US helping S-E Asia to thwart ISIS: Pentagon

WASHINGTON • The United States is helping South-east Asian allies to do more to prevent the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from gaining a greater foothold in the area, senior Pentagon officials have testified in Congress.

General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the US is helping partners share intelligence and information on extremist groups.

"We're trying to work with them to develop a framework within which they can share information, share intelligence," Gen Dunford testified at the committee hearing.

"We are absolutely working close with our partners, and frankly, the limit of the support we provide is often what they are willing to accept politically," he added.

Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said he is meeting regional defence ministers next week at a summit in Hawaii and ISIS would be a subject of discussion. "South-east Asia clearly is a place (ISIS aspires) to spreading," he said.

ISIS has already established a presence in several countries across the region, and the authorities worry both about domestic attacks and nationals travelling to join the militants in Iraq and Syria.

Islamic militants in the Philippines on Thursday freed an Indonesian sailor abducted at sea, days after the gunmen released a Norwegian and three other Indonesians.

The group, the Abu Sayyaf, is a loose network of militants that has in recent years pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week called for the small number of US military advisers to leave the southern part of the country, though top officials quickly moved to downplay his comments.

In Indonesia, there has been a surge in attacks and attempted attacks this year due to the growing influence of ISIS.

According to Gen Dunford, more than 1,000 Indonesians have left to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as have hundreds from the Philippines.

On Thursday, Malaysian police said they had arrested one local and three foreigners for alleged involvement in terrorist groups including ISIS.

One of the foreign suspects, a 26-year-old Moroccan man, is a suspected ISIS member. The local suspect was detained for links with Mohamad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, a known Malaysian ISIS fighter in Syria who is believed to be orchestrating the group's activities in Malaysia.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'US helping S-E Asia to thwart ISIS: Pentagon'. Print Edition | Subscribe