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US vows aid for Marawi as army sets final push

MANILA. The United States has pledged P730 million (about $14 million) in aid to help rebuild Marawi City and Australia announced it was sending troops as Philippine forces brace for a final push against the Islamic State-affiliated gunmen in the city and begin looking at rebuilding.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the cost of rebuilding Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur province, could reach P56 billion (about $1.1 billion) as government forces mass up again to drive out the last gunmen of the Islamic State-affiliated Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups still reportedly holed up in a pocket less than 500-square-meters in size.

Meanwhile, Australia said small contingents of trainers will be flying into the Philippines to help Filipino soldiers, Defense Minister Marise Payne told Sec. Lorenzana.

“This is a threat to the region (that) we all need to work together to defeat,” Ms. Payne said but also clarified no Australian troops will be actively involved in the fighting.

Lorenzana said they expect the Islamic militants to be fully routed before the end of October.

But as hundreds of now-battle-hardened troops are poised to make their final push, fighting has erupted in an adjacent province. The group of Esmael Abdulmalik, which uses the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as its banner, warned the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of more attacks to avenge its losses in encounters with “Task Force Ittihad”, which has been working with the military to help enforce a 1997 ceasefire accord with the government.

The so-called MILF task force has been blamed for the death of 26 Abdulmalik followers in a series of encounters the past four weeks.

Abdulmalik is a radical cleric from Sharif Saidona, Maguindanao who’s reportedly broken off from the Bangsa Moro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), itself a break-away from the MILF, to form his own group in the fashion of ISIS.

He’s warned the MILF of more attacks to retaliate for its continuing offensive that forced his group to scatter in different towns in Maguindanao (the province lies south of Lake Lanao and Marawi City).

The MILF has reportedly gone after Abdulmalik and his men after six botched attempts to hoist, on camera, the ISIS flag inside its camps that would have violated its agreement with the government.

Imam Wahid Tundok, chief of the MILF’s 118th Base Command, said the attempted display of the ISIS flag in areas covered by their interim ceasefire pact with Malacañang was meant to attract potential funders in the Middle East.

“Abdulmalik may already have initially obtained money from benefactors in the Middle East that are spreading an extreme kind of religious ideology and that he wants the funding sustained,” explained Tundok, also a foreign-trained Islamic missionary.

Nearly 800 people have been killed in the siege of Marawi City since May 23. The fighting has also left an estimated 230,000 homeless.

“There’s a need to rebuild the infrastructure, provide social assistance to those traumatized by the war, restock armed forces ammunition and replenish its funding,” Lorenzana said. He added that the military has already spent about P3 billion to wage the war in Marawi City alone.

Lorenzana said they may ask Congress for a supplemental budget to replenish the military’s depleted funds to recruit and train up to an additional 20,000 troops and 10,000 policemen in the face of the emerging ISIS threat in the country.

Malacanang is anticipated to float about P30 billion in bonds to raise funds for the reconstruction of Marawi City.

The US assistance for Marawi will be administered through the Agency for International Development (USAID). “The United States is deeply committed to this relationship and remains ready to support our friend and ally as we face the challenges and opportunities,” said US Ambassador Sung Kim.

The US will coordinate with the government and humanitarian organizations in delivering critical relief supplies for the displaced residents such as safe drinking water, hygiene kits, shelter materials and even kitchen sets to help improve conditions in evacuation centers and other temporary housing.

Earlier in July, the US distributed 12,000 water containers and 100,000 chlorine tablets for the 12,000 families staying in evacuation sites located in the two Lanao provinces and Iligan City.

Aside from helping restore basic public services such as healthcare, water and electricity, the US is focused on long-term rehabilitation and recovery efforts by providing psychosocial counseling and offering skills training for young people, promoting community dialogue and jumpstarting livelihoods.

 

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