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The Eagle will fly

It’s not the Ateneo eagle, but the Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system (shown in photo) that has been deployed to Mindanao, underscoring the increased surveillance support of the United States for the counterterrorism efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. My Washington sources say the advent of new technology, as seen in the Gray Eagle drone, can be a “game changer” in the battle against terrorism considering its enhanced reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities.

Designed and developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, it has longer flight duration – exceeding 40 hours during an endurance flight test – that will enable it to cover a larger area for reconnaissance and surveillance. In fact, the Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system provides reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition for the “Operation Inherent Resolve” campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, with ground commanders provided with a long-endurance armed platform that can enhance situational awareness and thereby provide strategic impact during operations.

The US has provided more than P15 billion worth of assistance to the Philippines in the past three years for the AFP to have better know-how as far as command, control and communications is concerned, not to mention enhance its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. Earlier this year, the US delivered new equipment and hardware to the AFP that include three Raven unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), 400 M-203 grenade launchers, sniper rifles, carbines, Glock pistols, more than two dozen combat rubber raiding craft, GPS kits and two Cessna 208B Grand Caravan EX aircraft to boost the defense and anti-terrorism capability of our troops.

Much earlier, the US also pledged P730 million to support the government’s recovery and rehabilitation efforts for Marawi City. According to the AFP – which scored a major victory following the retaking of a strategic bridge – only one of the seven Maute brothers who led the ISIS-inspired terrorist group is still alive. Meantime, the manhunt has been intensified for Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon who has sworn allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The task of rehabilitating Marawi is going to be massive, but many Filipinos are hopeful the city will be able to rise from the ashes and that the displaced residents will be able to recover with the help of fellow Filipinos, non-government organizations, business groups and allies like the United States.

‘Marawi must not become new Raqqa’

The Australian government is taking the threat of terrorism very seriously, listing the Islamic State (IS) in East Asia as a terrorist organization. Under Australia’s criminal code, any Australian who enlists, participates in, trains with or provides support to the terrorist group will face up to 25 years of imprisonment.

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Analysts say the spread of ISIS in Southeast Asia is a security threat that must be curbed, especially since the terrorist group wants to establish a new caliphate in Mindanao. The continued attack against ISIS strongholds in Syria and Iraq has forced the extremist militants to look towards Southeast Asia – intensifying their recruitment activities in countries like Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. According to intelligence information, more than 380 Indonesians have signed up with ISIS and have traveled to Syria and Iraq, while some 60 Malaysians are now also with ISIS.

 According to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Marawi City must not be allowed to become the Raqqa of Southeast Asia, which is why it is “vitally important” that the ISIS-inspired Maute terrorist group is defeated. Early in June, the Australian government deployed an Orion P3 surveillance aircraft to Mindanao to support the Philippine government in the fight against terrorists.

Plans are also underway for the Australian Defense Force to train Philippine troops on urban warfare tactics which can be used in fighting IS-linked terrorists. Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had met earlier to discuss details of the training program which could be implemented by October.

Australia is particularly concerned about the influence of ISIS which has been stepping up its recruitment efforts in Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia. What’s also disturbing for many Australians is that it’s not only the impressionable youth who are getting radicalized – even professionals are leaving the country to become Islamist fighters.

One of them is a pediatrician named Tareq Kamleh a.k.a. “Abu Yusuf” or “Dr. Jihad” who appeared in an ISIS propaganda video encouraging lone wolf attacks against Australia. Describing former US president Barack Obama as “effeminate,” Dr. Jihad challenged President Donald Trump to put US soldiers on the ground in the Middle East, saying they are “really waiting eagerly” and that they “love death more than you love life.”

ISIS also released a video that branded Australia as the “guard dog” of America in Southeast Asia, with footages showing youthful militants torching a church, ripping photos of the Pope and smashing a crucifix and statues of Mary.  The video also called on Muslims in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and Singapore to “come forth to the land of Jihad, come forth to dar-al-Islam in Marawi.”

Intelligence sources say Australia is set to lead a regional task force to fight the ISIS terror threat in Southeast Asia, with discussions to be firmed up in November. As Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan noted, “No single country can defeat ISIS alone, but together, we create a united force that can defeat this threat.”



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