Duterte: U.S. soldiers in Mindanao have to go

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Balikatan 2016. U.S. soldiers and Philippine troops observe as jungle survivor instructor prepares a meal in Fort Magsayay, Nueva Ecija. (File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte is urging the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Mindanao for their own safety.

Speaking before newly appointed government officials on Monday, Duterte said the lives of these American soldiers are under threat.

"Kaya 'yung mga [These] special forces, they have to go," Duterte said. "In Mindanao, maraming mga puti doon [there are many Americans]. They have to go."

 "Mas lalong iinit, makakita ng Amerikano 'yan (Moros), patayin talaga 'yan. Kukunan ng ransom 'yan, patayin," Duterte said.

[Translation: The situation will get tougher. When Moros see them, they will be killed. They will ask for ransom and they will be killed.]

But U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday there is no official request from the Philippine government for a U.S. pullout.

"So we're going to stay in touch with our counterparts in the Philippine Government," Kirby said in a press briefing. "More critically, we're going to remain committed to our alliance commitments in the Philippines and to that country."

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also has not received any directive.

"We understand that the implementation of the said pronouncement is the subject of deliberations by concerned departments like DND and DFA to mention some," it said in a statement.

AFP Public Affairs head Col. Edgard Arevalo said there are only 107 members of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) left in Mindanao and they are all in Zamboanga City.

The JOSTF-P was created in the early 2000s after then U.S. President George Bush and former president Gloria Arroyo agreed to deploy some 600 American troops to Mindanao to help in the fight against terrorism. In 2015, most of the task force members left but a small contingent remains in Zamboanga.

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"They provided us with technical assistance, training and shared information or intelligence formation that helped us in our anti-terrorism campaign," Arevalo said.  

Prior to his tough talk, Duterte showed photos of the killing of Moros in Mindanao during the American occupation, also known as the Bud Dajo massacre in 1906. The U.S. colonial government's counter-insurgency campaign left hundreds of Moros dead.

Duterte said there will never be peace in Mindanao "for as long as we stay with America."

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In a press briefing, Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella downplayed Duterte's order, saying it was only a "notice" to the U.S. and not a policy.  He stressed no timeline has been set for any withdrawal of troops.   

In a statement, Abella said the massacre of Moros by US troops was "unrecognized, unrepented and unatoned for."

"Hence, our continued connection with the West is the real reason for the "Islamic" threat in Mindanao," he explained.

Duterte said the Bud Dajo photos he held were from U.S. government archives. He did not elaborate.

CNN Philippines Digital Producer Eimor Santos contributed to this report.