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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February, 2004, 06:34 GMT
US troops in Philippines exercise
By John McLean
BBC correspondent in Manila

US troops training Philippine soldiers
The drill is codenamed Balikatan, which means shoulder-to-shoulder
The armed forces in the Philippines have begun two weeks of exercises with visiting US troops.

Philippine officers say about 5,000 troops, half of them American, are taking part in these exercises.

The officers say the manoeuvres are meant to train their forces to fight a conventional threat.

The exercises are taking place in the north and west of the country - far from the southern hideouts of armed Muslim rebels.

Two years ago, the exercises took place, in part, on the southern island of Basilan, where Philippine forces were fighting the Abu Sayyaf group, which once had links with al-Qaeda.

The Americans made it clear that they regarded these manoeuvres as part of their war on terror.

The following year, the exercises were meant to be held, in part, in another Abu Sayyaf stronghold.

But the Americans gave the impression that their forces would be going into combat - and the law here prohibits foreign troops from fighting on Philippine territory.

In the end, last year's exercises never took place.

The lack of emphasis on counter-terrorism in this year's training reflects, in part, the government's contention that the Abu Sayyaf is defeated.

It also reflects the government's acceptance that allowing troops from the former colonial power too near the battlefield would offend Philippine nationalist sentiment.

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