Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he wants the small number of U.S. special operations forces in the Philippines to leave the country.

In 2002 the U.S. began a mission on the southern island of Mindanao to support Philippine forces fighting al-Qaeda-affiliated Abu Sayyaf. The troops were sent to the Philippines as part of the U.S.’s global fight against terrorism known as Operation Enduring Freedom.

At its height, the mission had as many as 600 troops, and it was formally ended in February 2015. However, a small contingent of American advisers, numbering in the dozens, was left behind to provide logistics and support for Philippine forces.

On Monday, Duterte said in a speech that the U.S. military presence on Mindanao was more of a negative than a positive.

“The special forces, they have to go,” said Duterte. “They have to go in Mindanao. There are many whites there. They have to go.”

He added, “I do not want a rift with America, but they have to go.”

“We are aware of President Duterte’s statements and refer you to his office on any questions,” said Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman. “We have not been contacted by authorities regarding this issue.”

Read More: ABC

Featured Image – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte – Wikimedia Commons