Duterte Says U.S. Special Forces in Philippines ‘Have to Go’
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday called for the withdrawal of U.S. military from the restive Jolo and Basilan islands, marking his latest in a string of statements distancing the Filipino government from Washington.
“These special forces, 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.”
Duterte, who was in the spotlight last week over his televised tirade against U.S. imperialism and President Barack Obama, said that the U.S. special forces now training Filipino troops were high-value targets for the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf as counter-insurgency operations intensify.
“Americans, they will really kill them, they will try to kidnap them to get ransom,” Duterte added.
Duterte, a former southern mayor known for his bombastic style, said he wants an independent foreign policy has frequently accused the archipelago’s former colonizer of hypocrisy. The Philippine leader denied on Friday calling Obama a “son of a bitch” in a response to a journalist’s question about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.
Some U.S. special forces have been killed in the southern Philippines since 2002, when Washington deployed soldiers to train and advise local units during the so-called “Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines.”
At the height of that operation, some 1,200 Americans were deployed to Zamboanga City and on Jolo and Basilan islands, both strongholds of Abu Sayyaf.
The U.S. program was discontinued in the Philippines in 2015, but a small troop presence has remained for logistics and technical support. Washington has shifted much of its security focus in the Philippines towards the South China Sea.
Presence of U.S. troops on the island, which has continued despite constitutional changes made following the “People’s Power” uprising that toppled U.S.-backed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, has long been a source of discontent among Filipinos.
In his speech to officials on Monday, Duterte repeated comments from last week when he accused the United States of committing atrocities against Muslims over a century ago on Jolo island.
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