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US scales down counterterrorism force in Mindanao

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The United States is scaling down its troop presence in Mindanao amid the improving security situation in the area, Defense Secretary Voltaire disclosed yesterday.

Gazmin said the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P), a US unit that advises Philippine security forces in fighting terrorist groups, has reduced its personnel to 200 from about 400.

“They are not stationed here permanently. They teach and train our personnel. They are satisfied with what we have learned, so they are reducing their personnel,” Gazmin told reporters in Filipino.

The defense chief cited the successive arrests of key figures of the Abu Sayyaf, a local terror group that has links with international extremist organizations.

“The improvement (of the security situation) is significant. They also learned a lot from us in terms of jungle warfare,” Gazmin said.

Gazmin clarified that there would be no total pullout of JSOTF-P troops in Mindanao.

He said the unit would be reduced to just 30 by May 2015 but the schedule could still be changed.

JSOTF-P is based at Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City and was deployed to the Philippines on Jan. 28, 2002 to support efforts to fight the Abu Sayyaf and Southeast Asian terror cell Jemaah Islamiyah.

The command consists of members from all branches of the US military as well as National Guards, reserve forces and civilians.

Members of the command are allowed to conduct only non-combat advisory operations.

JSOTF-P also engages in civil-military operations such as veterinary and medical action programs and civil engineering projects.

 

ABU SAYYAF ABU SAYYAF AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN CAMP NAVARRO DEFENSE SECRETARY VOLTAIRE GAZMIN JEMAAH ISLAMIYAH JOINT SPECIAL OPERATIONS TASK FORCE PHILIPPINES MINDANAO NATIONAL GUARDS UNITED STATES ZAMBOANGA CITY
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