MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Robert Gates crammed his scheduled two-day visit to the Philippines into a four-hour tour that included a meeting with the nation’s defense minister, a briefing on U.S. counterterrorism training and support of Filipino forces, and a stop to pay respects to the more than 17,000 World War II troops buried at the American military cemetery.

Aircraft difficulties forced Gates’ condensed schedule, but it was time enough for Gates to confirm reports that the region’s primary threat, North Korea, had transported a long-range missile approximately one week after conducting an underground nuclear test explosion.

“We have seen some signs that they may be doing something with another Taepodong-2 missile, but it’s not clear what they are going to do,” he said.

The missile, capable of reaching Alaska, reportedly has reached a new launch site near the border with China.

Gates said in Singapore over the weekend that the U.S. and other members of the six-party talks on North Korea needed to begin considering other defensive options, should those talks fail to dissuade Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

On Monday, he would only say he wanted to take a “wait-and-see” approach to the high-level U.S. delegation on its way to Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, and Moscow — the capitals of the four other party nations.

Gates is the first American secretary of defense to visit the Philippines in 10 years, and the first Obama administration cabinet official to come here.

Gates met with Gilberto Teodoro, Jr., the Philippines secretary of national defense, and discussed U.S. assistance and support for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and broader regional security issues, Gates said before visiting with Philippines troops.

The Pentagon considers its operations here a model of successful counterterrorism training and partnership with local forces.

The U.S. arrived in 2002 because terrorists associated with the September 11 attacks and Bali bombings, including Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf, were centrally located in the southern Philippines’ Sulu Archipelago and the large island of Mindanao.

“They were able to set up safe havens and terrorist camps down there,” said Col. Bill Coultrup, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force–Philippines.

Roughly 600 U.S. troops are stationed at Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine army headquarters. Their work is done largely out of the media spotlight. But seven years out, where fighters and funding once flowed directly from Afghanistan, those connections — and the number of terrorist acts — have declined.

Philippines forces are carrying out counterterrorism operations on their own, Coultrup said, often with minimal U.S. guidance or support.

This year, the U.S. military is working closer with the U.S. Agency for International Development to revitalize largely ungoverned trouble spots of Mindanao, some of which have been neglected for more than 100 years, through military-civilian humanitarian projects that seek to improve security and living standards.

“I help the Filipino military target enemy sanctuaries down there,” said Coultrup. “We use our projects to help shrink down those sanctuaries.”

A new road, he said, allows travel to and from isolated communities and provides intelligence about terrorist groups in the area.

Additionally, in central Mindanao, Coultrup said, “There were a lot of problems earlier in the year between some of the, what we call, lawless MILF elements,” referring to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but a peace deal allowed them to surrender.

Defense officials said the Philippines experience was “a very good model for counterinsurgency,” but cautioned against making direct comparisons to operations in other countries. When asked if those lessons could be applied to Pakistan, Gates said building partnerships and capacity around the world would be “one of the fundamental tenets of American foreign policy under the Obama administration, as well as the Department of Defense itself.”

“We will move with these varying countries at a pace that is comfortable to them,” he said.

The Philippines stop was overdue, Gates noted, given the decade since the last visit from a Pentagon chief and more than 20 years since Gates himself was here.

“Frankly, it’s been too long on both counts,” he said.

Gates made the Asia trip in part, his aides have said, because he wants to build better personal contacts with defense leaders of foreign nations.

The secretary’s first stop here was to lay a wreath at the Manila American Military Cemetery and Memorial, where 17,206 troops from the U.S. and 11 allied nations who were killed in World War II are interred in sloping circles of white crosses and Stars of David. More than 3,700 of them are marked “Unknown.”

It is the largest American military cemetery outside the United States, and etched into its circular walls are the names of 36,285 additional troops believed missing or unaccounted from the Pacific theater.

On one wall above the secretary, as he placed a remembrance wreath, the memorial read: “Let us here highly resolve that the cause for which they died shall live.”

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