TABIAWAN, Philippines (AP) -- U.S. troops arrived in the southern Philippines amid tight security Saturday. Two grenade blasts in the region warned of dangers the growing American advisory force faces in its mission to help the military wipe out a Muslim rebel group.
The 30-40 special forces troops flew in from Okinawa, Japan, on two transport planes, the second landing on a darkened runway in Zamboanga city with even the wing-tip lights off. It was unloaded with the engines running and then took off again.
The U.S. troops are joining 250 others already in Zamboanga for a six-month exercise aimed at improving the Philippine military's ability to crush the Abu Sayyaf, which U.S. officials say has ties to al-Qaida.
The guerrillas have been holding an American missionary couple from Kansas on nearby Basilan island where an advance team of special forces flew by helicopter Saturday to set up camp in a Philippine army base.
One grenade exploded at dawn on Jolo, another nearby island where an Abu Sayyaf faction has a presence, killing at least five people and injuring more than 40 near a crowded public market.
Hours later, a grenade blast ripped through a movie theater in downtown Zamboanga, the region's largest city, injuring at least five people watching "The Lord of the Rings."
The blast was about four miles from the Philippine military's Southern Command headquarters, where the American military personnel are staying. The U.S. contingent is to grow to 660 in the coming weeks.
Philippine officials said they suspected the Abu Sayyaf, but said security is adequate and would not be increased.
Military officials from both countries said the American troops, who are permitted to use their weapons only in self-defense, are prepared to handle threats from the Abu Sayyaf as they boost their Basilan presence as part of the U.S.-led global war on terror.
"We are confident with our force-protection plan," said U.S. military spokesman Sgt. Michael Farris.
Some U.S. troops, armed with assault rifles and wearing bulletproof vests and night-vision goggles, visited three towns Saturday on Basilan, accompanied by a Philippine army company trained by U.S. special forces last year as the spearhead of the operation against the Abu Sayyaf.
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