US spy planes help Philippine troops quell siege

The AFP on Saturday confirmed that U.S special forces were assisting local troops to end a siege of the southern town of Marawi by militants allied to Islamic State, but said they were only providing technical support. Until now there had been no confirmation that USA forces were assisting in the battle for Marawi City, which is in its third week.

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday he was not aware the US government was providing assistance to government troops in its battle against Islamist militants in a southern city.

On Friday, a US surveillance place was seen flying over Marawi City in the Southern Philippines, where at least 58 members of the country's security forces have been killed amidst intense urban fighting with hundreds of Islamist rebels who seized part of the city late last month.

"We routinely consult with our Filipino partners at senior levels to support the Duterte administration's counterterrorism efforts", according to the statement.

The clashes in Marawi began following a raid on the hideout of a leading Abu Sayyaf militant, Isnilon Hapilon, who pledged loyalty to IS almost three years ago.

"There was an intense, house-to-house firefight between the marines and the local terrorist group", he told a televised press conference in Marawi City.

Lieutenant Colonel Joar Herrera told reporters that the victims were marines who died on Friday night as they tried to save almost 100 hostages.

A USA embassy spokesperson in Manila said special forces were helping the Philippines military liberate the town.

The seizure of Marawi City on May 23 has alarmed Southeast Asian nations which fear that Islamic State - facing setbacks in Syria and Iraq - is establishing a stronghold on the Philippine island of Mindanao that could threaten the whole region.

The official gave no details of the United States involvement, but a U.S. surveillance plan was see flying over Marawi on Friday. It was discontinued in 2015, but a small presence remained for logistics and technical support.

A bomb explodes after being dropped on an Islamist militants' hideout in Marawi on Friday.

At least 200 militants are holed up in a corner of the town with an estimated 500 to 1000 civilians trapped there.

There were "strong indications", he added, that two militant leaders might also have been killed.

On Saturday, the military said it was validating reports that two Maute brothers leading the enemy have been slain. The Two-Way has reported that an alliance of extremist groups have held out against the siege using supplies stored in civilian sites such as mosques and schools, as well as a network of underground tunnels.

The military has made it their objective to liberate the city by June 12 to coincide with the country's Independence Day.

  • Leroy Wright