US gives Philip­pine air force first drones


MANILA: The US gave the Philip­pine air force its first sur­veil­lance drone sys­tem on Tues­day, as the two na­tions step up co­op­er­a­tion in the bat­tle against ji­hadist mil­i­tants.

Wash­ing­ton has been boost­ing its back­ing for Philip­pine coun­tert­er­ror ef­forts since sup­port­ers of the Daesh group seized parts of the south­ern city of Marawi last year, spark­ing a deadly five-month bat­tle.

The un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle sys­tem, which in­cludes six drones and is worth $13.2 mil­lion (€10.7 mil­lion), is the lat­est US mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to Philip­pine troops.

"As­sets like the ScanEa­gle will sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove the (Philip­pine mil­i­tary's) abil­ity to de­tect ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties, piracy ac­tiv­i­ties, ter­ri­tory en­croach­ment," US Am­bas­sador to Manila Sung Kim told re­porters, re­fer­ring to the drones.

Philip­pine De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana said the sys­tem, equipped with cam­eras and air­craft that can fly for 24 hours, would sup­port oper­a­tions against mil­i­tants in the south.

The south­ern re­gion of Min­danao is home to sev­eral proDaesh groups, in­clud­ing those who at­tacked Marawi in May last year in fight­ing that claimed more than 1,100 lives and re­duced large parts of the city to rub­ble.

These new drones are to be used for re­con­nais­sance mis­sions in de­fense, hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and dis­as­ter re­sponse, Loren­zana said.

"With a num­ber of se­cu­rity is­sues con­fronting our coun­try to­day, there is a need to up­grade our na­tion's armed forces," he added.

Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte had sought to loosen the Philip­pines' 70-year al­liance with the US in fa­vor of closer ties with China and Rus­sia.

His anger was partly driven by Amer­i­can crit­i­cism of his drug war, which has seen po­lice kill thou­sands of peo­ple and prompted an In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court pre­lim­i­nary ex­am­i­na­tion.

Al­though re­la­tions have im­proved un­der US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who has praised Duterte for his drug war, the Philip­pine leader has in­creas­ingly turned to Bei­jing and Mos­cow to boost one of Asia's weak­est armed forces.

Duterte last month can­celled a deal to buy he­li­copters from Canada af­ter Ot­tawa or­dered a re­view over hu­man rights con­cerns.

"Do not buy any­more from Canada and the US be­cause there is al­ways a con­di­tion at­tached," Duterte said at the time.

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