AUSTRALIA has offered to send Australian Special Forces to assist and train the Philippine military in its fights against Islamic State (IS) militants in the country’s south.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Tuesday she had extended the offer of support to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte during a visit to Manila this month, but was yet to hear a response.
“Obviously, we would be ready to support the Philippines in the same way we are supporting Iraq in advising, assisting and training,” Bishop told reporters in Canberra, as reported by ABC News.
“The [Philippines] armed forces are in the process of engaging in a pretty brutal fight with IS.”
“We’ve offered to assist in any way that might add to the likelihood of defeating this scourge in the southern Philippines — it’s in our region.”
The offer does not extend to the deployment of combat troops to the besieged area of Mindanao where IS militants have been trying to establish a Southeast Asian Headquarters since May.
“I went through with the President in some detail the support we have given in Iraq, that does not include troops on the ground,” Bishop said.
The Royal Australian Air Force have deployed spy planes to the region to provide intelligence to the Philippine military on the ground.
The United States, Malaysia and Indonesia had also offered to help, Bishop said.
Fighting in the rebel-occupied Marawi City is causing increasing alarm among Australia and its Southeast Asian neighbours, with fears the assault could inspire and unite the region’s disparate Islamist groups.
In July, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned Australia could be directly threatened by IS operations in the Philippines after the group released a graphic propaganda video threatening to harm Australia and calling it the “regional guard dog”.
According to Reuters, more than 700 people, including 130 soldiers, have been killed since the militants, aided by foreign fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East, seized control of the city of 200,000.
Duterte has extended martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until the end of the year, to give him time to crush the rebel movement.