The United States government has deployed unmanned surveillance aircraft in Mindanao to help authorities battle terrorists, an assistance welcomed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), according to the US Embassy, has a “longer flight duration” allowing a larger scope of reconnaissance and surveillance.
Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP’s public affairs chief, said Manila has been receiving similar assistance from Washington.
“This is one of the areas where their assistance in counter terrorism will be very helpful,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that Pentagon has been providing intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) to the Philippines.
The US has provided the Philippines more than P15 billion worth of assistance for the past three years.
In July, the US government delivered two Cessna-208B surveillance planes to the Philippine Air Force, which according to Lorenzana, will be used in maritime patrols and to secure disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and the Philippine Rise (Benham).
The US also provided Raven tactical UAS, as well as various munitions and weapons to support the Philippines in its defense and counterterrorism needs.
The military is in its final stages of clearing Marawi City, where the Islamic State-linked Maute Group had been battling state troops since May.
“The areas covered by enemies are getting smaller by the day. From at least 400 [buildings]to be cleared, we are now down to 300 to 320 buildings. We are very careful that these buildings, upon clearing, won’t be occupied by the enemies again. These are the strongest buildings. They are big and sturdy,” military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
Padilla lauded the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for being supportive of government operations against the Maute group and its sympathizers.
“The members of the MILF had expressed their strong commitment in supporting our fight against ISIS-inspired groups, including in South Cotabato where there are BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) members,”
Padilla said. “We are working relentlessly in finishing this war and the ISIS-inspired groups which pollute the minds of their fellow Muslims and show Muslims to the wrong path of faith.”
The fighting in Marawi has displaced around 200,000 people.
Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon said the Marawi crisis had cost government P2.8 billion but every cent spent by the Department of National Defense was worth it.
“We could just imagine the staggering amount of loss that we would have acquired if we did not put control and order in Marawi. The P2.8 billion is worth it,” Biazon said in a statement.
Biazon, the vice chairman of the National Defense and Security, said the money was used to protect national security and integrity.
with RALPH VILLANUEVA