The U.S. provided the Armed Forces of the Philippines with improved counterterrorism weapons Monday, according to military officials.
The new weapons and equipment are slated for use in Marawi, a city in the southern Philippines overrun by Muslim militants with ties to the Islamic State (ISIS), reports the Inquirer, a Filipino outlet. “We will give this to our troops,” Major General Emmanuel Salamat, Commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps, told reporters. “Our priority is Marawi.”
The military has been fighting to liberate Marawi since Maute militants seized control in late May. The Maute Group has sworn allegiance to ISIS and carries the same black standard. In the early days of the conflict, the militants torched schools and churches, took Christians hostage, beheaded the police chief and slaughtered civilians who failed to quote Islamic scripture. In the days that followed, Filipino troops conducted ground raids and airstrikes against militant positions.
While jihadis comprise the majority of the dead, a significant number of soldiers and civilians have also been killed in the clash. Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte believes that the ongoing conflict is an ISIS plot to secure a foothold in Southeast Asia by way of the Philippines. The rather large presence of foreign fighters bolsters his claims.
The White House stands with the Philippines as it faces down the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.
“These cowardly terrorists killed Philippine law enforcement officials and endangered the lives of innocent citizens,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. “The U.S. is a proud ally of the Philippines and we will continue to work with the Philippines to address shared threats to the peace and security of our countries.”
Among the new weapons provided to Filipino troops are 300 M4 carbines, 200 Glock 21 pistols, 4 M134D Gatling-style machine guns, and 100 grenade launchers. The firearms were donated to the Philippines as part of the U.S. Counterterrorism Train and Equip Program. “This equipment will enhance the PMC’s counterterrorism capabilities, and help protect Philippine Marines actively engaged in counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines,” reports the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines.
During the final months of the Obama administration, there were concerns about the provision of weapons to the Philippines. The U.S. withheld over 20,000 assault rifles initially intended for the Philippines National Police. The war on drugs, which has claimed thousands of lives over the past year, raised questions as to how the weapons might be used.
Duterte often clashed with the Obama administration, going so far as to announce his “separation from America” at one point. In several other instances, he called former President Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and told him to “go to hell.”
Certain aid packages were also put on hold in response to the shoot-to-kill drug war and regular reports of human rights violations in the Philippines.
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