U.S., Philippines Troops Conduct Exercises

Upcoming joint training exercises will combine military and humanitarian efforts to root out militants from the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (search), top U.S. and Philippine military commanders said Tuesday.

"We note that throughout the region, some of these organizations, such as the JI, draw their support in areas where there is a lack of security ... and they tend to take advantage of those," Adm. William Fallon, head of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told reporters in Manila.

He said the degree of U.S. support for Philippine military efforts "will, I think, go a long way to lessening any potential impact of the JI and their activities."

Fallon met with Philippine armed forces chief Gen. Efren Abu to draw up a list of this year's joint exercises and military and humanitarian projects that would help eliminate the threat of terrorism in the restive southern Philippines.

For several years, U.S. troops have been training Filipino soldiers fighting local Al Qaeda-linked groups such as the Abu Sayyaf (search) and Jemaah Islamiyah, which originated in Indonesia.

Philippine security forces have arrested several Indonesian terror suspects in the south this year, and officials say they suspect dozens of militants have graduated from their jungle training camps in recent months.

"As we all know, the JI threat is an emerging one," Abu said. "This is a problem that we will have to address squarely because the JI ... has a long-term plan to expand and we are closely watching this.

"If we will deprive them of areas for base operations, it will be difficult for them to establish a foothold here."

A counterterrorism training exercise three years ago was credited with U.S.-backed offensives that dislodged Abu Sayyaf militants from southern Basilan island. U.S. and Philippine troops take part in about 20 exercises each year.