ZAMBOANGA CITY ? The US military has lost a total of 11 soldiers since it joined the anti-terror campaign in the southern Philippines in 2002, US and Philippine military officials said Friday during a memorial for the fallen soldiers.
On the other hand, the Philippine military has so far lost 572 men in the campaign, which has led to the fall of high-profile leaders of the Abu Sayyaf and operatives of the Jemaah Islamiyah.
But Lieutenant Colonel Tracy Saiki, public affairs officer of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, clarified that the US soldiers did not die in actual combat operations.
He said that in 2002, seven US military personnel died in a Chinook helicopter crash in Zamboanguita in Dumaguete City while transporting equipment from Basilan. Two US soldiers died in an explosion in Malagutay village here in October 2002 while two more died in a similar incident in Indanan, Sulu, last year.
On Friday, US and Filipino soldiers honored their fallen comrades during a memorial service for ?Operation Enduring Freedom.?
?These soldiers had committed to bringing peace and development,? said Lieutenant General Ben Dolorfino, Western Mindanao Command chief.
There was consolation though in the losses.
?They have been part of the success that we have gained today in combating terrorism,? he said. ?These fallen soldiers dedicated their lives to make our country free from terror.?
He admitted, however, that despite the deaths of top Abu Sayyaf leaders, the battle against terror was not over.
Based on latest military information, a number of Abu Sayyaf factions continue to operate in Sulu and Basilan.
The group is said to be coddling operatives of the JI, including the elusive Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
Saiki said another good thing that developed amid the losses was that both the US and Philippine military learned ?so many lessons.?
?We became smarter in the way we engage with lawless elements, our strategies improved,? he said.