Singapore has offered drones and intelligence support to Philippine security forces battling Islamic State-backed militants who remain entrenched in the southern city of Marawi, Filipino defense officials said Wednesday.
The offer was made during a Manila area meeting on Tuesday between Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen and his Filipino counterpart, Delfin Lorenzana, the Philippine Defense Department said in a statement.
“The challenge posed by violent extremism is a problem for all of us in the region,” it said, “Hence, the Philippines could count on the support of Singapore.”
The department said Ng emphasized Singapore’s offer to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as transport of supplies for the rehabilitation of Marawi. The city on Mindanao island resembles a ghost town after its 200,000 population rushed evacuated Marawi when the siege began on May 23.
The fighting is about to enter its third month, with no immediate end in sight.
On Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte formally asked Congress to extend the martial law that he had imposed on Marawi for five more months, a tacit admission that the military was hard up in defeating the gunmen backed by fighters from other countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, including Singapore.
Military rule was to end at the weekend, two days before Duterte was to go before Congress for his annual state-of-the-nation address.
Among others, Singapore offered the use of its drones and urban training centers for use of Filipino forces. Ng was quoted by the Singapore media as saying that “surveillance is an issue” in Marawi.
The city-state has among the region’s most well-equipped military, and its Air Force is known to operate the Heron 1, an unmanned aerial vehicle capable of daylong flights.
The statement said Lorenzana had agreed in principle to accept the offer and had instructed the Philippine military to coordinate with its Singaporean counterpart.
The Marawi fighting began when troops and police moved in to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader and the acknowledged head of the IS in the Philippines. But they were forced back by a strong rebel force that included militants from the local Maute group, backed up by foreign fighters.
The gunmen tore through the city, burning buildings and kidnapping a group of civilians.
Duterte has admitted that government forces were surprised by the rebel firepower, but has said that he knew of the attack beforehand because some of his relatives also joined the militants in the gun battles.
The fighting has killed 97 government troops, 45 civilians and 405 extremists, including several foreigners, officials said.
Apart from Singapore, Duterte has also sought intelligence help from the United States, a longtime ally, and Australia.
Abu Sayyaf militant arrested
Elsewhere in the south, meanwhile, police said they had arrested an Abu Sayyaf militant wanted for the kidnappings of 21 tourists from the nearby Malaysian resort island of Sipadan 17 years ago.
Suspect Abdulmubin Kudalat Salahuddin was arrested on Wednesday in the city of Zamboanga. Police said he was a weapons procurer for the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), whose fighters are battling government troops in the nearby island of Sulu.
The ASG eventually freed the hostages, which included Europeans, after the families reportedly paid millions of dollars in ransom.
Mark Navales in Cotabato City contributed to this report.