U.S. troops or not, changes are afoot in Burnham rescue
There's some confusion over the Philippine government's willingness to allow U.S. troops to help rescue New Tribes missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham. Yesterday, Alan Bjerga of The Wichita Eagle (which is covering the Burnhams' plight almost daily) reported, "U.S. ground troops will not be invited to aid in a rescue." Reuters confirmed this, quoting a Philippine presidential spokesman, who said, "I would like to emphasize that in no way can there be (U.S.) ground troops or combat troops. Only strategy in close coordination and in communication—for instance, even suggesting how a terrain could be approached, how troops could be deployed."
But today, the Eagle's Bjerga has an article quoting Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) as saying the doors are open. "Tiahrt said he thinks the difference between advisers and ground forces in any rescue effort will be largely semantic," Bjerga writes. The congressman told him, "Political leaders and the press in the Philippines have an opposition to having the term 'U.S. troops' in the country, but the reality is, their military needs our assistance. … They want, quote-unquote, 'trainers,' but that's in a broad sense of the word. Those trainers will be well equipped, side-by-side with Philippine forces. Some of their training will be on-the-job."
Meanwhile, the Philippine military is radically restructuring its efforts to free the Burnhams and destroy the radical Muslim Abuy Sayyaf Group that is holding them hostage: the Marines are out, the Army is in. The Marines "have been given a chance to implement the rescue operations since the hostages are in their area of operation, but nothing happened," a Southern Command officer ...1