Curbing terrorism in Mindanao has remained a top mission for the government even as the police forces focus their efforts on the anti-drug war. One big headache for the military right now is that which comes from the extremist Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups, which had both pledged allegiance to the Islamic State or IS.
The ASG is still very much around and apparently continues to have its pick of local and foreign civilians as hostages for ransom.
Not to be outshone is the Maute Group, which since May 23, has been holing up in Marawi City with the Islamic mission of planting the IS flag on the capital of Lanao del Sur province, and to this day has remnants still battling it out with government troops, way past several deadlines. They make it appear they are a tougher nut to crack, or they would have been neutralized weeks ago.
A more recent victim of these terrorists is the commander of a Scout Ranger Company who was reportedly trying to rescue one of his team leaders inside the main battle zone in Marawi.
Capt. Rommel Sandoval was the 44th Scout Ranger killed during more than three months of fighting between government troops and the Maute group. Sandoval’s death came just as the government was trying to wrap up the operation in Marawi and itching to declare, “the battle is over.”
Then comes Australia, which recently offered assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the fight against terrorist groups in the south. The offer, made by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to President Rodrigo Duterte during a visit to Manila last month, came with the caveat that Canberra would not actually field its soldiers in Marawi City but only train Filipino forces in counter-terrorism.
Back in Canberra, Ms. Bishop was quoted as saying, “Obviously we would be ready to support the Philippines in the same way we are supporting Iraq in advising, assisting and training.”
Australian intelligence must have reported back home the extent of trouble the Philippine troops have to deal with in fighting the apparently intransigent Maute Group, with Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne acknowledging, “This is a threat to the region that we all need to work together to defeat.”
ABC News, quoting Bishop, reported on its website, “The [Philippine] armed forces are in the process of engaging in a pretty brutal fight with ISIS.”
“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,” Bishop reportedly said in the report by defense correspondent Andrew Greene.
The Royal Australian Air Force spy planes are already operating in the area, providing intel to the Philippine military, ABC News added.
It would be understandable if Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had been given the go-signal by President Rodrigo Duterte to take Australia up on its offer. The Australian commitment to help should come in handy. It raises hopes that the sideline assistance offered by Canberra would prove effective and provide useful help to the Philippine government in crushing the threat of terror that refuses to give up on this sovereign nation.