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US starts surveillance flights over Philippines
( 2002-02-21 17:51 ) (7 )

The United States has begun surveillance flights over the southern Philippines to gather intelligence against the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, The Washington Post said Thursday quoting a US defense official.

The flights are meant to complement the US military presence in the Philippines, which will grow to 660 troops in the coming months, and illustrate the archipelago's importance as a target in the next phase of the US-led war on terrorism.

The official said by April-June the information provided by the surveillance flights and the better trained and equipped Filipino troops will "jolt" the Abu Sayyaf group, which has been linked to the al-Qaeda network of terror suspect Osama bin Laden, which is on the run in Afghanistan.

At present the flights are in the early stages and are being conducted by US Navy and Air Force aircraft that do not land in the Philippines but are based in Okinawa or elsewhere in Asia, said the official, who requested anonymity.

The US military has not fully determined yet what types of surveillance aircraft to deploy, the official said.

"We're looking at various sensors on various platforms. We're still sorting it out," he said.

Other officials said it was possible the Philippines might allow the US aircraft to land and refuel at the airport in Zamboanga, on the southern island of Cebu.



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