Duterte accepts international help as Islamic extremism spreads in the south
Australia has agreed to send two surveillance planes to the Philippine government’s aid as that country continues to battle Islamic rebels who have occupied the southern town of Marawi for the past month and claimed hundreds of lives.
The offer of the two AP-3C Orion planes comes a day after the Philippines made an agreement with neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia to pool information in order to try to stop the advance of extremist fighters, according to a Reuters report.
The United States has also provided assistance through military surveillance and communications experts stationed in the region.
According to the report, Australia’s help comes with the acknowledgment that the separatists have “much stronger designs on parts of the southern Philippines than previously imagined.” There are also fears that losses suffered by ISIS in Syria and Iraq may mean that the organization has shifted its operations to a different arena.
There are about 300 to 500 residents still trapped in the battle zone and being used as human shields, according to a report in The Philippines Star. Islamic militants Wednesday held 31 people hostage inside a school after hundreds of gunmen attacked a military outpost and took the school over. The militants fled during the night, and all of the hostages were unharmed, according to an AFP report.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across Mindanao after fighters, flying the ISIS flag, took over Marawi on May 23.
Muslim separatists have been fighting for over four decades for autonomy in the mostly Catholic country. Over 120,000 people have lost their lives in that time, according to the AFP report. The Philippine government told the AFP that the militants occupying Marawi are from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf organizations, which have united with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) under the ISIS umbrella.