Australia's spy planes to assist PH soldiers in Marawi

MANILA (Updated) -- Two advanced intelligence-gathering aircrafts of the Australian Defense Force will be flown over the southern Philippines to help in the fight against Maute terror group in Marawi City.

In a statement, Australia's Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne said the Philippine government has accepted her country's offer of two of its AP-3C Orion spy planes to provide surveillance support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The Islamic State-affiliated Maute group has been fighting with government troops in Marawi City since May 23. The skirmishes prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao region.

Australia condemns the attacks by the terrorist groups in Marawi.

"The regional threat from terrorism, in particular from Daesh and foreign fighters, is a direct threat to Australia and our interests. Australia will continue to work with our partners in South East Asia to counter it," Payne said.

Payne said she had spoken with her counterpart, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, about how Australia can assist the Philippines in its fight against extremists.

"We agreed the best way to defeat terrorism in our region is for us to work together," the Australia's Defence Minister said.

Lorenzana, for his part, confirmed that President Duterte has accepted technical assistance offered by the Australian government in the ongoing campaign against the local terror groups in Marawi.

The Philippine defense chief said two AP-3C Orion aircraft from Australia will assist Filipino troops in the one-month campaign once the operational details are finalized by the two armed forces.

The Australian assistance will be good for two weeks, starting at a mutually-agreed date. This does not require embedding of Australian forces with Filipino troops on the ground, said Lorenzana.

“We welcome any technical assistance that our allies can provide while the Armed Forces of the Philippines is in the process of developing such capabilities,” Lorenzana said.

“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," he added.

The Philippine and Australian governments enjoy defense cooperation dating back World War II. The two sides signed a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement in 2007 and ratified by the Philippine Senate four years later.

"In the fight against global terror, we need to act as a community of nations. Any help and support we can get from our friends and allies will always be welcome," said Lorenzana.

Brigadier General Gilbert Gapay, Eastern Mindanao Command deputy commander, said the Australian government's offer of two spy aircrafts would help the military quell rebellion not just in Marawi, Lanao del Sur but also in other parts of Mindanao.

"It is a welcome development to boost our capability," Gapay told reporters in Davao City.

"In every military operation, the intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capability is very important. So having these capabilities, it could be used in any military operation, not just Marawi, but of course, in all other parts in Mindanao," he added.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the government would "gladly" welcome any form of foreign assistance allowed under our Constitution to help suppress the rebellion in Marawi.

Gapay said the security forces, through the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, were able to prevent the spillover of hostile acts in Marawi City to other parts of the country.

"A month after the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, Eastern Mindanao Command has been steadfast in carrying out its mandate of securing and shielding the area from terrorist attacks following the dictum and principles of necessity, proportionality, and strict adherence to the rule of law and human rights," he said.

The month-long hostilities in Marawi have resulted in the death of 26 civilians, 298 Jihadist militants, and 69 government troops. (With VR/SunStar Philippines)
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