US to disband joint Philippine anti-terror task force, its job largely done

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 June, 2014, 10:56pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 6:23pm

After more than a decade of helping fight al-Qaeda-linked militants, the US is disbanding an anti-terror unit of hundreds of elite troops in the southern Philippines where armed groups such as Abu Sayyaf have largely been crippled.

But special forces from the US Pacific Command will remain after the deactivation of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines to ensure al-Qaeda offshoots such as Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiah militant network do not regain lost ground.

The remaining terrorists "have largely devolved into disorganised groups resorting to criminal undertakings to sustain their activities".

He said that success had led US military planners and their Philippine counterparts "to begin working on a transition plan where the JSOTF-P as a task force will no longer exist".

He said there were 320 American military personnel left in the south, down from 600.

A year after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the US military established the task force to help ill-equipped local forces contain a bloody rampage by Abu Sayyaf gunmen. The militants carried out bombings, terrorised entire towns and kidnapped more than 100 people, including three Americans.

US-backed offensives whittled the militants' ranks from a few thousand fighters to about 300, who survive on extortion and kidnappings for ransom while dodging military assaults.

Meanwhile, the US and the Philippines yesterday started joint naval exercises in the South China Sea near waters claimed by Beijing.

Philippine officials said the week-long manoeuvres, involving three US warships and more than 1,000 servicemen, would address Manila's "capability gaps" and test its newest military vessels, a pair of decommissioned US coastguard cutters reconfigured into frigates.