President Rodrigo Duterte wants US special forces out of southern Philippines, saying they are distracting efforts to eliminate Islamist militants who have been targeting Westerners.
Duterte, who was in the spotlight last week over a televised tirade against the United States and President Barack Obama, said the Americans still in Mindanao were high-value targets for the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf militants as counter-insurgency operations intensify, Reuters reports.
“They have to go,” Duterte said in a speech during an oath-taking ceremony for new officials. “I do not want a rift with America. But they have to go.”
He said Americans will be killed and the militants “will try to kidnap them to get ransom”.
The comments by Duterte, a former southern mayor known for his terse words and volatile temperament, add to uncertainty about what impact his rise to the presidency this year will have on one of Washington’s most important alliances in Asia.
A spokesman for the US State Department, John Kirby, said it was not aware of any official communication by Manila calling for a withdrawal.
He said Washington remains committed to the alliance.
Another US official said there were only a “handful” of special forces in the Mindanao acting in limited liaison roles.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest emphasized shared concerns and interests with the Philippines, before taking a thinly veiled swipe at Duterte, appearing to compare him to Donald Trump, the outspoken Republican candidate in the Nov. 8 US presidential election.
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