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U.S. Combat Force of 1,700 Is Headed to the Philippines

The United States will send more than 1,700 troops to the Philippines in the next few weeks to fight Muslim extremists in the southern part of the country, opening a new front in the campaign against terrorism, Pentagon officials said today. The first troops are to be deployed within days. Unlike a six-month mission last year that involved 1,300 American troops, it will not limit United States forces to an advisory role allowing them to fire only in self-defense, military officials said. The operation will last as long as necessary “to disrupt and destroy” the estimated 250 members of the extremist group Abu Sayyaf, one official said. It steps up the battle against terrorism as the United States prepares for possible war with Iraq and continues to hunt Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Under the new plan, about 750 ground troops, including 350 in the Special Operations forces, will conduct or support combat patrols in the jungles of Sulu Province. About 1,000 marines, armed with Cobra attack helicopters and Harrier AV-8B attack planes, will stand ready aboard two ships offshore to act as a quick-response force, and provide logistics and medical support. Full Story

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