This month was especially fruitful for military cooperation between Canberra and Manila. As the battle of Marawi drew to a close, Australian warships from the Indo-Pacific Task Group visited for joint exercises with the Philippine Navy. During the 11th ASEAN Defense Minister’s Meeting an Australian-led urban warfare training program for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was announced. Both further improve the already robust Defense Cooperation Agreement between the two countries.
These activities are far more encouraging than the recent efforts by China and Russia to woo the Duterte administration, whose main foreign policy thrust is turning the Philippines away from the US’ sphere of influence. In the past months, Beijing and Moscow delivered weapons the Philippine military has little use for. Australia, on the other hand, is showing it’s a dependable friend during times of crisis.
The visit by the Australian naval ships was just the latest in generous open assistance for the Philippines that goes back more than 2o years. Earlier in June, as the fighting in Marawi dragged on, two AP-3C Orion intelligence gathering planes were flown to Mindanao. These were meant to assist Filipino troops battling a local ISIS franchise in the city.
On October 10 one of the Australian Navy’s amphibious assault ships, HMAS Adelaide, received President Duterte as a matter of protocol. The Adelaide was joined by its escort, the missile frigate HMAS Darwin, in Manila’s busy port for a goodwill visit. Both ships then sailed for Subic Bay, where extensive naval facilities are located.
Both the Adelaide and Darwin participated in the four-day Exercise LUMBAS, an annual event for honing interoperability. On October 17 the Adelaide and her crew, along with 80 Philippine Navy personnel onboard, carried out a simulated landing in Subic. This was supposed to recreate a disaster relief effort with the help of Filipino naval assets escorting the Adelaide. According to the Adelaide’s commanding officer this year’s LUMBAS offered Filipino sailors the chance to learn how to run a Landing Platform Dock (LPD).
Another boon for the AFP is a new urban warfare course announced by Australia’s defense minister on October 23. This allows Australian advisers to visit local bases and pass on lessons learned from their own combat experience in the Middle East. It should prove useful for thousands of Filipino soldiers who now face a persistent threat from ISIS-affiliated terrorists. Here’s an excerpt from the statement published by the Australian Department of Defence:
The Australian Defence Force will expand its assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to strengthen its long-term ability to combat terrorist threats and prevent the spread of Daesh to our region.
Minister for Defence Senator the Hon Marise Payne said ADF mobile training teams will begin providing urban warfare counter-terrorism training in the Philippines in the coming days.
The agreement comes after five months of fierce fighting in the Southern Philippines city Marawi, which was seized by Daesh-aligned terrorists in May. Minister Payne welcomed the announcement by the Philippines Government yesterday that fighting in Marawi has ended.
“The practical training the ADF will provide will ensure the Philippines defence force is better able to counter the brutal tactics being employed by terrorists,’’ Minister Payne said.
“Globally we have seen the effect of extremist ideology and terrorist threats on millions of civilians and it is alarming to see this disruption come to our region.
“The spread of Daesh-inspired terrorism is a direct threat to Australia and its interests and we are committed to working with our partners and allies to ensuring Daesh cannot establish a geographic foothold in the region.”
As part of the increased cooperation, Australia and the Philippines defence forces will also work together to enhance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the southern Philippines; strengthen information sharing arrangements; and enhance maritime security engagement and bilateral maritime patrols.
Australia and the Philippines will also co-host a multiagency civil, military and law enforcement seminar on post-conflict rehabilitation efforts. This seminar will draw on lessons from past operations, and international and local civil-military-police expertise.
Minister Payne and Philippines Secretary for National Defense Delfin Lorenzana confirmed the arrangements during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defence Ministers’ Meeting‑Plus in the Philippines.