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U.S. sending 'anti-terror team' to Manila

MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- The Philippine government says the United States is sending a "sizeable" military delegation to Manila as part of efforts to crack down on militant groups linked to terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden.

Philippine National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said the U.S. delegation, numbering more than a dozen, will provide training and equipment to Philippine troops in their operations against the Abu Sayyaf group.

Golez said the task of the American troops shows "heightened cooperation between the Philippines and the United States".

However, he stressed that this cooperation is limited to providing Philippine troops with special equipment to fight the Abu Sayyaf, as well as training and sharing of intelligence information.

Golez refused to say how long the U.S. troops would stay in Manila.

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This is not the first time the United States has sent security agents to the Philippines.

Last year, FBI agents were sent to the Philippines to investigate the abduction of American hostage Jeffrey Schilling.

Schilling, a Muslim convert, was detained by the Abu Sayyaf after he reportedly volunteered to enter the group's hideout.

He was eventually rescued by Philippine troops during a military operation against the group.

No participation

Golez also rejected speculation that American troops would participate in a military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf, or that United States is looking at the Southern Philippines, the base of the Abu Sayyaf, for future military action.

"There is no possibility that the Americans will be conducting military action, using their own troops. This is impossible under the Philippine constitution," Golez said.

He added that as part of stepped up security against extremist attacks, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has approved the posting of air marshals on domestic commercial flights.

The United States has listed the Abu Sayyaf as among foreign groups supporting bin Laden, whom it blames for the September 11 air attacks on New York and Washington.

The Abu Sayyaf is the smallest and most extremist of a number of militant groups fighting for an independent Islamic state in the Southern Philippines.

The group was founded by Ustadz Abdurajack Janjalani who fought as a mujahideen in Afghanistan and is believed to have close links with Bin Laden.

The group gained international notoriety for a series of tourist kidnappings demanding millions of dollars in ransom in return.

At present, the group is still holding American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and 16 Filipinos in the jungles of the southern island of Basilan.

The Burnhams were kidnapped last May 27 along with another American Guillermo Sobero and 17 Filipinos from a resort on the island of Palawan, south of Manila.

The group claimed in July to have beheaded Sobero but that report has not been confirmed.


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