Scaling Back Philippine Counter Terror Operations

The long-running special operations task force in the southern Philippines is drawing down and transitioning to a strategic advising mission, reported Voice of America. Many of the groups targeted by Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) and the Philippine Armed Forces have been rolled back, their finances dried up, and devolved into criminal gangs, a spokesman for the effort told VOA. “The time has come to re-evaluate our position here and how best we can … support the Philippine security forces,” JSOTF-P spokesman Casey Staheli said. There are currently 320 US troops with the task force deployed in and around the island of Mindanao, an effort dating back to 2002 when the US started targeting the Abu Sayyaf Group and its allies for their ties to al-Qaeda. By 2015, the task force will cease to exist and a smaller number of US personnel will shift to strategy and planning assistance rather than operational efforts. Philippine Armed Forces spokesman Gen. Domingo Tutaan said the change won’t affect Philippine military operations in the south.