Australia to train Philippines in urban warfare to fight spread of extremism

Soldiers on a military truck drive past houses and buildings damaged after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups inside the war-torn Marawi city. PHOTO: REUTERS

CLARK, PHILIPPINES (AFP) - Australia will train Filipino soldiers in urban warfare to combat the spread of Islamic extremism after months of fierce fighting against militants in the southern Philippines, it was announced Tuesday (Oct 24).

Canberra has since September been helping Manila battle local supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group in the southern city of Marawi, deploying two AP-3C Orion aircraft for surveillance while helping in information-gathering and analysis.

Defence chiefs in the Philippines on Monday declared victory after a five-month battle that claimed more than 1,100 lives and destroyed large parts of the city. While the victory ended immediate fears that the ISIS would establish a South-east Asian base in Marawi, concerns remain about its longer-term intentions and capabilities for the region.

Australia has experience tackling the group in Iraq and Syria and Defence Minister Marise Payne said it was crucial the Philippines had the expertise to keep extremists at bay now that the key fight had been won.

She said Canberra would immediately send teams composed of 80 troops to provide urban warfare counter-terrorism training at Philippine military bases.

"The practical training the Australian Defence Force will provide will ensure the Philippines defence force is better able to counter the brutal tactics being employed by terrorists," she told reporters on the sidelines of a regional security meeting in Clark, a northern Philippine city.

"Globally we have seen the effect of extremist ideology and terrorist threats on millions of civilians and it is alarming to see this disruption come to our region." Payne said the spread of ISIS-inspired terrorism was a direct threat to Australia and its interests, and Canberra was determined it "cannot establish a geographic foothold in the region".

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana welcomed Australia's "invaluable support", saying the military would use the assistance to replicate the training locally.

"While we need troops now to be trained on urban warfare, we also need to build our capacity to train our troops. Part of our programme that we are going to do in the near future is to build our urban (warfare training) centres," Lorenzana said.

The two sides will also work together to enhance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the south. They will also bolster maritime security engagement and bilateral maritime patrols and co-host a seminar on efforts to recover from conflict.

Hundreds of local and foreign gunmen who had pledged allegiance to ISIS rampaged through Marawi, the principal Islamic city in the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23.

They then took over parts of the city using civilians as human shields. About 400,000 residents were displaced as near-daily air strikes and intense ground combat left large parts of the city in ruins.

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