ASEAN defense ministers call for stronger cooperation vs. terrorism

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Clark, Pampanga (CNN Philippines, October 24) Defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) vowed to work more closely against terrorism in the aftermath of a five-month-long battle with ISIS-inspired terrorists.

In its Joint Declaration obtained Tuesday, the ministers "acknowledge the need for enhanced regional cooperation through intelligence and information sharing, increasing surveillance, and promoting awareness among the public about the threat of radicalism."

 

The defense ministers said they will "identify ways to strengthen counterterrorism cooperation" within ASEAN and its partners.

The ASEAN Convention on Counterterrorism, which came into force in May 2011, provides a framework for ASEAN Member States to counter and suppress terrorism in region, as well as to deepen cooperation among law enforcement agencies.

The joint statement from the defense ministers came a day after the Philippine government declared an end to all combat operations in Marawi City.

Read: Fighting in Marawi City is over

Government troops wound up clearing operations in this southern Philippine city, as the last of the several dozen ISIS-inspired Maute group members were killed.

Australia training PH troops

On the sidelines of the defense ministers meeting, Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne announced that 80 members of Australia's Defense Force (ADF) will be sent to the Philippines to train the Philippine Army and Marine Corps in urban warfare and counte-terrorism.

"The practical training the ADF will provide will ensure the Philippines defense force is better able to counter the brutal tactics being employed by terrorists," Payne said in remarks in a joint news briefing following a bilateral meeting with Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

"Through our significant involvement in the counter-Daesh campaign in Iraq and Syria, Australia has skills and knowledge that we can share with the Philippines Armed Forces," Payne said, referring to ISIS by its pejorative acronym, Daesh.

Payne added that the Philippines and Australia will work together together to enhance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the southern Philippines, as well as improve maritime patrols.

Lorenzana thanked Australia for its support.

"From the start, Australia has been providing invaluable support to the AFP's operations against the Maute Group, particularly on increasing operational and situational awareness in the conflict area, like providing us surveillance planes to help our troops on the ground," he said.

Australia is among the Philippines' allies that have offered help during and after the Marawi crisis.

Meanwhile, China on Tuesday formally turned over to the Philippines heavy equipment to be used in the rebuilding of Marawi City.

Read: China turns over much-needed construction equipment to PH to rebuild Marawi

Defense ministers and officials from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam are in Clark, Pampanga for the 11th ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting from October 22 to 25.

Their counterparts from China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States are present as part of the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus.

5-month battle

The Marawi crisis started on May 23 when the Maute group fought back as government forces were attempting to arrest former Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was appointed "emir" of Southeast Asia by ISIS.

Read: Timeline: The Marawi crisis

The crisis highlighted the need for cooperation in intelligence sharing among Southeast Asian neighbors, after the Philippines admitted "a failure to appreciate intelligence" about the Maute group's planned siege of the city.

Foreign fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia, including a well-known militant Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, traveled to Marawi to join the Maute.

Read: Duterte, military confirm death of alleged Marawi crisis financier

Hapilon, who is on the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation's list of most wanted terrorists, and Ahmad, and Maute founder Omar Maute were killed in recent days.

Their deaths marked a turning point in the Marawi crisis, as the terror group fell apart with the loss of their leaders.

Read: Marawi's liberation closer after the deaths of Hapilon, Omar Maute

But even with the fighting over, President Rodrigo Duterte, who is also this year's chairman of the ASEAN Summit, urged vigilance amid continuing terror threats.

"Terrorism is everywhere and no nation has escaped from the clutches of the evil of the ISIS. It is an ideology that is dedicated to just kill human beings and destroy places, whatever and of what kind," he said.

Read: Duterte: Prepare for possible terrorist plots after Marawi liberation