United States officials on Thursday cited major gains achieved by the Philippine government in the campaign against terrorism, particularly in Mindanao.
But despite the achievement, a US military official said the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) remains to be a concern for American forces temporarily stationed in the region under the Joint Special Operatins Task Force - Philippines (JSOTF-P).
Speaking to reporters during the first "Security and Defense Kapihan sa Embahada", US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr. said that the government of the Philippines and Philippine security forces- Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP), continue to effectively eliminate terrorists in the southern part of the country.
"We are very proud to be able to partner with the Philippine government, the military and the PNP to combat terrorism. It's a global scourge , they’ll always be people who would try to do us bad... we never forget Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Ramzi Yousef were arrested right here in Pasay, practicing for 911 (September 11, 2001 terror attacks)," said the US envoy.
US authorities noted that through a "whole of nation" approach of Nation" approach, the Philippine government leverages the combined strength of the AFP and PNP.
They added, joint AFP and PNP efforts continue to contain the most violent terrorist threats and shrink their safe havens and that government efforts have significantly degraded terrorist groups such the ASG and the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
Capt. David Cole, the JSOTF-P deputy public affairs officer, said
American forces have been in Mindanao since 2002. "We work by, with and through our Philippine security forces partners, that's AFP and PNP."
"We have had great successes, the Filipinos have had great successes in southern Mindanao, that said, the situation is managed," stated Cole.
He added, however, that "vigilance continues to be a necessity down there."
Cole said that inspite of the major gains against terror groups in Mindanao, the presence of the enemy remains in the region.
"If you took a snap shot from now back in 2002 and compare both, I think you would be very pleased with the progress that our Filipino partners have made down there," said Cole.
But the JSOTF-P official also said they are still concerned about the ASG, stressing that "they are still an organization that bears watching."
"We we will continue to advise and assist our Philippine partners as long as the invitation from the government of Philippines is still open to us, requesting our assistance," said Cole.
At the request of the government of the Philippines, the United States temporarily assigns military advisors to assist the AFP in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.
In support of the AFP and PNP "whole of nation" approach against violent extremism, US forces provide advice and assistance but do not participate in combat operations.