U.S. Special Forces are now providing assistance to the Philippine military in the fight against ISIS in the Philippines. This was confirmed by the United States Embassy in Manila as fighting in the southern city of Marawi intensifies.
An embassy spokesperson said that it was the Philippine government that sought the United States’ assistance. The military has been battling the ISIS-linked Maute Group for control of the city since the militants stormed it back in May.
The fighting began when the terrorists repelled a government operation to capture the leader of the Abu Sayyaf, another extremist group. President Rodrigo Duterte subsequently put the entire southern island of Mindanao under Martial Law and moved troops into the city.
Interaksyon reported that 13 Philippine Marines have been killed and 40 were wounded after government forces assaulted a terrorist stronghold in the city last Friday. The extremists allegedly used hostages as human shields during the firefight which lasted for 14 hours.
Another 16 Marines were wounded the following day in an operation to retake Mapandi Bridge, a key entrance leading to the city’s center. The casualties were confirmed by Joint Task Force Marawi spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera. These severe losses were deemed to be the reason behind the Philippine government’s request for assistance from the United States.
Colonel Herrera explained that the U.S. Special Forces are not fighting and are there to provide technical support. A U.S. P3 Orion surveillance aircraft is also providing intelligence on enemy positions within the city.
The move comes as a surprise given the strained relationship between the two countries. Since the beginning of his term, the Philippine president was relentless in his tirade against the U.S., particularly against former President Barack Obama.
However, the request for assistance reveals just how significant the conflict is in Marawi. Since the hostilities began, Government losses in the fight against ISIS in the Philippines totaled 58 soldiers killed and over 100 wounded. Among those killed, 21 were caused by friendly fire after air strikes on extremist positions missed their targets.
The human cost is also high. So far, 38 civilians have been killed, some of whom were executed by the terrorists for failure to recite verses from the Qur’an. An estimated 180,000 people, a staggering 90 percent of Marawi’s population, have been evacuated with 84,760 of them being displaced. Most of the refugees fled to nearby areas such as Iligan City where aid has been brought in by both government and non-government organizations.
The military has made it their objective to liberate the city by June 12 to coincide with the country’s Independence Day. However, RT has received reports of that the fighters have been bolstering their ranks with local recruits and foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen, India, and Chechnya.
According to GMA News, there have also been reports of the extremists using child soldiers to fight for them with children as young as 10 seen carrying M-16 rifles. Government numbers currently put the extremists’ losses at 158 killed and nine captured.
Colonel Herrera revealed that they are currently investigating reports that the Maute Group’s leaders are among those killed in the fighting. According to the BBC, the reports come from radio chatter intercepted from jihadis suggesting that the Maute brothers are dead. However, due to the intense fighting, recovering the bodies of those killed has been difficult if not impossible.
The original target of the military’s operation in Marawi, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, has reportedly merged his group with Maute. The order allegedly came from the ISIS leadership to unite all their affiliates in the southern Philippines and to rally foreign jihadis to the region.
Despite the heavy casualties received from this week’s operation, Colonel Herrera guarantees that their resolve remains strong. He also claims that the militants are now contained within three districts. With the assistance of the United States, the Philippine government is hoping to stamp out ISIS in the Philippines for good.
[Featured Image by Aaron Favila/AP Images]