The Philippines has welcomed Australia’s offer to deploy troops to train Filipino soldiers, the defence ministers of the two allies said Friday, as Islamic extremists continue to terrorise parts of the country.
The announcement came as the Philippine military called Friday for more funds to root out pro-Islamic State group militants, more than three months into a deadly offensive devastating the southern city of Marawi.
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and his Australian counterpart Marise Payne said Manila agreed to an offer from Canberra, made in August, for Australian troops to train local soldiers inside yet-to-be-named Filipino bases.
“We have increased our engagement, a surge if you like, in the context of the current events,” Payne said at a joint news conference with Lorenzana.
She said many areas of the Asia-Pacific were threatened by the return of “foreign fighters” who had gone to engage in combat in the Middle East.
“They (foreign fighters) are battle-hardened. They are well trained, they are very determined,” she warned, adding that she had also discussed the threat with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Australian Foreign minister Julie Bishop revealed last week that she recently spoke to President Rodrigo Duterte and offered training aid to the Philippines similar to that provided to Iraq.
Lorenzana stressed that the Philippines did not need foreign troops for actual combat but said Australians could train local soldiers in information-gathering and analysis.
“It will not look good if we would need (foreign) troops to fight the war here,” he said.
Australia has a defence cooperation programme with the Philippines and is its second closest defence ally behind the United States.
It deployed two high-tech AP-3C Orion spy planes in June after hundreds of armed extremists, flying the black flag of the Islamic State movement in the Middle East, occupied Marawi on May 23, triggering fierce fighting that is still raging.
More than 800 extremists, government troops and civilians have been killed in the conflict, the military said.
Duterte has deployed thousands of troops and imposed martial law across the southern third of the country to deal with the crisis.
The military revealed Friday it has asked Congress for a supplementary billion pesos ($19.6 million) to fund the Marawi campaign, which has cost three billion pesos so far.
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