The United States should not pull troops from the Philippines.
After years of a strengthening partnership between the U.S. and the Philippines, signs of tension between the two countries have begun to rise during 2016.
Currently, U.S. forces are in the Mindanao region of the Philippines to advise military personnel on counterterrorism tactics for a possible Islamic insurgency, according to USA Today.
In a statement on Sept. 12, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said these forces are more detrimental than helpful.
“These special forces, they have to go,” said the president according to Bloomberg. “They have to, in Mindanao -- there are many white men there.”
The greatest concern for Duterte and others who believe U.S. troops should leave Philippine shores is that the American soldiers will give other nations reason to attack. In his statement, Duterte claimed Westerners attract kidnap-for-ransom groups, such as ISIS affiliate group Abu Sayyaf, according to USA Today.
But the president’s statement should not make the American military feel like they need to leave the Philippines as soon as possible.
It is possible that Duterte’s claims could have been made out of anger towards President Barack Obama who canceled a meeting with the Philippine leader the week before the statement. Bloomberg reports the meeting was set to take place after the U.S. criticized a Philippine "war on drugs" that has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings.
Understandably, Duterte is upset. An outlandish request to remove the 1,300 U.S. troops from Philippine soil may be the result of anger and frustration.
“This could just be fallout from the Laos brouhaha,” suggested Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “Maybe he wants the U.S. to say it really values its relationship with the Philippines,” added Bitzinger, who has devoted significant time to studying the military.
In his statement, Duterte also referenced the U.S. occupation of the Philippines in the early 20th century, recounting instances of U.S. troops killing Muslims.
This century-old piece of history has little to do with current affairs and, therefore, should not affect the worldwide opinions of the American forces currently advising Philippine military officials.
Furthermore, State Department spokesperson John Kirby has said pulling troops from the Philippines at this point would be a premature action. The U.S. has not received an official request to remove troops, according to Bloomberg.
At times, the Philippines has been the strongest ally of the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific region, according to The Wall Street Journal. Since 2002, U.S. troops have remained present in the southern Philippines aiding in the campaign against Abu Sayyaf.
Leaving the Philippines would signify the end of a mutually beneficial relationship. For the sake of both countries, U.S. military officials should not pull troops from the Philippines just yet.