Philippine hostage rescue result of 'chance encounter'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. advisers helped plan a Philippine military operation that found an American couple being held hostage by Muslim guerrillas, but Friday's rescue attempt came after a "chance encounter," Pentagon officials said Friday.
The raid left one American, Kansas missionary Martin Burnham, and Filipina nurse Deborah Yap dead. Burnham's wife, Gracia, was wounded but survived. (Full story)
The Burnhams had been held hostage by the rebel group Abu Sayyaf -- which has been linked to al Qaeda -- for more than a year. For the last several months, U.S. Special Forces have joined Filipino patrols in the jungles of Basilan, an island in the southern Phillipines, in a joint mission aimed at wiping out the hostage takers as part of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
American special operations troops have been in the island country to "assist and help train the Philippine armed forces to fight the Abu Sayyaf group," Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday. "That task ... is still in force."
Pentagon officials described "Operation Daybreak" as a Philippine effort, underway for about a week, to hunt down a group of Abu Sayyaf rebels believed to be hiding in the jungles of the Zamboanga peninsula. An official told CNN the U.S. military help planned "Operation Daybreak" and provided "technical assistance," but that no U.S. troops were involved in the overall operation -- or Friday's rescue effort.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Philippine army scout ranger units attacked about 50 Abu Sayyaf fighters about 2:30 p.m. Friday local time (2:30 a.m. EDT). Boucher said Philippine military sources reported up to seven Philippine soldiers were wounded and four rebels were killed.
"President Arroyo, a staunch ally in the global war onterrorism, has expressed an unwavering determination to bring to justice and destroy the Abu Sayyaf terrorists," said Boucher, adding the rebels would be held criminally responsible for the deaths of the hostages.
--CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.
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