ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) - The head of U.S. forces in the
southern Philippines says the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf has been
pushed out of Basilan, a jungle island that has been one of the
extremist group's main bases.
American forces worked with Philippine soldiers on Basilan as
part of a six-month counterterrorism exercise that ends Wednesday.
A year ago, Philippine officials estimated Abu Sayyaf had about
1,200 followers on the island and 140 more scattered on other
"I think that if they go back to Basilan, they are going back
to a different place," Brig. Gen. Donald Wurster said in an
exclusive interview Tuesday with Associated Press Television News.
Wurster said the Philippine military has been bolstered by the
six-month training exercise.
Of Abu Sayyaf, he said: "With what is in the future for them, I
think they ought to take up another line of work because they are
going to have an unlucky day and it's going to be the end of them
and the world will be better for it."
The extremist group "has not begun to feel the potential that
the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is growing into," said
the commander of more than 1,000 U.S. troops in the southern
Abu Sayyaf is believed to have seized 102 hostages, including
three Americans, in a yearlong kidnapping spree that ended last
month. That's when U.S.-trained soldiers, helped by U.S.
surveillance and communications, tracked down Abu Sayyaf fighters
holding the last three hostages: American missionaries Gracia and
Martin Burnham and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap.
On June 7, soldiers rescued Mrs. Burnham, but her husband and
Yap were killed. The Abu Sayyaf leader who led the kidnappings was
believed killed with two of his men in a clash at sea two weeks
The mission in the Philippines was the first expansion of the
U.S. war on terrorism outside Afghanistan. It involved American
soldiers training Filipino troops in marksmanship, leadership,
special operations, intelligence, communications and survival
The operation involved deployment of U.S. troops in a combat
zone and lasted much longer than normal joint maneuvers. Limited to
shooting in self-defense, the Americans' sole clash came when a
Marine security detail came under fire from suspected guerrillas
last month. There were no U.S. casualties, although 10 Americans
were killed in a helicopter crash early in the exercise.
Philippine Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Teodosio, co-director of the
exercise, said the Filipino soldiers emerged as "a better fighting
"More than the technical expertise that we have gained ... is
the renewed resolve and fighting commitment of our men because of
the improvement in their confidence as provided by the training,"