MANILA, Philippines – After more than a decade of helping fight Al-Qaeda-linked militants, an American military counterterrorism unit in southern Philippines is being phased out, the Pentagon’s Pacific command said Thursday.
US military established the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines a year after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack to help train and advise the Philippines in its fight against rebel groups linked to Al Qaeda. The unit was one of dozens worldwide that tried to fight potential terrorist groups, before they could strike the United States. American Special Forces will continue to help the Philippine security forces combat a smaller, lingering Islamist threat, but the size of the mission will deplete in upcoming months to a dozen or so advisers from its current 320 service members, based in Southern Mindanao.
“Our partnership with the Philippine security forces has been successful in drastically reducing the capabilities of domestic and transnational terrorist groups in the Philippines — to the point where they have largely devolved into disorganized groups resorting to criminal undertakings to sustain their activities,”US Embassy Press Attache Kurt Hoyer said in a written response to questions sent by The Associated Press.
Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office Chief said “From the 500 troops staying in Camp Navarro, around 200 will remain under Colonel Eric Brown of the US Army and would answer to the US Special Operations Command Pacific.”
According to the New York Times, the decline of the force, which had as many as 600 troops in 2009, exhibits a combination of budget pressures in Washington; higher priorities for Special Forces in spots like Iraq; and a successful shift to Filipino forces that have largely defeated militant groups like Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Moreover, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said “Philippine officials have been notified U.S. move and expressed confidence that Filipino forces could deal with any lingering threat from Muslim extremists in the south.”
In addition, Col. David S. Maxwell, a retired Special Forces officer expressed that Philippine military have matured and evolved.
-Kathryn A. Orbigozo