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 told The Inquirer newspaper. But Marine officers are frustrated by the move, saying they're very close to a rescue. One of the units going in is a Philippine Army group trained by the U.S. Delta Force. Will this change of strategy help or delay rescue efforts? Who knows? First, President Gloria Arroyo promised to rescue the Burnhams by Christmas. Now she's promising "complete and total annihilation" of the Abu Sayyaf within the next three months.

Suspect found in Detroit church vandalism case, but it's bad news
King of Kings Lutheran Church in Shelby Township, Michigan, has had a bad last few months. At the end of October, someone broke in and stole computer equipment, then ran around setting off fire extinguishers. Two weeks later, someone broke in again and poured paint and communion wine on the pews, the altar, walls, and computer equipment. The damage topped $50,000. "We're looking at somebody who has a connection in the church, maybe a family member of a parishioner … [but] we're kind of at a loss," Lt. Roland Woelkers told the Detroit News back in November. Turns out he was right. Wednesday, the pastor's 17-year-old son allegedly confessed to the crime, along with another teen. At the time, the son was living with his mother, who is divorced from King of Kings pastor Louis Fourney. "Obviously, to do this kind of extent of vandalism, there's a lot of deep-seated issues there between the pastor and his son, but it's not our job to get into that," Woelkers says.

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