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Goldberg: US wants to stay in Mindanao

The United States wants to remain involved in the campaign to quell Islamic militancy in Mindanao, its ambassador to Manila said yesterday after President Duterte threatened to kick out American forces.

Ambassador Philip Goldberg said the security threat in the conflict-plagued region was “very serious,” warning the Islamic State group was among a number of foreign militant organizations trying to increase its involvement there.

“We’ve helped the Philippines as it has reduced the threat over time,” Goldberg told ABS-CBN television.

“But we are concerned obviously about any new intrusion of ISIS (Islamic State group) 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 United States had deployed from 2002 to 2014 a rotating force of about 600 troops to Mindanao to train local soldiers in how to combat Islamic militants.

The presence was scaled down after the United States deemed the militants there had “largely devolved into disorganized groups resorting to criminal undertakings,” according to a US statement in 2014.

Islamic militant attacks spiked after that, most prominently with the homegrown Abu Sayyaf Group abducting dozens of foreigners and locals to extort ransoms.

About 100 American troops remain in the south, Goldberg said yesterday.

But Duterte, who took office on June 30, has said they are adding to tensions with the Islamic communities in Mindanao. (AFP)