PH, Australia to enhance counter-terror training

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    DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Australian defense minister Linda Reynolds have agreed to enhance counter-terrorism training between the two countries that started two years ago.

    In a joint statement, the defense establishments said the agreement was reached at the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus held in Bangkok, Thailand on Saturday.

    The statement said Australia will transition its support under Operation Augury-Philippines to Enhanced Defense Cooperation Program on December 1.

    It said the development “reinforced a shared long-term commitment to countering the regional terrorist threat and building on the well-established bilateral defense relationship.”

    About 10,000 Filipino troops have benefited from the counter-terrorism and urban warfare training provided by the Australians since October 2017 in the aftermath of the attack on Marawi City.

    Members of the terror group Maute occupied several Marawi City barangays, leading to a five-month conflict that left about a thousand terrorists, 168 soldiers and policemen, and 47 civilians dead.

    When the fighting ended, Armed Forces officials admitted that the limited training of its troops on urban warfare contributed to the prolonged operations in Marawi City, thus it embarked on the training program with the Australians.

    “This training cooperation has included essential land-based activities focused on urban combat and joint coordination skills, air training focused on enhancing air coordination in the urban environment, and maritime training activities,” the joint statement said.

    It said Reynolds and Lorenzana agreed that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Program “will allow the Australian Defense Force to continue delivering the capacity-building support for counter-terrorism cooperation requested by the Philippines.”

    “The program will also provide funding certainty and greater flexibility to meet the broader needs of the Australia-Philippines bilateral defense relationship,” it also said.

    Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the arrangement will lead to more “more frequent training activities with Australia.”

    “They want to raise their engagement with us, to a higher level,” he said, adding the Australians are planning to include a humanitarian assistance and disaster response training to the program.

    “Their (Australians’) main thrust is training, they are sharing skills enhancement and they are committing themselves to the conduct of training and other activities with our Armed Forces,” said Andolong.

    Andolong could not immediately say how many Filipino troops they are Australians are aiming to train. The Armed Forces has about 140,000 officers and men at present.

    Andolong said the Australians are training “select units” of the military.

    He said technical working groups the Australian and Philippines defense establishments are going to discuss the details of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Program.