The U.S. will disband an anti-terror task force set up in the southern Philippines over ten years ago that was designed to assist Filipino authorities in fighting armed groups like Abu Sayyaf, a militant group seeking to establish an Islamic theocracy in the country.
U.S. and Filipino authorities made the announcement on Thursday. Here’s more from the Associated Press:
…Special forces from the U.S. Pacific Command, possibly in smaller numbers, will remain after the deactivation of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P), to ensure al-Qaida offshoots such as Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah do not regain lost ground, according to U.S. and Philippine officials.
The move marks a new chapter in the long-running battle against an al-Qaida-inspired movement in the southern Philippines, viewed by the U.S. as a key front in the global effort to keep terrorists at bay.
Hundreds of elite American troops were sent to the southern Philippines a year after the September 11 attacks to form the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines and assist “ill-equipped” Filipino forces fighting Abu Sayyaf militants.
U.S. Embassy Press Attache Kurt Hoyer told the AP that the longstanding collaboration with Philippine security forces has crippled the terrorist groups in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. He added that the U.S. military officials are working with Filipino authorities to initiate a transition plan that will ensure that “violent extremist organizations don't regain a foothold in the southern Philippines."
But even with the U.S. presence, the New York Times reports that violence has remained consistently high in the southern Philippines in recent years, according to data from Pacific Strategies and Assessments—a risk consultancy firm that provides reports on terrorist activities in the country.
“Latest government intelligence estimates place the Abu Sayyaf Group strength at 400 armed militants,” the report said. “The group has been surprisingly resilient and able to sustain this number over the past decade despite the death and capture of over a hundred of its leaders and members in past years.”