COTABATO // American soldiers will remain in the southern Philippines to help the local military in their fight against Muslim extremists, a top US diplomat said today. The US undersecretary of state for political affairs, William Burns, said the troop commitment was part of US efforts to develop the strife-torn region of Mindanao, where al Qa'eda-linked militants are active. "Our presence will remain here to do whatever we can on (behalf) of the Filipino government," Mr Burns said during a visit to Cotabato city in Mindanao.
"Our soldiers and Filipino troops are closely working for peace and development," he said, at the launch of a US-supported education programme in the south. Mr Burns, the number three official at the US State Department, met President Benigno Aquino on Tuesday in Manila. He was the first senior US official to visit the Philippines since Mr Aquino took office on June 30 after a landslide election win.
The US has had hundreds of troops stationed in Mindanao since 2002 to help train local troops as they fight Islamic militants who are blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks. About 500 US Special Forces troops train Filipino soldiers in Mindanao to combat militants from the al Qa'eda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, which the US lists as a terrorist organisation. The US troops are not allowed to take part in combat operations in the Philippines.
Two American soldiers were killed in Mindanao last year when suspected Abu Sayyaf members set off a roadside bomb. AFP