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‘Terrorists took advantage of US pullout from south’

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign terrorists linked to the Islamic State (IS) took  advantage of the pullout of US forces from Mindanao to enter the Philippines and stockpile their weapons and bombs in Marawi City, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana bared yesterday.

Lorenzana made this disclosure at the closing rites of this year’s US-Philippines anti-terrorism drill simultaneously held in the country and in Hawaii.

“The drawdown of US military forces in the south between 2010 and 2012 may have left us blindsided and threat groups as well as the Islamic State-inspired people were able to come in and were able to stockpile their weapons and bombs, all the materials, in Marawi City,” Lorenzana said.

Prior to the downscaling of US anti-terorrism forces in Mindanao, the number of US servicemen providing intelligence, monitoring and technical assistance to Filipino troops fighting the Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim militants in Mindanao were about a size of a brigade.

American servicemen from the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) were formerly based in Zamboanga City and were previously deployed by teams in various military camps in Sulu, Basilan, Central Mindanao and Marawi City.

Since they were not allowed to engage in actual combat, the US servicemen used to provide technical assistance as well as intelligence on the presence and movements of the terrorists in Mindanao to their Filipino counterparts.

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The intelligence and monitoring covered cross-border movements of Islamic militants to and from the country through the country’s porous border, also known as the southern backdoor.

But when US military leadership pulled out their forces in Zamboanga  in 2012, leaving only a skeletal anti-terror force, Islamic militants from as far as Croatia and Morocco entered the Philippines through the southern backdoor, hardly noticed by local security forces.

From a brigade size, the US servicemen left in Mindanao is now down to around 100 soldiers. – With John Unson

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