Philippines' Duterte not aware of US support against Islamists in Marawi

Lance Nichols
June 12, 2017

The number of troops there ranges between 50 to 100 at any given time, the Pentagon said.

The US on Monday gave the Philippines hundreds of machine guns, pistols and grenade launchers, which a local commander said would be used in the fight against Islamist militants.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has made a top priority of his foreign policy establishing a strong measure of autonomy compared to the nation's traditional dependence on the USA, and the sudden news of U.S. forces becoming involved in the siege of Marawi has raised a lot of eyebrows.

Now 58 members of the Filipino security forces have been killed in the battle and approximately 30 civilians.

According to the latest official figures, 138 militants had been killed, with the death tolls for security personnel and civilians at 40 and 20, respectively.

Mr Duterte said on Sunday he had not sought support from Washington to end the siege and had not been aware that United States special forces were assisting.

Herrera said the battle was a "temporary setback [that] has not diminished our resolve a bit".

"He was very courageous and a very professional soldier". He also compared his campaign to kill criminals to the Holocaust.

"Forty other marines were wounded", he said.

Fears had earlier been raised that the battle in Marawi would be prolonged, with officials noting that enemy forces have a mastery of the terrain and their positions were "well-defended".

US special forces are assisting Philippine troops in their operations against Islamic militants in the southern city of Marawi, the USA embassy in Manila said in an emailed statement.

"They can take all measures to prevent and suppress all acts of rebellion and lawless violence, including seeking technical assistance from the United States, within the limits prescribed by the Constitution", he added.

"Their participation is limited to intelligence sharing", he said.

The seizure of Marawi on 23 May by hundreds of fighters who swore allegiance to Islamic State, including dozens from neighbouring countries and the Middle East, has fuelled concern that the ultra-radical group is gaining a foothold in South-East Asia.

The US is helping government forces by flying spy planes over Marawi and conducting surveillance and non-combat assistance, even as Duterte rejected US aid and asserted the country's independent foreign policy.

Ties between the USA and the Philippines have been strained since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June a year ago.

The government declared martial law on May 24, and the jihadists have reportedly "stockpiled weapons and food in mosques, tunnels and basements to prepare for a long siege, ' per Reuters".

Washington deployed special forces soldiers to Mindanao in 2002 to train and advise Philippine units fighting the Abu Sayyaf group in an operation that once involved 1,200 Americans.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a USA official said support included aerial surveillance and targeting, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance and training.

Security officers are verifying reports that Maute brothers Omar and Abdullah, founding chieftains of the group, were among those killed over the weekend as government forces closed in on the core group that is trying to carve out an IS enclave in Mindanao.

The AFP confirmed getting technical assistance from the US.

Batongbacal said Duterte's professed lack of knowledge in the technical assistance provided by the Marawi City is "probably indicative of his leadership style: complete delegation of complex and challenging tasks to assigned Cabinet member/s, with expectation of results but little attention to details of how accomplished".

The brothers' father, Cayamora Maute, was apprehended Tuesday morning at a military checkpoint in Sirawan, Davao City, ABS-CBN reports.

Recovered from Farhana's group were explosives.

About 40 foreigners have reportedly fought alongside the Maute Group, majority from Indonesia and Malaysia, though some apparently came from the Middle East.

Military officials believe Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf militants, is hiding in the town.

Other reports by TheDigitalNewspaper

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