Wednesday, 28 June, 2017

US forces join Philippine troops to end city siege

A pall of smoke rises from a Philippine Air Force strike on a suspected ISIS bunker in Marawi A pall of smoke rises from a Philippine Air Force strike on a suspected ISIS bunker in Marawi
Madeline Patrick | 10 June, 2017, 17:36

US special forces have joined the battle to crush Islamist militants holed up in a southern Philippines town, officials said on Saturday, as government forces struggled to make headway and 13 marines were killed in intense urban fighting.

Hundreds of militants, flying the black flag of the Islamic State and led by the self-styled IS emir of southern Philippines, Isnilon Hapilon, and the Maute brothers Omar and Abdullah, were still holed up in the city.

Forty soldiers were also wounded in the 14-hour firefight on Friday in Marawi City, 800 kilometres south of Manila, said marine spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo.

At least 20 civilians and around 138 militants have also been killed, the government said.

"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.

GMA News said the militants, who have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, had been armed with rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices during the clash.

Thousands of Marawi's 200,000 inhabitants fled the city after Islamic State-linked militants executed civilians, while the nation battled a deadly casino attack last week labelled as a 'terrorist' act by a top Philippine lawmaker.

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Police said one of the latest fatalities was a 15-year-old boy killed by a stray bullet attributed to a militant sniper while praying inside a mosque. "There are just providing technical support", Herrera said.

They initially estimated there were about 100 gunmen but later said there were as many as 500, supplemented by foreign fighters from Chechnya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

"We are still awaiting confirmation", military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera told a news conference in Marawi City.

Before the confirmation, a US spy plane was seen flying over Marawi.

FILE PHOTO: Smoke billowing from a burning building is seen as government troops continue their assault on insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi City. At the moment, no USA soldiers have been deployed but according to reports on site, a US P3 Orion surveillance aircraft has flown over the area.

It was among the heaviest fighting in the standoff, according to AFP journalists in Marawi, with the air force supporting ground troops with sustained bombing runs that battered the city.

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