Flags to fly half-mast on Tuesday after Philippines marks independence

Islamist militants control about 20 per cent of Marawi City in the Philippines, a top general said on Tuesday, refuting a claim by Islamic State (IS) that its fighters were still "spread in more than two-thirds" of the town after three weeks of fighting.

As teenagers in the 1990s, the brothers seemed like ordinary young men, said a neighbor of the Maute family: they studied English and the Koran, and played basketball in the streets.

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.

Army Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, a regional military commander, said 150 to 200 gunmen have been isolated in four of Marawi's 96 villages, and dozens of militant snipers have been killed, setting back the militants' lethal firepower three weeks after the bloody siege began. He declared martial law across Mindanao the day the fighting erupted.

As the fight against ISIS-linked Maute militants continues in Marawi City, the Philippines this week appeared to reverse its position on worldwide military cooperation.

Both Indonesia and Malaysia share borders with the Philippines.

Over the weekend, USA special forces were confirmed to have joined Philippines troops to help end the siege, according to a United States embassy spokesperson in Manila.

"We saw money coming in and we already saw... narco-politicians were joining", he said.

There were tearful scenes in Marawi on Tuesday morning after five Muslim policemen and five Christian construction workers sprinted about two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the militant-controlled areas to safety.

US Special Action Forces (US SF) have been sent into the fray upon the request of the Duterte government, their involvement allegedly limited to giving "technical support" to combat operations.

In a statement, the DFA said Abe gave the assurance during the courtesy call of Cayetano, who went to Japan last week for a four-day working visit.

The AP confirms seeing a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft high in the skies above Marawi on Friday, noting it "flew above rocket-firing Philippine helicopters that struck militant positions, causing plumes of smoke to billow skyward".

"We don't have adequate surveillance equipment, so we asked the USA military for assistance".

Asked why the government failed to stop the Marawi siege despite its advance knowledge of the plot, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the intelligence information was still being vetted, but the military nevertheless planned a raid on the hideout of Hapilon and other militants behind the plot. Fifteen years hence the ASG are still thriving and nobody remembers US President Bush declaring the Philippines as the second front in the "war on terror".

The government had set a deadline of Monday to retake the city.

On Sunday the region's military chief, Lieutenant-General Carlito Galvez, told a news conference the fight would be "most hard, deadly, bloody, and it will take days and months to clear up".

  • Leroy Wright