TWO Australian spy planes will start flying missions in Mindanao in the fight against Islamist extremists terrorizing the area, a move that the Palace and the Defense Department welcomed Friday.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, however, emphasized that the government was capable of bringing down the Islamic State-inspired Maute group in Marawi City, where fighting erupted May 23.
“Like the President said, we’re quite capable at this stage,” Abella said. “We welcome any support, but at this stage we take the lead, along with the regional states around us.”
“Our defense officials are in close coordination with their Australian counterparts in their offer of providing surveillance support,” he added.
Abella said that the two Australian spy planes is another way to boost the military’s capabilities in the ongoing fight against extremist groups.
“In every military operation, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capability are very important,” he said.
The Australian government on Friday said its spy planes would start flying missions over Mindanao as a way to help Manila counter the terrorist threat.
Fighters linked to the Islamic State group have been battling troops for a month around Marawi City in a conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives.
Canberra, which has an extensive defense cooperation program with Manila, said two high-tech AP-3C Orion aircraft will provide surveillance support to the Philippine military.
“The regional threat from terrorism, in particular from Daesh and foreign fighters, is a direct threat to Australia and our interests,” said Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
“Australia will continue to work with our partners in Southeast Asia to counter it.”
She recently spoke with her Philippine counterpart, Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana, about how Australia could help and “we agreed the best way to defeat terrorism in our region is for us to work together.”
The versatile AP-3C Orion’s usually patrol maritime borders and played a prominent role in searching for missing Malaysian Airlines plane MH370, which went down in the remote Indian Ocean off Australia in 2014.
“With these AP-3Cs from the ADF, our troops can benefit from enhanced airborne surveillance of the area any time of the day thereby improving operations on the ground,” said Lorenzana.
The Defense chief said, however, that the deployment of the Orion surveillance planes will not require the embedding of ADF personnel with Filipino troops on the ground.
Earlier, the United States military also provided technical assistance to the Philippines in the form of air surveillance to assist ground troops pinpoint the exact location of terrorist snipers hiding in trenches and bunkers.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across Mindanao, home to 20 million people, on May 23 immediately after fighters flying the IS flag rampaged through Marawi.
Their assault on the city ignited an unprecedented urban war, which Duterte has warned is part of an IS campaign to establish a base in Mindanao.
The fighting has left Marawi, the most important Muslim city in the Philippines, largely in ruins. With Francisco Tuyay, Sara Susanne Fabunan and AFP