Singapore offers drones, urban warfare training grounds, aid to help Philippines fight militants in Marawi

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen shakes hands with Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana at a meeting in Manila. PHOTO: NG ENG HEN/ FACEBOOK

MANILA - Singapore has offered drones and its urban warfare training facilities to help Philippine troops dislodge Muslim militants still holding up in the southern city of Marawi after nearly three months of fighting.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a news briefing to Singapore media here on Wednesday (July 19) that he offered to his Philippine counterpart Delfin Lorenzana help "to enhance the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities" of the Philippine military.

"We recognised that the area in Marawi and surrounding areas is very large. There are many islands. Surveillance is an issue," Dr Ng told Singapore media.

Singapore has two types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs): 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".

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He said he suggested to Mr Lorenzana the use of "urban training villages" that the Singapore Armed Forces use to train soldiers being sent to conflict areas in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Singapore is also offering to send a C-130 aircraft to help transport humanitarian aid and supplies to evacuees from Marawi.

The Philippines estimates that the fighting in the city has displaced over 400,000 residents. Most have moved in with their kin or close friends, but at least 20,000 are staying in evacuation centres.

Health officials said 40 evacuees have already died from diseases.

Mr Ng said Singapore and many other countries are closely 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 in other cities".

"This is their stated goal. They made it plain," he said.

Philippine security forces have been fighting for the ninth week Muslim militants who stormed Marawi on May 23 in an audacious bid to turn it into a "province" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Government troops have used airstrikes, artillery fire, and special forces units to root out the gunmen. But scores are still holding out in a narrow area at a financial district now reduced to rubble. More than 500 people have been killed in the clashes.

Dr Ng expressed concern that even after the siege in Marawi ends, other provinces in the Philippines war-torn southern Mindanao island are at risk.

"They have ISIS-linked elements, plus other extremist groups. They have formed networks and intend to advance their plans to turn South-east Asia into a situation similar to Iraq and Syria," he said.

Governments in the region are concerned that the siege in Marawi may have given traction to ISIS agenda.

There have been concerns that militants fleeing Marawi 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.

Security officials said about 40 foreign extremists, mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia, took part in the attacks in Marawi. Of the 276 militants who have been killed, at least three were Malaysians and one came from Indonesia.

Jolted by the Marawi attack, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have begun joint sea patrols to control the movement of militants across their archipelagic region.

President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress to extend till Dec 31 martial rule over the insurgency-wracked south.

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