SHAFAQNA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday called for the withdrawal of U.S. special forces troops from a group of islands in the southern Philippines, saying their presence could complicate offensives against terrorist militants notorious for beheading Westerners.
Duterte, who was in the spotlight last week over a televised tirade against the United States and President Barack Obama, said the Americans still in Mindanao were high-value targets for the ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf militants as counter-insurgency operations intensify.
“They have to go,” Duterte said in a speech during an oath-taking ceremony for new officials. “I do not want a rift with America. But they have to go.”
He added: “Americans, they will really kill them, they will try to kidnap them to get ransom.”
he US dispatched some 1,200 special forces to Mindanao in 2002 for what it called training and advising Philippine military units fighting local militants.
The program was discontinued in 2015, but a number of US soldiers remain there.
Abu Sayyaf, quite well-known for its kidnappings, beheadings and deadly bombings, was founded in 1991 in Basilan, a southern island, with a pledge to wage a war against the government.
The Takfiri group, now a Daesh affiliate, lost major commanders at the beginning of its fight and was gradually split into factions with a few hundred militants. The militant outfit continues to survive on ransom and extortion.