MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine army will create a "battalion size" task force to help the government's anti-narcotics agency run after high-value targets in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, the country's military chief said.
Duterte - who recently suspended the national police from the anti-narcotics campaign that has killed over 7,700 people in seven months - has ordered the military to play a role in his crackdown. He has said that he also wants to grant troops powers to arrest "scalawag" police.
The announcement came after it emerged last month that drug squad officers had killed a South Korean businessman at national police headquarters.
The troops, however, will only provide back-up in the campaign and not patrol the streets or play any kind of leading role, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Chief Isidro Lapena told Reuters earlier this month.
"We are ready to operate with the PDEA. (The task force) is yet to be created, but we are talking about a battalion size," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief General Eduardo Ano told reporters late on Saturday in Baguio City, where Duterte attended a military alumni homecoming.
Up to 5,000 soldiers could be mobilized under the task force, or only 500 depending on the threat, he said.
Ano, however, ruled out a bloody operation by the task force, unlike some of the raids conducted by the national police.
"The AFP will not do that, we will not be involved in the street, we'll not be involved in running after street pushers," he said. "The armed forces will help the PDEA in running after high-level drug syndicates."
In his speech during the military alumni homecoming, Duterte said: "I need the help of each one, especially the military, not for social control but protection (for) the citizens from the lawless, the reckless, and the selfish."
He declared his war on drugs to be "by and large successful", but added the problem was more complex than he had thought and that is why he needed the military to play a role.
(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Himani Sarkar)