US gives Philippine Air Force first drone

EYE IN THE SKY. A Philippine airforce officer stands next to an ScanEagle Umanned Aerial Vehicle, on its launcher, during the turn-over ceremonies the drone by the United States to the Philippines in a military airbase in Manila on March 13, 2018. AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE

THE United States 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 counter-terror efforts since supporters of the Islamic State 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 euros), 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 Defence 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 pro-IS 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 defence, 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.

The surveillance system is aimed at bolstering counter-terrorism operations and disaster relief.