Manila: US special forces are helping the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to end a siege of the southern town of Marawi by militants allied to Islamic State, a US embassy spokesperson in Manila said on Saturday.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila said without elaborating that U.S. special operations forces were providing help to Filipino troops battling the Maute and Abu Sayyaf militants in Marawi.
Lt. Col. Joar Herrera said they are still validating the number of the wounded troopers but confirmed 13 members of the Philippine Marines were killed in one day including the company commander who conducted clearing operations which found P52.2 million cash and P27 million-worth of checks in a house in Marawi City.
The fresh army fatalities raised the death toll from the government side to 58, while 138 extremists and 21 civilians were also killed.
"As long as we sustain the fight, as long as we are able to destroy the elements of the local terrorist group we can reach that", he said of the June 12 target.In 2002, the USA helped Philippine authorities track down Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya, who was killed in that operation.
Tens of thousands have fled Marawi, which is the Catholic country's most important Muslim city, as the fighting ripped through residential neighbourhoods, with more than 200,000 displaced people now living in precarious conditions and vulnerable to deadly health risks, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned Friday. "They are just providing technical support", he said.
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In Marawi, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera confirmed the USA assistance, telling a news conference: "They are not fighting".
Days before the USA embassy issued its statement, Herrera had already confirmed that the U.S. was providing "techical assistance" to Philippine troops battling local terrorists in Marawi City.
When asked, he said United States forces were not part of the ground operations against terrorists in Marawi.
Before the confirmation, a US spy plane was seen flying over Marawi.
Herrera, however, did not say when the terrorists were killed and in which specific operation.
Gen. Restituto Padilla said told AP by phone, citing a Philippine government policy that bars foreign troops from participating in local combat. It's unclear how many people remain trapped in Marawi as government troops battle Muslim militants led by the so-called "Maute" group but army officers have put the figure this week at anywhere from 150 to 1,000.