MANILA • The Philippines has welcomed Australia's offer to deploy troops to train Filipino soldiers, the defence ministers of the two allies announced yesterday, as militants continued to terrorise parts of the country.
The announcement came as the Philippine military called for more funds to root out militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), more than three months into a deadly offensive that has devastated the southern city of Marawi.
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and his Australian counterpart Marise Payne said that Manila had agreed to an offer from Canberra, made last month, for Australian troops to train local soldiers inside yet-to-be-named Filipino bases.
"We have increased our engagement - a surge if you like - in the context of the current events," Ms Payne said at a joint news conference with Mr Lorenzana.
She said many areas of the Asia-Pacific are threatened by the return of "foreign fighters" who had gone to engage in combat in the Middle East.
"They (foreign fighters) are battle-hardened. They are well trained, they are very determined," she warned, adding that she had discussed the threat with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore as well.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop revealed last week that she recently spoke to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and offered training aid to the Philippines similar to that provided to Iraq.
Mr Lorenzana stressed that the Philippines did not need foreign troops for actual combat, but he said that Australians could train local soldiers in areas such as information-gathering and analysis.
UP AGAINST HARDENED FIGHTERS
They (foreign fighters) are battle-hardened. They are well trained, they are very determined.
MS MARISE PAYNE, Australia's Minister for Defence, on the rising threat posed by militants returning from the Middle East.
"It will not look good if we would need (foreign) troops to fight the war here," he said.
Australia has a defence cooperation programme with the Philippines and is also its second-closest defence ally, behind only the United States.
Canberra deployed two high-tech AP-3C Orion spy planes in June, after hundreds of armed extremists, flying the black flag of the ISIS movement in the Middle East, occupied Marawi city on May 23, triggering a fierce battle that is still raging.
More than 800 extremists, government troops and civilians have been killed in the conflict, said the military.
To tackle the crisis, Mr Duterte has deployed thousands of troops, and imposed martial law across the southern third of the country.
The military also revealed yesterday that it had asked Congress for a supplemental budget of 1 billion pesos (S$26 million) to fund the Marawi campaign, which has cost three billion pesos so far.