WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced the next stop in the war on terror Wednesday: the Philippines.
Some 240 or 250 U.S. military troops are in several spots throughout the island nation now, helping local forces root out an extremist group linked to Al Qaeda. And more are on the way, Rumsfeld said.
"More are going in," he told a Pentagon press conference. "They are there for training purposes. They are there for logistics purposes. They are there for an exercise with the Philippine government."
Philippine officials have said the American contingent would total about 600, including 160 U.S. Army Special Forces.
At an army camp in the southern city of Zamboanga, workers were rushing to complete training and billeting facilities for the U.S. troops.
Though many abroad have been wary of the American war on terrorism expanding beyond a single Central Asian nation, Washington is saying a broader scope will help everyone.
"I think the important thing about what's taking place in the Philippines is that this is global problem, that we are addressing it globally, not just in Afghanistan," Rumsfeld said.
The United States also has had discussions with dozens of other countries that have a problem with terrorists.
Some of those already on the ground in the Philippines are on Basilan Island, where Abu Sayyaf guerrillas are holding an American couple and a Filipina nurse hostage.
The Abu Sayyaf is holding missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham from Wichita, Kan., and Filipina nurse Deborah Yap after abducting them with scores of others in a kidnapping spree that began in May.
Several hostages, including Corona, Calif., resident Guillermo Sobero, were killed in captivity. Others escaped or were freed for ransom.
Meanwhile, President Bush will not support deploying U.S. forces to Afghanistan for the British-led peacekeeping mission, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reiterated.
"The president's view is unchanged — that America's military forces should be used for fighting and winning a war. That is their mission in Afghanistan," Fleischer said.
The United States and the Philippines are discussing whether to allow the military of one country to purchase supplies and spare parts from the military of the other, officials said Wednesday. The accord would help boost local business, they said.
The proposal is controversial because Filipino left-wing groups say associating so closely with the U.S. means the islands could be targeted by U.S. enemies. One part of the proposal would allow the United States to store in the Philippines spare parts and supplies not readily available in the country.
Rumsfeld defended his decision not to send a large number of U.S. ground troops to search for Usama bin Laden in the Tora Bora and Zawar Kili areas of eastern Afghanistan. American forces ended their search in Zawar Kili on Tuesday after airstrikes flattened all buildings in the area and sealed 50 cave entrances.
Critics have questioned the wisdom of relying on local Afghan forces to chase bin Laden's Al Qaeda fighters. Even some in the Pentagon favored sending several hundred Marines to Tora Bora in mid-December in hopes of getting bin Laden before his trail went cold.
Rumsfeld said, however, that such a move "would not have been helpful" because no U.S. force could have occupied all of Afghanistan, roughly the size of Texas.
"The larger number of Americans on the ground might very well have hastened [bin Laden's] departure, as opposed to delayed it," Rumsfeld said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.