January 21, 2002
U.S. troops revisit old Philippines struggle
By OTTO KREISHER
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. special operations troops going to the
Philippines to support the anti-terrorist fight are revisiting the
scene of a vicious guerrilla struggle that inflicted thousands of
casualties and international rebuke on American forces a
Although the focus is on the small bands of bandits, remotely
linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, the U.S. troops risk
being drawn into the persistent independence struggle by the
Muslim minority in the isolated and densely jungled southern
The first special operations soldiers arrived in the Philippines
last week. Ultimately, 660 U.S. soldiers, including 160 special
forces, are to take part in training exercises for Filipino troops
chasing the elusive Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.
Although the Americans are supposed to limit their activities to
the training, they will carry their personal weapons, may
accompany the local soldiers on patrols and can shoot back in
U.S. military cargo planes brought more troops and equipment
to the southern Philippines yesterday amid growing protests
against American involvement in the government's efforts to
quash the guerrillas.
The notion of Americans killing Filipinos, even alleged
terrorists, has drawn protests from some Filipino politicians and
concern in Washington of a wider U.S. involvement and a repeat
of the bloody colonial era.
America acquired the Philippines in 1898 as part of the instant
empire it won in the Spanish-American War. Initially welcomed
as liberators, the Americans became the new enemy when
President William McKinley annexed the islands as a colony in
1899, instead of granting independence.
Emilio Aguinaldo, the charismatic leader of the rebellion against
Spain, then withdrew into the jungles with an army one historian estimated at 80,000.
During the next two years, a force of as many as 65,000 U.S.
soldiers and Marines defeated the poorly armed "insurrectos" in
every major battle, but could not suppress the rebellion.
The war involved ugly, brutal fighting and long, punishing hunts
through the jungles in crushing heat, humidity and torrential
The weather and disease inflicted as many casualties on the
Americans as the guerrillas.
The insurrectos often beheaded and mutilated U.S. troops with
foot-long bolos, or machetes. The Americans burned villages
and killed anyone suspected of supporting the guerrillas.
Military historian Robert Leckie said the sick and frustrated
soldiers killed without mercy, "frequently failing to distinguish
between soldier and civilian."
"The Filipinos were fighting the kind of war that is based on
terror; the Americans fought back just as cruelly," Leckie wrote.
One of the top Army commanders in the war was Brig. Gen.
Arthur MacArthur, father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who
liberated the islands from the Japanese in World War II.
The brutality drew protests in the United States and in Europe,
putting political heat on McKinley, who was facing re-election in
1900. McKinley responded by sending future president William
Howard Taft as governor to oversee the Army commander.
Taft tried to pacify the Filipinos with goodwill gestures and
public-works projects. But the political debate in the U.S.
elections encouraged the insurrectos. When McKinley won, the
rebellion lost steam but simmered until Aguinaldo was captured
in March 1901.
The fighting continued, however, waged mainly by the Moros --
the Muslims who dominated the southern islands, which are the
stronghold now of the Abu Sayyaf.
In September 1901, Moro fighters surprised an Army garrison
on Samar, killing 54 soldiers and wounding 13.
Army Brig. Gen. Jacob "Hell Roaring Jake" Smith, commander of
U.S. forces on Samar, ordered Marine Maj. Littleton Waller to
make the island "a place of howling wilderness . . . I wish you to burn and kill. The more you burn and kill the better it will please me."
The Marines, tough veterans of campaigns in China and
elsewhere, carried out those orders with a fury, attacking the
Moro camps, killing all who resisted, and destroying homes and
Leckie estimated 4,230 Americans were killed and hundreds
more died of disease while more than 20,000 Filipinos died in
three years of fighting.
The Muslim resistance has continued, however, half a century
after the Philippines gained its independence.