In May 2017, Islamic State-linked militants seized the Southern Philippines city of Marawi, sparking a brutal five-month battle, with Australia contributing a pair of RAAF AP-3C surveillance aircraft to assist Philippine security forces.
That assistance has continued with the Australian Defence Force conducting a little-reported training mission, imparting lessons learned in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq.
In a media briefing on ADF activities in the Philippines, Lieutenant Colonel Judd Finger, former commander of the Australian Joint Task Group 629 in the Philippines, said Daesh retained a residual capability in the southern Philippines, particularly in central Mindanao.
“That’s where we currently train the 6th Infantry Division. There are affiliated groups of Daesh still operating in the southern Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago,” he said.
Up to 100 ADF personnel are involved in the training in land, air and maritime streams. The Task Group initially deployed in October 2017 to train the Philippines military to enable them to deny Daesh safe havens.
Each service provides small mobile teams.
“The training we are providing is at the behest. More important the training we are providing is the training that the Philippines military requested of us, in particular, to help them remediate lessons from Marawi in urban close combat and operations in the maritime domain for patrol vessels,” LTCOL Finger said.
Australian Army teams visit military bases, providing four-six months of training for troops and Philippines personnel who can conduct training without further Australian involvement.
The training aims to prepare the Philippines soldiers to fight another Marawi-style event, including close combat shooting, sniping and counter-sniping, command and control and communications.
“It is world class training. It is a lot of lessons from our efforts in Mosul and our efforts over the last two decades in the Middle East,” he said.
So far 4,500 Philippines Army and Marine personnel have been trained, including members of four infantry divisions.
Current training is directed at the 6th Infantry Division and the 1st Scout Ranger Regiment, both currently involved in operations against Daesh.
Also under training are elements of the Philippines Marine Corps who operate in the Sulu Archipelago against Deash affiliated group Abu Sayyaf.
Australia provides maritime training by way of a small team which provides on land training to Philippines navy personnel.
More importantly, two Australian Armidale class patrol boats conduct quarterly three-week deployments to train personnel from Philippines navy patrol vessels in communications, conduct of boarding operations and damage control.
LTCOL Finger said these were all the skills needed for patrol boats conducting interdiction operations.
“Those training activities are with Philippines naval vessels which conduct active operations against Abu Sayyaf in the Sulu Archipelago,” he said.
Small RAAF teams conduct a number of training activities focusing on air operations in the urban environment.
“A lot of the lessons we learned in Mosul we are passing on to the Philippines air force,” he said.
He said the lessons from Mosul related to close air support, in particular reducing the risk of collateral damage and integrating air and land partners.
“Just the overall ability to put control measures in place in an urban environment so you can have accuracy and lethality while reducing collateral damage is an ongoing problem that all militaries want to improve upon,” he said.
“We learned a number of lessons with the integration of close air support supporting land forces in Mosul and we are passing some of those lessons learned to our Philippines partners.”
LTCOL Finger said this was solely a training mission with a strict mandate for no Australian involvement in combat operations.