Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had strong words for the U.S., saying American Special Forces need to leave his country as they cannot help combat increasing terrorism in the region.
The U.S. initially sent troops to the Philippines in 2002 to train Filipinos battling al-Qaida forces in the southern islands, according to NBC News. The effort was part of a global anti-terror strategy known as Operation Enduring Freedom. Most troops withdrew from the Philippines in February 2015, leaving only a small group of U.S. advisers for logistical and technical support.
Duterte now wants that small U.S. contingency out of his country, too, according to Bloomberg. The southern island of Mindanao has a Muslim majority and has been plagued for years by insurgency and terrorism. Duterte believes the U.S. troops there wouldn't be a detriment to the country's counterterrorism fight.
"The special forces, they have to go," he said, according to ABC News. "I do not want a rift with America, but they have to go."
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Duterte believes Americans in the region are more likely to be kidnapped or killed because of Muslim resentment of the alleged atrocities committed against Muslim Filipinos by U.S. troops in the early 1900s. In his speech, the president showed pictures of the Muslim women and children killed and reportedly dumped in a pit by American soldiers.
"Americans, [terrorists] will really kill them, they will try to kidnap them to get ransom," warned Duterte, NBC News reports.
The Philippines are one of America's best allies in Asia and the two countries have previously cooperated in efforts against China's claim to territory in the South China Sea. But since Duterte took office in June, his volatile nature and brash comments against President Barack Obama, calling him a "hypocrite" and a "son of a whore," seem to be straining the two countries' relationship. According to Bloomberg, this is another episode that could threaten the U.S.-Philippines alliance.