The Bush administration has declared Abu Sayyaf a terrorist organization. A decade ago, when the group was founded with a goal to create an Islamic state, Osama bin Laden sent a brother-in-law to coordinate with the group. He provided money and sought to arrange a merger between Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a much larger and more powerful group in the Philippines.
U.S. and Philippine intelligence officials have said the relationship never developed, and Abu Sayyaf degenerated into thugs who kidnapped for ransoms. The group kidnapped several Americans, including Martin and Gracia Burnham, missionaries from Kansas. Martin Burnham and a Filipino nurse were killed June 7 in a botched rescue by Philippine soldiers; Gracia Burnham was wounded and has since returned to the United States.
Some U.S. officials believe that in recent months, Abu Sayyaf has established connections with Jemaah Islamiyah, a radical Islamic network that seeks establishment of an Islamic state across Southeast Asia.
A military assessment team, the vanguard of the larger combat force, is expected to arrive in the Philippines in the next few days, and the full force could be conducting combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf group within a month, a Pentagon official said.
As they have for months, the U.S. Navy will continue to fly regular P-3 reconnaissance missions over the Sulu Archipelago to provide badly needed intelligence to Philippine army forces and U.S. forces. Philippine officials will ultimately be responsible for the timing and scope of operations, but U.S. officials are expected to play an influential role in those decisions.
In a sign of the importance the Pentagon is placing on the mission, the U.S. forces will be led by Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Weber, commander of the 3rd Marine Division, based at Okinawa, Japan.