Singapore has offered its drones and urban warfare training facilities to help Philippine troops dislodge Muslim militants who are holding out for a ninth week in the southern city of Marawi.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said he has offered his Philippine counterpart Delfin Lorenzana a unit of the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) unmanned aerial vehicles to boost the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities of the Philippine military.
"We recognise that the area of Marawi and the surrounding areas are very large. There are many islands, and surveillance is an issue," Dr Ng said yesterday in an interview on the last day of his two-day working visit to the Philippines.
Singapore has two types of drones: the Heron 1, which has a range of 200km and can stay in the air for 24 hours; and the Hermes 450, which has half the range and a shorter flying time of 14 hours.
Dr Ng said Singapore was also willing to help train Philippine security forces in urban warfare and fighting in built-up areas.
Noting that the SAF has an urban training village to train soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, he said that he has offered this facility to the Philippines to help train its soldiers in counter-insurgency in urban built-up areas.
Singapore is also offering to send a C-130 aircraft to transport humanitarian aid and supplies to people displaced by the fighting in Marawi.
Dr Ng said Mr Lorenzana has accepted Singapore's offer of help "in principle". A source told The Straits Times Mr Lorenzana would recommend that President Rodrigo Duterte take up Singapore's offer.
It is estimated that more than 400,000 people have been forced to leave their homes after Muslim militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria took over parts of Marawi in late May.
There are fears that militants fleeing the city in southern Mindanao Island may fan out to Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere in South- east Asia, and that the siege is inspiring radicals across the region to flock to the Philippines.
Yesterday, Dr Ng thanked Mr Lorenzana and the Philippine army commanders for "taking decisive action in Marawi".
"If they had not acted as they did, and approached the problem a year, two years later, I think the problem would have been much bigger and much more difficult to contain," he told the Singapore media.
He said Singapore and many countries are following the situation in Marawi "because all of us know that if the situation is not contained, or if terrorist cells or terrorist elements entrench themselves in any part of Asean, they will launch attacks against other cities".
Dr Ng also noted that there might still be problems even after the situation in Marawi is under control. "I think we all recognise that Marawi may not be the last iteration of the terrorist threat. It could happen in other cities within Mindanao. It could happen in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia," he added.
Dr Ng said there is "clear recognition" among Asean's defence ministers that the militants are a "clear and present threat" that they must deal with collectively.
"I do not think any security chief dares to stand up and say my country is immune, and that we will not have that problem," he said.
Dr Ng expressed support for efforts by the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia to stem the flow of weapons, funding and fighters to terrorist groups in the region. When Singapore assumes chairmanship of the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting next year, he said, "we will push it (the anti-terror fight) even harder".