INDONESIA, MALAYSIA TO AID PH
Asean foot soldiers will be deployed in Mindanao in an unprecedented move to strengthen Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) cooperation to stem the growth of Islamic State (IS) sympathizers in the region, regional defense officials said in a recent anti-terror summit.
Under the agreement, Indonesia will deploy soldiers to hunt down pro-IS militants for the first time in a joint ground patrol with Malaysia and the Philippines, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said.
Reports in Indonesia said Ryamizard first divulged the joint ground patrol aimed at curbing the spread of IS in the region during a speech at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, a meeting in Singapore attended by Southeast Asian and other world leaders.
The three key Asean members had established trilateral air and maritime patrols in the Sulu Sea and cooperation through the joint operation of land forces that will start “two months from now.”
“The aim of this joint operation is to locate ISIS in the southern Philippines and stop it from spreading,” he said, using the other acronym for IS.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said during the forum “challenges do not end when the military declared victory” on October 23 last year in the Marawi City siege of pro-IS forces.
“While pro-Daesh [another term for IS] groups failed to establish a strong foothold in southern Philippines and in Southeast Asia, their initial accomplishments provide a viable blueprint for terrorism operations in the region,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana also revealed government plans to boost the country’s technological capabilities as part of counterterrorism efforts.
“We are looking at facial-recognition software so that we can easily track down the bad guys,” Lorenzana added.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) bought ScanEagle drones from the US for use in low-altitude surveillance.
US forces stationed in Mindanao also use small drones with powerful signaling capabilities, he said.
“When our order for bigger drones arrives, it will improve our intelligence capabilities,” he said.
Lorenzana said pro-IS militants also use sophisticated technologies to spread propaganda and gain an advantage in clashes with government forces.
Lorenzana said during the five-month battle in Marawi, militants had used drones, which were shot down by Philippine troops.
Terrorists were using technology for recruitment, to plan their movements and to send money, he added.
“During the Marawi siege, my people recommended that we shut down the Internet there because the Mautes inside were sending pictures and messages outside,” he said.
Lorenzana agreed that intelligence capabilities “are only as good as the people who manage them and who interpret the data.
“We still need human intelligence, people who go down and see things on the ground with their own eyes and feel what’s happening on the ground so they can report to headquarters,” he said.
International security consultant Stephen Cutler praised the Department of National Defense’s (DND) plan to upgrade its technological capabilities.
Facial-recognition systems were being used in other countries and were highly effective, he said.
Ryamizard said the expansion of the existing trilateral patrol mechanism would take place with Malaysia and the Philippines giving their agreement.
“I planned it. The implementation is after Eid,” he told Indonesian reporters after a ceremony at the Defense Ministry in Jakarta.
At a bilateral meeting with his Malaysian counterpart Mohamad Sabu last June 9 in Singapore, Ryamizard said the training exercise “at a company level” would focus on “anti-guerrilla warfare, urban warfare and how to tackle snipers.”
Ryamizard told Mohamad the militants in southern Philippines were skilled marksmen and it was necessary for the three countries to equip their forces with better rifles.
The battle for Marawi City emboldened other Southeast Asian terror cells aligned with the Syria- and Iraq-based IS, according to analysts.
Among the 31,500 foreign fighters who had joined IS in Syria, about 800 came from Asia, including 400 from Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country, Ryamizard said.
“Maritime patrols have been already implemented, the air patrols too, even though mostly through drones, but it is the same. But not the land patrols yet, even though the combined land forces exercise is very important,” Ryamizard said.
Indonesia’s Defense Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Totok Sugiharto, told BenarNews that the exercise would involve the three forces from the Indonesian National Army (TNI).
“This is also a continuation of the collaboration of the intelligence sharing strategy ‘Our Eyes’ which was launched earlier,” he said.
The intelligence agreement involves Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand launched earlier this year in Bali, Indonesia.