US expands war against terrorism to Philippines Indonesia and Malaysia.

The United States and the Philippines announced they would hold a series of military exercises over the next six months on the island of Basilan in the South China Sea across from Indonesia and Malaysia and in the nearby mainland city of Zamboanga. The southern island is a stronghold of Muslim guerrillas Abu Sayyaf linked to Osama bin Laden. The Balikitan (shoulder-to-shoulder) joint exercises will mark the first time the United States has expanded its global war against terrorism outside of Afghanistan. Both countries could decide to continue the exercises until the end of 2002.
The Americans are dispatching 650 soldiers — 500 support and maintenance personnel and 150 special forces — that will help the Philippines fight the insurgents.
Washington’s real aim is to confront Abu Sayyaf, whose 5,000 ragtag fighters are mostly concentrated on the southern island of Jolo, south of Zamboanga, where the US special forces will be stationed.
But debkafile‘s military experts can report that the establishment of a small forward US special forces base in the Philippines is only the first cautious step by Washington in Southeast Asia. Additional signs point to the need for more US troops by the end of the year for operations not only in the Philippines but also in nearby countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which are home to a multitude of al-Qaeda cells and networks.
The battle against Abu Sayyaf is very problematic and underscores the complexities of the US war against terrorism in this part of the world.
The majority of the group’s fighters on Jolo are divided into three groups, each of which has different commanders and sometimes-conflicting interests. Both the United States and the Philippines lack solid intelligence information on the scale of Abu Sayyaf’s contacts with al-Qaeda.
What is clear is that some of the Abu Sayyaf groups have links with radical elements that control several South China Sea shipping lanes between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia and have firm footholds in a number of islands in the region and coastal cities.
The pirates use speedboats to hijack or rob freighters and it is very possible some are linked to al-Qaeda or belong to the terrorist group.
The United States and the Philippines will need to bring in naval forces to prevent Abu Sayyaf from using its own naval capability to island hop, elude the joint chase and resume its guerrilla war in other regions.

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