an alleged Abu Sayyaf subcommander, Sonny Ping, in Lamitan town.

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