Wed, Jan 18, 2006 - Page 5 News List

US and Philippine soldiers begin joint military drills

AP , CARMEN, PHILIPPINES

About 300 US and Philippine soldiers began their annual war games in the southern Philippines yesterday, part of counterterrorism training that has helped Filipino troops hone their skills in the fight against al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Military officials said about 30 US and 250 Filipino soldiers are taking part in small unit tactics, rifle markmanship, combat lifesaver training and field training exercises within the Philippine army's Camp Lucero in Carmen town, about 900km southeast of Manila.

US soldiers based in Fort Louis, Washington, also will go on medical missions to local communities as they focus on winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim population in areas where the al-Qaeda-linked groups Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah are active.

Meanwhile, the US embassy yesterday formally rejected Manila's request to hand them over, invoking a bilateral agreement that grants it custody of the suspects during legal proceedings.

The case has stirred emotions and has prompted calls for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement that allows US troops to train in the Philippines.

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