The United States military has started downsizing its anti-terror task force in Mindanao and only 30 troops will remain, possibly by next year, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

“Hindi total pullout. May 30 personnel na maiiwan… by May 2015, subject to change,” the defense chief said in an interview via text message.

Gazmin was referring to the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), which is based in Camp Navarro, Zamboanga City, also home of the AFP Western Mindanao Command.

According to Gazmin, the JSOTF-P has already reduced its personnel from 500 and now only has 200 members.

“‘Yung reason [for the downsizing] is because hindi naman talaga sila permanente,” the defense chief told reporters, adding that American troops greatly helped improve security in Mindanao.

“Nakita naman na sunud-sunod ‘yung huli natin sa mga Abu Sayyaf… malaki ang improvement,” he said.

Kurt Hoyer, U.S. Embassy spokesman, said the JSOTF-P’s success led American and Filipino security officials “to begin working on a transition plan where the JSOTF-P will no longer exist as a task force.”

He, however, said many of the JSOTF-P’s capabilities will remain under an “augmentation team” of the U.S. Pacific Command.

The U.S. started deploying JSOTF-P troops to Mindanao on January 28, 2002, a year after the deadly Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by the al Qaeda terror network in New York City and Washington D.C.

The deployments were in support of “efforts to counter the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah – terrorist groups affiliated with al Qaeda,” according to a U.S. Embassy fact sheet. (John Roson)

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