US wants to continue campaign against militants in Philippines

ISIS is seeking to increase its involvement in the southern Philippines, says US Ambassador Philip Goldberg.
ISIS is seeking to increase its involvement in the southern Philippines, says US Ambassador Philip Goldberg.

MANILA • The United States wants to remain involved in the campaign to quell militancy in the southern Philippines, its envoy to Manila said after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to kick out US forces.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said yesterday that the security threat in the conflict-plagued region is "very serious", warning that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is among a number of foreign militant organisations trying to increase its involvement there.

"We've helped the Philippines as it has reduced the threat over time," he told ABS-CBN television.

"But we are concerned obviously about any new intrusion of ISIS or any other group that wants to take advantage of open space in the south of the Philippines. So we want to continue doing that."

The US deployed a rotating force of about 600 troops to Mindanao from 2002 to 2014. The presence was scaled down after the US deemed the militants had "largely devolved into disorganised groups resorting to criminal undertakings", according to a US statement in 2014.

Militant attacks spiked after that, most notably with the home-grown Abu Sayyaf group abducting foreigners and locals to extort ransoms.

Mr Goldberg warned that foreign militant groups such as Jemaah Islamiah are in Mindanao. "We are not just dealing with Abu Sayyaf but groups from the region like Jemaah Islamiah," he said. "We see increasing efforts from ISIS to become involved."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'US wants to continue campaign against militants in Philippines'. Print Edition | Subscribe