CLARK, Philippines (AP) — Australia will deploy its forces to train Filipino troops on urban warfare following a disastrous siege by pro-Islamic State group militants on Marawi city in the southern Philippines, the Australian defense chief said Tuesday.
Philippine troops accustomed to battling insurgents in jungle terrain struggled for five months to fight the hundreds of militants and snipers who took cover in buildings, mosques and houses in Marawi. Officials finally declared Monday that the deadly insurrection had been crushed.
Defense Minister Marise Payne said Australian defense forces would soon provide training on a range of urban combat skills to Filipino soldiers and marines in Philippine military bases to help combat the extremists' brutal tactics under an agreement with the Manila government.
Australia is also helping the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia to keep track of returning Asian militants who have fought for the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, she said.
"They are battle-trained, they are battle-hardened, they are extremists of the highest order who have been prepared to do the most appalling things using civilians as human shield, using civilians as collateral in their efforts to try and pursue their perverted ideology," Payne said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippine embassy in Baghdad has sent a long list of names of Indonesian, Malaysian and "a couple of Filipinos," who have fought in Iraq and may return to Asia. The information came from Kurdish intelligence sources, he said.
"We are monitoring these people," Lorenzana said.
Payne and Lorenzana spoke at a news conference on the sidelines of an annual meeting of Southeast Asian defense chiefs with their Asian and Western counterparts at Clark freeport north of Manila. Battling terrorism was high on the meetings' agenda.
Lorenzana thanked Australia and said the Philippines plans to build its own urban-fighting training centers for Filipino forces. Australia has a status of forces agreement that allows its forces to train in the Philippines, which had also signed a similar pact with treaty ally, the United States.
Military chief Gen. Eduardo Ano said it took a few weeks for Filipino troops to adjust and shift their tactics in the initial days of the fighting in the mosque-studded city of Marawi. Hundreds of marines got stuck up in a beach at one time, for example, and only managed to take positions inland after a battalion of combat engineers was organized to clear huge mounds of debris.
"It's very different because the terrorists were exploiting the use of solid structures, basements and they're able to maximize the use of snipers, improvised explosive devices, bombs and then they used civilians as human shields," Ano told The Associated Press in an interview. "We will come up with a new doctrine on how to fight in urban warfare."
More than 1,100 combatants and civilians perished in the Marawi fighting, including at least 920 militants and 165 soldiers and policemen. Troops rescued 1,777 civilian hostages and recovered 855 firearms in the worst urban fighting in the Philippines in recent memory, Ano said.