MANILA: 127 days into the ongoing Marawi crisis, the Philippine authorities have yet to establish how Daesh-inspired Maute fighters and foreign jihadists laid siege to the country's only Islamic city; the capital of Lanao del Sur province on Mindanao island.
“We have not yet discovered how (the foreign fighters) got in,” said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday in a joint press conference with the US Ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, to mark the end of a bilateral multi-agency counterterrorism drill called Tempest Wind. “A lot of them (have come) from Malaysia, Indonesia, from Jolo, Sulu, Basilan and other places in Mindanao.”
Aside from members of the Maute group, Lorenzana said around 25 foreign jihadists are believed to have entered Marawi, and over half of them had been killed so far.
The defense chief added, “We are going to intensify our intelligence efforts. We are trying to upgrade technical capabilities with the help of the US and other countries.
“I think we have no choice but to really solve this problem because if we do not, then it will crop up again in places other than Marawi,” he continued.
Kim agreed, saying, “It's obvious that we face a real threat.” The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), he said, are now doing everything possible to contain the situation.
He stressed that the US and the Philippines would continue to strengthen their alliance in the fight against terrorism, saying “counterterrorism requires cooperation,” and pointed out that Tempest Wind — which took place as the Philippines faces its biggest internal security crisis in years — was just the latest example of the two countries’ close ties.
“It was a challenging drill for both sides, intended to test and improve the ability of our nations to plan, coordinate, and conduct counterterrorism operations,” the ambassador said.
The drill included a scenario involving a real commercial airliner filled with over 150 actors who played hostages to create a realistic environment in which to test bilateral interagency decision-making and tactical response.
“What we learned through this exercise will help us focus future bilateral training to enhance our crisis-response capabilities,” said Kim. “Counterterrorism continues to be a shared priority for our two nations, and of course important to the entire region.”