KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines launched a joint air patrol on Thursday (Oct 12) to monitor and respond to suspicious activity in the Sulu Sea - waters known for terrorist movements.
This air patrol is in addition to the joint maritime patrols in the Sulu Sea that the three countries launched in June.
Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the tri-nation efforts were necessary given the "activation of this maritime domain by terrorist organisations as a base for operations".
The Philippines, in particular, has seen the impact of the rise of militancy in the region with the months-long siege of Marawi City by the Islamic State-inspired Maute militant group.
The launch of the air patrol was reportedly delayed due to the violence in Marawi.
Philippines' Secretary of National Defence, Delfin Lorenzana said that the Trilateral Air Patrol allowed for better surveillance of extremists' movements in the region.
"The effect of this (patrol) is we can prevent others from coming in and also from escaping because a lot of the fighters are also Malaysian and Indonesian and from the Middle East," said Mr Lorenzana.
Mr Hishammuddin added that ASEAN is now also dealing with the return of foreign fighters fleeing from a crackdown on their activities in the Middle East.
"It is up to us to guarantee that the area is secure and safe," he said in his keynote address at the launch.
"We must be vigilant and stringent in our efforts to address and eradicate these growing security challenges. With the successful implementation of the Trilateral Cooperative Arrangement, we can prove to the world that this is the way forward."
The air patrol will rotate monthly among the countries, with Malaysia leading the operations first using Royal Malaysian Air Force aircraft. The Philippines will then take over, followed by Indonesia.
They will later decide if they will be inviting more nations to join the patrols.
Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman and Brunei's Deputy Minister for Defence Abdul Aziz were also present at the launch as observers.
Singapore has said it is willing to offer whatever assistance necessary in these efforts.