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Australia to Send Spy Planes to Help Philippines Recapture Marawi

The AP-3C Orion aircraft will operate over the southern region of the island of Mindanao, where Marawi is situated.

The planes are configured to look for people on the ground, said Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank.

“Normally they’re maritime surveillance aircraft, but we use them very effectively in the counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan,” Mr. Jennings said. “This will be about helping to locate targets of training camps, individual insurgent fighters. It’ll be quite a serious commitment.”

Australia has offered support to Southeast Asia in the past, Mr. Jennings said. In the first decade of the 2000s, Australia provided river boats to the Philippines to aid in the fight against an insurgency in the south. It has given intelligence support to Indonesia as well as offered some special forces training; armed forces in Thailand have received protective clothing for the removal of improvised explosive devices.

Intelligence information suggested that a Malaysian militant believed to have bankrolled a siege of Marawi, and a Filipino brother accused of plotting the attack, were killed in the clashes in the city.

The military said the Malaysian, identified as Mahmud Ahmad, was wounded and later died. Troops had yet to recover his body.


A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion in 2014. Australian military spy planes will start flying missions over the southern Philippines to help in the fight against Islamic militants in Marawi. Credit Rob Griffith/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Intelligence counterparts in Malaysia said Mr. Mahmud had wired more than half a million dollars in Islamic State funds to the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute groups in the Philippines to carry out the attacks.

Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, commander of military forces in eastern Mindanao, said Mr. Mahmud, a former professor who had trained in Afghanistan, was among at least 40 foreign terrorists to have entered the Philippines through its borders in the south.

In a video recovered by the military last month, he was shown planning the assault in Marawi with several militants, including Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged leader of the Islamic State in the Philippines and the leader of Abu Sayyaf.

Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, a spokesman for the Philippine military, said it had also received intelligence reports that Omarkhayam Maute, one of two brothers who led the Maute group, had been killed.

But he said this could not be independently confirmed because troops had yet to advance in the four villages in Marawi into which the insurgents had been pushed.

“We can’t say what day he was killed, what firearm had killed him or where his cadaver was buried,” he said, noting that strong evidence pointed to his death.

If the deaths are confirmed, it will mean a significant blow to the militants. The death toll in the clashes has exceeded 300 people, including 26 civilians and 69 soldiers and police officers.

The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed on Thursday to coordinate closely in combating terrorism. There had been fears that the Islamic State was moving to establish a regional base in Marawi, and officials and security analysts said there was a need for a more concerted effort to address the rise of the militants.

The military said the insurgents had been cornered in a small section of Marawi. But the rebels have strongly resisted, using snipers, bombs and rocket-propelled grenades from positions they control.

“The focus of the military operations remains,” a presidential spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said, adding that the militants “continue to pose pockets of resistance to the advancing troops.”

He said the gunmen had been torching houses and establishments as well as using civilians as shields as they hide in areas, like mosques, where the military cannot advance.

Source: NYT > World

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