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Philippines' Battle for Marawi shows how South-East Asia can unite to fight terrorism
The Sydney Morning Herald
by John Blaxland
The battle for Marawi, on the Philippines island of Mindanao, raged for months in the second half of last year as the Philippines' military and police struggled against an insurgency aligned with the so-called Islamic State group, or Daesh.
Recognising the potential regional ramifications if the conflict were to spread, neighbours aided the Philippines. Malaysia and Indonesia, for instance, looked on with deep concern, seeking to coordinate and de-conflict their efforts. They had earlier signed a maritime cooperation agreement in July 2016 covering the Sulu Sea – an area that sits in the legal and administrative twilight zone between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. They attentively looked on, as did Brunei, as the battle raged.
Australia and Singapore offered to help, as did the United States. Australia made available upon request some maritime patrol aircraft.
The battle for Marawi appears to be over – for now. But there is genuine concern that the flames of violent Islamist jihadism could erupt again – not just in Mindanao but across the archipelagic space that is maritime South-East Asia. Mindful of the potential for a recurrence, a joint taskforce was sent afterwards to help the Philippine security forces as part of a broader counter-terrorism program. Beyond such bilateral engagement, however, the collaborative efforts over Marawi point to the need to develop extra, sub-regional institutional mechanisms to preserve that level of collaboration and take it even further.