MANILA, July 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. military is reducing its counter-terrorism efforts in the Philippines, calling its 12-year program a success.
In 2002, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, the U.S. government began combating groups linked to al-Qaida on the Philippine island Mindanao and other nearby islands. The most prominent terrorist group there, the Abu Sayyaf Group, was once responsible for large-scale acts of violence but has dwindled to only several hundred adherents. U.S. troop support and loss of the insurgents' funding source, when terrorist financing was blocked worldwide, led to their demise. U.S. government officials say the military's work, in conjunction with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has been "successful at drastically reducing the capabilities of domestic and trans-national terrorist groups."
Casey Staheli, the U.S. spokesman for the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), says the groups have been reduced from terrorist organizations to criminal gangs.
"The time has come to re-evaluate our position here and how best we can continue to support the Philippine security forces. So, with that in mind, military planners from both the United States and the Philippines are looking at ways to adjust our presence as far as the JSOTF-P goes."
There remains the possibility of terrorist threats in the Philippines. Although one insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, agreed to a peace deal with the government in a 40-year conflict that has killed over 120,000 people, other Muslim groups have opposed the agreement. There is also the threat of a spillover of terrorism from groups in nearby Malaysia and Indonesia.
The U.S. presence is in the program now at 320 troops.