Amid reports of a resurgent Islamic State (IS) presence in Southern Philippines, more than 1,300 U.S. and Filipino Marines began joint large-scale anti-terrorism training, officials said Wednesday,
The exercises, dubbed “Cooperation of Warriors at Sea,” scheduled to run until Oct. 10, focuses as well on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, military spokesman Col. Noel Detoyato said.
The training falls under the annual Balikatan, or “shoulder-to-shoulder,” exercises between the defense allies.
Detoyato said about 100 Japanese Marines were invited to join as observers in the trainings to be carried out in different parts of Luzon island.
“The Philippines and U.S. agreed on 281 security cooperation activities for 2019, an increase over 2018,” Detoyato said.
The allies look forward to “ongoing close cooperation in areas central to our national and security interests, including counter-terrorism,” Detoyato said.
In an assessment released recently, the U.S. State Department listed the Philippines along with Afghanistan, India, Iraq and Pakistan, as among five countries with the most terrorist attacks.
Nikki de la Rosa, leader of the think-tank International Alert Philippines which tracks conflicts, said that while the Marawi crisis is over, militant groups appear to have funding to fuel their terroristic activists as they continue to evade capture.
The five-month war in Marawi caused the number of violent conflicts in the province of Lanao del Sur to increase to 942 incidents in 2017 from 514 in 2016. Deaths resulting from these conflicts, rose to 1,358 compared to 310 the previous year.
The entire southern Mindanao region remains under military rule and President Rodrigo Duterte has said dozens of militant leaders escaped from Marawi.
The survival of extremist groups in Lanao areas and in a sprawling marshland in central Mindanao “reinforce the belief that they had access to funds from many sources including shadow economies,” de la Rosa said Tuesday.
Additionally, remnants of the militant groups blamed for the Marawi siege “used kinship networks to expand their resources and evade capture,” she said.
Apart from IS-affiliated fighters who had escaped from Marawi, other groups, such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Abu Sayyaf were also fighting the military.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said government is ready to thwart any additional IS threat in the country.
“We assure the public that we are in a better position to deal with terrorists. Let them try to sow terror, we are ready to implement the laws of the Philippines,” Roque told reporters.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.