The Australian Defence Force’s Joint Task Force 629 has graduated its first class of Filipino soldiers through a new Urban Close Combat training course run by a deployed Land Mobile Training Team as part of Operation Augury-Philippines.
Operation Augury is a domestic and international counter terrorism and counter violent extremism effort by the Australian Defence Force, and Operation Augury-Philippines is part of the Whole of Australian Government effort to work closely with the Government of the Philippines in its fight against terrorism, sharing the determination to defeat Daesh-affiliated groups in the southern Philippines.
Commander of Joint Task Force 629, Lieutenant Colonel Ben McLennan said one of the ADF’s key missions in the Philippines was to help the Filipino soldiers and marines to become even more capable at fighting the enemy in urban environments.
This was the type of environment they were confronted with during the Marawi siege this year.
“There were numerous battle hardened foreign terrorist fighters that joined the movement to take over Marawi,” Lieutenant Colonel McLennan said.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines had to fight them in the urban environment to regain the city.
“The conflict lasted more than four months and the Armed Forces of the Philippines suffered a number of casualties in some very vicious fighting.”
“They did an outstanding job and proved themselves to be an extraordinarily capable fighting force, especially considering their training and experience has historically centred on jungle warfare rather than fighting in urban environments.”
Lieutenant Colonel McLennan said in the case of the Australia Army, a majority of experience over the past 15 years has been gained in fighting terrorists in urban environments in the Middle East.
“That’s why we are here - to share that experience and knowledge with our Filipino partners,” he said.
“We want them to benefit from what we’ve learned in that type of fight.”
The first JTF629 Urban Close Combat Course was run by approximately 80 soldiers from the Australian Army’s 3rd Brigade, with some additional support staff from the Royal Australian Air Force.
Their students were 170 soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Division ‘Jungle Fighters’ and airmen from the Philippines Air Force.
Training Team Leader, Australian Army Lieutenant Wes Walsh said the Filipino soldiers were very enthusiastic towards the training, which was particularly meaningful to them given their experiences in Marawi.
“Moving through the training serials with each new skill set we introduced, there was always an ‘ahah!’ moment with the Filipino soldiers,” Lieutenant Walsh said.
“They would tell us the training serial was perfectly applicable to the situations they had seen in Marawi and they would acknowledge how useful those skills would be moving forward.
Lieutenant Walsh said he was pleased by how well the soldiers from the two nations worked together.
“They have learned some really valuable lessons, and there is no question we have also learned a lot from the Filipino soldiers,” he said.
Major General Rhoderick M Parayno, Commander 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, said he was incredibly impressed by the training package run by the Australians for his soldiers.
“If all our troops had had this kind of training before the Marawi siege happened we probably would have had less casualties on our side and it would have sped up the completion of the campaign, which took us more than 4 months to finish,” Major General Prayno said.
“Given the experience we have had here, we would like to elevate this kind of relationship to an even higher level.”
Two days after the Filipino soldiers graduated from the ADF-run course, they conducted a demonstration of their new urban warfare skills for The Prime Minister of Australia, The Honourable Malcolm Turnbull MP, at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Headquarters in Manila.
Speaking to the Australian and Filipino soldiers after the demonstration, Prime Minister Turnbull reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to helping the Philippines win the war on violent extremists and terrorists.
"We are in the same fight and that is why now more than ever the Australian Defence Force, the Armed Forces of the Philippines are working together, supporting each other, learning from each other, fighting the fight. Prime Minister Turnbull said.
“We cannot afford to lose.
"Australians, Filipinos - you're on the frontline thank you for your service, our freedom depends on your courage.”
The next JTF 629 urban warfare course will begin in the Philippines in early December.