Malcolm Turnbull warns the troubled southern Philippines city of Marawi must not become the Raqqa of southeast Asia.
“It’s vitally important that the (Islamic State) insurrection in the Philippines is defeated,” the prime minister told broadcaster Neil Mitchell on 3AW radio on Friday.
Raqqa in Syria is Islamic State’s quasi-capital. Since June, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have been leading an offensive to reclaim it, supported by coalition airstrikes.
The Philippines defence force has been fighting IS militants in Marawi since May, and foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria are being drawn to the city. The conflict had displaced an estimated 400,000 people.
Australia has so far sent two P3 Orion reconnaissance and surveillance planes to assist the Philippines.
Foreign policy experts warn Australia may have to offer mentoring to Filippino troops similar to the programs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
IS has released a video labelling Australia a guard dog to the US in the region.
Mr Turnbull declined to respond, saying he wouldn’t be running a commentary on terrorist propaganda.
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“Well I’m not going to run a commentary on ISIL propaganda videos. But can I say to you that we are determined to ensure that ISIL does not establish a foothold in our region.”
Asked about the prospects of Australian boots on the ground in the Philippines, he told reporters in Moruya on the NSW South Coast he wouldn’t “speculate on hypotheticals”.
“We are already providing assistance to the Philippines, and we’ll continue to provide the assistance that we currently have deployed,” he said.
When asked about President Duterte’s controversial war on drugs, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 3000 people in the past year, Mr Turnbull condemned the killings.
“We deplore the extra judicial killings in the Philippines and naturally we urge the government of Philippines… to comply with the rule of law,” he said.
The prime minister’s concerns about Marawi were backed by his foreign minister Julie Bishop, speaking at the Bali Process in Perth.
“We take the conflict in southern Philippines very seriously,” she said.
“Some years ago the leaders of ISIS, declared they wanted to establish a caliphate of headquarters in the southern Philippines. We have been working with the Philippines for some time to prevent such an occurrence.”
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And she warned that as IS were forced into retreat in Iraq and Syria, foreign fighters who survived that conflict were likely to return home.
“As we are more successful in the coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, then we will see foreign terrorist fighters who survived that conflict making their way home,” she said.
“In Southeast Asia they’ll be coming back to the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia and other places.
“So it’s going to take a very close and deep level of cooperation to continue to support each other in the fight against terrorism.”
Duterte visits Marawi
The president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte visited the battlezone in southern Marawi on Thursday, after troops recaptured a main mosque.
It was Duterte’s third known trip to the embattled city.
During his brief visit, Duterte inspected a devastated community near the frontline and talked to troops guarding a recaptured building.
He also visited a military patrol base and “tried a sniper rifle and fired twice toward the direction of the terrorists,” a government statement said.