CLARK FREEPORT ZONE • United States Defence Secretary James Mattis yesterday praised Filipino soldiers for defeating militants in a five-month battle in a southern Philippine city without allegations of human rights violations.
The Philippines on Monday announced the end of combat operations in Marawi City after troops killed 42 remaining militants, including some foreign fighters.
More than 1,100 people, including 165 troops, died in the conflict.
"Here's an army that had to go in a fight like that, and they had not one human rights allegation against them with any credibility," Mr Mattis said at the end of the two-day Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting at a former US Air Force base.
"Not one, and when you look at how bloody awful that fight was, that's really a statement about the Philippine military that set a human rights condition in the midst of that fight the way they did so."
Mr Mattis' praise was rare as the Philippines' human rights record under President Rodrigo Duterte has been strongly criticised by the West, including the US, Canada, the European Union and Australia.
At the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting, these countries called on the Philippines to end killings in Mr Duterte's fierce drug war. More than 3,900 people have been killed by the police, which claimed self-defence, in anti-drug operations since July last year.
The US provided critical tactical intelligence in the Marawi combat operation, deploying surveillance planes and drones, as well as thermal imaging and eavesdropping equipment to help Filipino troops neutralise hundreds of militants who seized the city on May 23.
Mr Mattis reaffirmed Washington's "ironclad commitment" to the alliance with Manila during a meeting on Tuesday night with Mr Duterte, where he emphasised the importance of "shared rules-based international order".