Australia is sending spy aircraft to the Philippines to help Manila in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State (Isis)-linked militants in Marawi. The reconnaissance flights will kick-start intelligence-gathering sorties over the southern Philippines, providing support to the Filipino ground forces.
The Philippines launched an intensive combat against Islamist extremists in the southern parts of the country in May, clamping the Mindanao region under martial law. With Marawi city in the region turning into the nucleus of the conflict, hundreds of people, mostly extremists, have lost their lives and thousands displaced.
As a mark of support to the progressing conflict, Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne has confirmed that P-3 Orion will buttress Philippines soldiers' ground campaign. Australia and the Philippines share extensive military cooperation. Canberra's deployment also underscores how it seriously views the links between the Islamic State and the Islamists in the Philippines.
"The regional threat from terrorism, in particular from Daesh and foreign fighters, is a direct threat to Australia and our interests. Australia will continue to work with our partners in South-east Asia to counter it," Payne told the Fairfax media. The decision came after Payne spoke to her Filipino counterpart, Delfin Lorenzana about how best Canberra could extend its support.
It is still unclear from where the high-tech surveillance Orions, which are usually mobilised to patrol maritime borders, will fly. The versatile P-3 Orion aircrafts are capable of collecting aerial pictures and can also tap mobile communications.
The Philippines is already using fighter jets and helicopters to pound the militants in Marawi. The addition of Orion planes is likely to boost their operations as Manila is keen to wrap up its Marawi siege in the coming days.
Marawi, a key city with a majority of the Muslim population in the Catholic-dominated Philippines, has largely been left in ruins following the military onslaught. Most of the city's 200,000-strong population has already fled the conflict with the stranded ones are being used as human shields or held as hostages by the extremists.