American Special Operations Forces have joined Philippine troops battling Daesh terrorists in a town in the southern Philippines.
The Philippine military said on Saturday that the US special forces would be providing “technical assistance” to the operations against Daesh in Marawi City on Mindanao Island and would not participate in the actual fighting there.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a US official said military support, including aerial surveillance and targeting, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance, and training, were being given to the Philippine forces.
Terrorists from local militant groups that have pledged allegiance to Daesh have taken over large parts of Marawi, and at least 200 militants are holed up in a corner of the town. An estimated 500 to 1,000 civilians are trapped there, some being held as human shields, while others are hiding in their homes with no access to running water, electricity, or food.
The Philippine government has downgraded its military ties with the US over Washington’s criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte’s trademark war on drugs in the Southeast Asian country. The deployment of US forces to Marawi may now be a prelude to a potential renewal of such ties.
The military said it was making headway in the town but was proceeding with care so as not to destroy mosques, where some of the militants have taken up positions.
“We give premium to the mosques, because this is very symbolic to our Muslim brothers,” military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said.
The military has said it is aiming to end the operations and eradicate Daesh by Monday, the Philippines’ independence day.
The death toll from more than two weeks of fighting so far includes 58 government troops, 138 militants and 20 civilians, according to government sources.
The majority of the people in the Philippines are Christians, but Mindanao has a significant population of Muslims and Marawi is majority-Muslim.