MANILA, Philippines -- US forces will provide guerrilla-style combat training to Filipino soldiers battling Muslim and communist insurgents and Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah militants, officials said yesterday.
The antiterrorist maneuvers from July 26 to Aug. 14 will bring US special forces trainers to Carmen in North Cotabato province, a new southern training ground for the Americans. Muslim separatists and Marxist rebels are active in the region, military officials said.
Two years ago, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, one of Washington's closest Asian allies, allowed American troops to arm and train Filipino soldiers battling Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist guerrillas in southern Zamboanga city and nearby Basilan island.
Defense Undersecretary Edgardo Batenga said the counterterrorism training in Carmen, 560 miles south of Manila, would be attended by more than 150 Filipino soldiers and more than 20 of their American counterparts and would be confined to military camps and areas. The Americans will not engage in any combat operations, military officials said.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main Muslim separatist group holding peace talks with the government, operates in North Cotabato and will be notified of the maneuvers, to avoid accidental encounters, Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.
Batenga said North Cotabato was chosen to expose the participants to a region where military operations are taking place.
Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said his group, which has a camp with about 1,000 armed guerrillas in a town near the area of the US training, had no problem with the military maneuvers, as long as the MILF is not attacked.
''As long as they do not touch us, nobody should fear anything," he said.
Kabalu said that if the Americans look for foreign extremists, they would not find anyone, because the guerrillas don't give refuge to terrorists.
Small units of Filipino soldiers will be taught unconventional warfare tactics, night combat movement, sniping, and surveillance techniques, said Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lucero, a military spokesman.
The Philippine military will decide later where to deploy the US-trained soldiers, but they would probably go into areas where Abu Sayyaf and communist rebels are active and where suspected foreign militants are believed to be secretly training with Jemaah Islamiyah, Lucero said.
A separate group of American troops will provide counterterrorism training and undertake civic projects with about 800 Filipino troops in a program called Bayanihan, or ''lending hands," in southern Zamboanga city from July to December, Lucero said.
During a visit to Zamboanga last week, Admiral Thomas Fargo, US Pacific commander, expressed concern over the presence of Jemaah Islamiyah militants in the country's south. Philippine defense officials suspect that up to 40 Jemaah Islamiyah militants are hiding in the southern Philippines. The Al Qaeda-linked group has been blamed for terrorismin Southeast Asia, including blasts that killed 202 people in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002.