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U.S. military officials in the Philippines on Thursday rejected an activist group’s claims that U.S. troops may have violated the Philippine constitution by engaging in combat operations in the country’s Muslim-dominated south.

“While U.S. forces advise, assist and share information that track terrorists and prevent acts of terror, we do not have an active role in combat operations,” Maj. John Redfield, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines spokesman, stated in a written response.

U.S. forces have helped with the pursuit of terrorists but they “do not engage in direct combat actions,” Redfield said.

Redfield congratulated the country’s military after an Armed Forces of the Philippines announcement this week that Abu Sulaiman, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group, was killed in an operation Tuesday on the remote southern island of Jolo. He said the operation was conducted by the AFP.

The Associated Press reported that the U.S. troops and military advisers in the southern Philippines provided training and intelligence for the four-month-long offensive to capture Sulaiman, and that the United States had offered up to $5 million for Sulaiman’s capture or killing.

The few hundred U.S. military members assigned to the special operations task force in the southern Philippines are there to assist and advise Philippine forces, sharing information with them “in the effort to bring peace and prosperity” to the region, Redfield said.

Working closely with the Philippine military, U.S. troops are involved in a robust program of civil-military projects, such as building roads and schools and digging wells, Redfield said, adding that they also hold one-day civic-action programs.

“We also conduct subject-matter-expertise exchanges that hone the military skills of both the AFP and U.S. forces,” he said.

In a 40-page report released last week, Focus on the Global South author Herbert Docena stated that “U.S. troops may not only be waging war within the Philippines, they may also have established a new form of U.S. bases in the country,” according to a report description found on the activist group’s Web site:

The report cites U.S. military writings, doctrines and eyewitness accounts to back its claim. It calls for an independent investigation to determine whether activities such as operating military equipment and defusing land mines could be considered combat activities that violated the Philippine constitution.

U.S. troops are banned from joining Philippine troops on combat patrols or operations but they can fire back if attacked, according to Philippine government officials.

The Philippine government allowed U.S. troops to deploy to the southern Mindanao region in 2002, about a year after Abu Sayyaf members kidnapped three Americans and 17 Filipinos from a resort. One of the Americans, Guillermo Sobero, was beheaded; another, missionary Martin Burnham, was killed during a military rescue operation the following year.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Matt Lussenhop said that visiting U.S. troops do live and work at Philippine military installations but also told the Associated Press earlier in the week that U.S. soldiers “have no direct role in combat operations. Any combat operations are 100 percent Filipino.”

He also said Americans use only temporary facilities and camps.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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