Islamists kill 13 Philippine marines in wartorn Marawi city

Posted June 10, 2017

USA special forces are helping the Philippines military and police units to root out militants allied to Islamic State holed up in the southern town of Marawi, a U.S. embassy spokesperson in Manila has said.

Philippine marines were conducting a house-to-house search for militants allied with the Islamic State group who are still occupying parts of Marawi when the battle erupted Friday, said Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman for the Philippine army's 1st Infantry Division.

The US embassy in Manila and the Philippine military were quoted by the Reuters news agency Saturday as saying that US special operations forces were "assisting" in Marawi where 200,000 residents have been displaced by urban battles.

Friday's ferocious, street-to-street gunbattles with the militants saw 13 troops killed, in a dramatic surge in the toll from the conflict, Philippine military spokesmen said.

Forty other marines were wounded.

At least 138 militants and 20 civilians have also been killed, the government said.

The heavy fighting occurred as police arrested the mother of two brothers leading the militants, who come from different local groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist movement.

The presence of the United States, he said, provides only intelligence exchanges, training and technical support.

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In Marawi, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera confirmed the US assistance, telling a news conference: "They are not fighting".

The Philippines is majority Christian, but Mindanao has a significant population of Muslims and Marawi City is overwhelmingly Muslim.

About 40 foreigners have fought alongside the Philippine militants in Marawi City, majority from Indonesia and Malaysia, though some came from the Middle East.

The military's Herrera said the armed forces' social media unit had uncovered 63 accounts belonging to the fighters and their supporters.

The Philippine military has said the aim was to end the siege by Monday, the Philippines' independence day.

The little-known Maute group has been a fierce enemy of a military with superior firepower and greater troop strength.

Reporters on the ground spotted a US P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft flying over Marawi City on Friday.

Philippine military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said United States personnel were "just providing technical support".