Australia to send more troops to help Philippines fight Islamist militants

SYDNEY: Australia will send troops to assist Philippine forces in the ongoing battle against Islamic State fighters in the southern city of Marawi, Australia’s Defense Minister Marise Payne said on Friday.

Small contingents of Australian soldiers will be sent to train Philippine troops, Payne said during a press conference with her counterpart, Delfin Lorenzana in Manila.

“We are very committed to supporting the Philippines in its efforts to defend itself against terrorist threats,” Minister Payne said.

“This is a threat to the region (that) we all need to work together to defeat.”

But no Australian troops will be actively involved in the fighting, Lorenza said.

“It would not look good if we would be needing troops to fight the war here. We are happy with the assistance we’re getting from Australia.”

The militants swept through Marawi on May 23 and have held parts of it despite sustained ground attacks by hundreds of soldiers and daily pummeling by planes and artillery.

The southern Philippines has been marred for decades by insurgency and banditry. But the intensity of the battle in Marawi and the presence of foreign fighters fighting alongside local militants has raised concerns that the region may be becoming a Southeast Asian hub for Islamic State as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria.

The Australian troops will compliment those from their country already sent to the Philippines to train local personnel, Payne said.

Philippine troops fighting Islamic State-linked rebels in a southern city have encountered armed resistance from women and children who were likely family member of militants, the Phillipine military said on Monday.

A spokesman for Payne said further details of the training contingent would be determined in coming days.