MANILA: The United States is scaling down a taskforce that has been training Philippine troops to hunt down local al Qaeda extremists, Manila’s defence chief said Thursday.
The group of 500-600 American service personnel rotating through the strife-torn southern Philippines was cut back to 200 starting this year, Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters. “They were never permanent. They just teach, they train our people and they are satisfied with what we have learned so they are reducing their numbers,” he said. The US-Philippine cooperation had weakened local Islamic extremists “to the point where they have largely devolved into disorganised groups resorting to criminal undertakings to sustain their activities,” a US government statement said.
The success of the US task force had led the American and Philippine militaries to begin working on a transition plan, it added. “The task force will no longer exist, but many of the capabilities will remain,” the statement said, under what it termed an “augmentation team”.
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