The Australian troops leading urban counter-terrorism drills in the Philippines


Australian troops have completed a wave of combat drills with marines in the Philippines as part of a new counter-terrorism mentorship program.

A battalion of Philippine marines trained with their Australian counterparts in a mentorship program on urban warfare.

Philippine troops are accustomed to battles in jungle terrain, but after struggling to quash hundreds of pro-IS militants hiding throughout the city of Marawi, Australian troops are helping shift the focus to urban settings.

The five-month Marawi conflict claimed around 1,000 lives. After the city was mostly liberated in October, Australia launched the Military Operation of Urbanised Terrain program (MOUT).

Philippine Marines Commandant Alvin Pareno said MOUT's focus was to train hard and train often.

"The new techniques we acquired from the Australian Defence Force are very important to all of us," told SBS News.

"They're applicable now that we're fighting a new type of enemy, a new type of design of spectrum of warfare."

The exercises in the province of Cavite were led by Australian Defence Force personnel experienced in close-combat strategies.

Amanda Gorely, Australia's ambassador to the Philippines, said more training programs will commence early next year.

"We do not want to see terrorist groups like IS establishing in Southeast Asia," she said.

"We consider that not just as a threat to the Philippines or the Southeast Asian region, but also a threat to Australia's own national security, so that's why we think it's important to provide whatever assistance we can."

Australia has increasingly focused its resources in the Philippines, from military assistance to joint efforts targeting terrorist financing.

Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies at the Australian National University John Blaxland said given the current threat of terrorism within the Philippines and across the world, Australia's efforts have been justified.

"Australia's military contribution is contributing to the armed forces and the government being able to respond in a more measured, constrained way that will hopefully provide some political opening for a more fundamental resolution," he told SBS News.

But the onus ultimately lies with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who according to Professor Blaxland was re-shifting his focus to crime and terrorism, after various political distractions in Manila.

"Australia's contribution with its military trainers in the southern Philippines is really only touching the sides," Mr Blaxland said.

"What's needed is significant reform within the Philippines, legislative transformation. These are things Australia can't really do.

"We can encourage them, we can provide some support to facilitate the government reaching that point. But fundamentally we're really providing ancillary services to a more deeper challenge that the Filipino people and the government must face pretty much on their own."

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