MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is allowing US drones to conduct reconnaissance flights over its territory but strikes from the unmanned planes are banned, President Benigno Aquino said Tuesday.
"For reconnaissance," Aquino told AFP in an interview when asked if US drones were operating in the southern Philippines where hundreds of American troops have been helping to contain an Islamic militant threat for a decade.
When asked whether the Philippines would allow, or had allowed, US drones to drop bombs, Aquino said that would violate a ban on the American forces from participating in combat operations.
"No drone strikes," he said.
Aquino said the US forces had been following the bilateral agreement that restricted them to training.
"They are here as advisers. They are here as trainers. They can not participate in combat operations," he said.
The US forces arrived in the southern Philippines in early 2002 as part of the US government's global "war on terror".
One key focus of their mission has been to help the Philippine military deal with the threat of the Abu Sayyaf group, a small band of Islamic militants set up in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.
The number of Abu Sayyaf fighters has dropped from roughly 2,000 a decade ago to a few hundred today, according to security analysts.
However they remain a threat in the south, capable of kidnapping locals and foreigners, as well as bomb attacks, partly due to support from members of local Muslim communities.
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