PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte has urged U.S. forces in the country to leave, saying America was to blame for the unrest among Muslim militants in the region and the deaths of Muslim Filipinos during a U.S. pacification campaign in the early 1900s.
Duterte said Monday that Americans would constantly be in danger in the southern Mindanao region, where Islamic extremists would constantly try to kill or kidnap them for ransom. He did not mention any deadline or give other details.
“Those special forces in Mindanao, they have to go,” Duterte said, as quoted in the Straits Times.
“They (militants) will really kill them (Americans), they will try to kidnap them to get ransom,”
Duterte said this during a speech after swearing in a new group of officials yesterday.
Decades of sectarian violence that has left more than 120,000 dead, he said, has become “more volatile” with the presence of the U.S. in the region.
Duterte said he wanted to moot the expulsion of the U.S. troops during the recent summit, but refrained from doing so.
“I didn’t say anything… out of respect… But they (U.S. military) have to go.”
The archipelago in the southern Mindanao region is the centre of a Muslim-seccessionist conflict led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and has been a hotbed for Abu Sayyaf militants who have been carrying out kidnap-for-ransom activities, oftentimes abducting foreigners and locals as hostages to demand millions of pesos.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist organisation, would behead their captives if their ransom demands were not met.
According to the Straits Times, a special forces unit known as the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) operated in Mindanao from 2002 to last year although there were no U.S. bases there.
Originally, the JSOTF-P comprised 500 personnel but around 30 staff remain in the Philippines after operations winded down.
Apart from intelligence gathering, the task force is involved in training Philippine security forces fighting the militant groups.
The U.S. Embassy did not immediately issue any reaction to Duterte’s calls.
Duterte also criticized President Barack Obama for raising human rights concerns about his administration’s bloody crackdown on drugs when the U.S. leader, he says, has not apologized for the American atrocities against local Muslims.
Last week, Obama called off a meeting with Duterte at a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders after the Philippine leader used the phrase “son of a bitch” when warning that he would not accept lectures from Obama on human rights.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department says the Philippines has not formally requested the removal of U.S. military personnel despite Duterte’s remarks.
Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the U.S. is aware of Duterte’s comments, but is “not aware of any official communication by the Philippine government to that effect and to seek that result.”
He says the U.S. remains committed to its alliance with the Philippines.
Additional reporting from the Associated Press