As U.S. Winds Down Counterterrorism Task Force in the Philippines, Challenges Remain

As U.S. Winds Down Counterterrorism Task Force in the Philippines, Challenges Remain
Members of the Armed Forces Philippines (AFP) participate in live-fire exercise while receiving training with the U. S. Army Special Forces, Zamboanga, Philippines, Mar. 21, 2003 (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Edward G. Martens).

In remarks at the U.S. Embassy in Manila early last month, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg praised the elite counterterrorism unit sent to advise the Philippine military after the attacks of 9/11, known as the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P), as having “gained the trust and earned the respect of our host nation partners.” The unit, he pointed out, was also the “first element of the U.S. Armed Forces to deploy” to areas affected by last November’s typhoon.

But after more than a decade in the Philippines, the United States is phasing out the task force. A smaller group of U.S. Army Special Forces advisers will remain in the country to assist the Philippine military.

David Maxwell of Georgetown University, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel who commanded the unit from 2006 to 2007, says in a phone interview that the transition to “steady state operations” is a sign of a “mature alliance” and enhanced capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. “We can rely on normal mechanisms to provide training, advice and assistance,” he adds.

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