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Pentagon chief praises Philippine military for defeating Maute group

United States Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has commended the Philippine military for defeating the Maute terrorist group that laid siege in Marawi City.

Mattis told media that the Philippine military has sent a strong message to terrorists by vanquishing the Islamic State-inspired Maute group.

Mattis was interviewed on his way to Clark, Pampanga where he was scheduled on October 24 to attend the 11th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers’ Meeting.

“It was a very tough fight,” he told reporters. “I think the Philippine military sends a very strong message to the terrorists.”

“One of the first things I’m going to do when I get there is to commend the Philippine military for liberating Marawi from the terrorists,” he added.

The US Defense chief was scheduled to meet his counterparts from Japan, Malaysia, Korea, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“It will be an opportunity to recognize ASEAN now for 50 years of promoting peace and stability in the region. They have done a very good job of it,” he said. “The US remains unambiguously committed to supporting ASEAN.”

After attending the ASEAN  meeting, Mattis will head to Thailand to attend the royal cremation rites for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

ASEAN, Mattis said, had been an important venue in giving a voice to those who want relations between states to be based on respect, not on predatory economics or on the size of militaries.

“ASEAN nations have demonstrated that they can listen to one another, they identify opportunities to increase defense cooperation for their own security, and seek shared solutions to shared concerns,” he added.

At the October 24 meeting, Mattis and his ASEAN counterparts discussed views on regional security during informal meetings in Clark, Pampanga.

His spokesperson Dana White said that Mattis relayed his appreciation for the broad range of US-ASEAN security cooperation.

“Secretary Mattis emphasized that we seek to increase the scope and complexity of our exercises and that we are working with like-minded partners to help build maritime security capacity in the region,” White said in a readout.

Mattis also encouraged increased operational cooperation on maritime security challenges in the region, White said.

The Pentagon chief has offered to continue cooperation in maritime domain awareness and information-sharing among his Southeast Asian counterparts.

“Meeting participants also‎ emphasized the need for continued ASEAN unity to address shared security challenges facing Southeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific [region],” the Pentagon spokesperson said.

Mattis and the ASEAN defense ministers also discussed how to address the threat posed by returning foreign fighters in the region.

The ministers agreed that there is a need to increase cooperation on counter-terrorism, particularly on the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (also called the Islamic State or ISIS).