US forces assist Philippines in battle to end city siege

USA 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.

Philippine troops are struggling to defeat hundreds of fighters, who rampaged through Marawi on May 23 flying black flags of the Islamic State group, and have used bomb-proof tunnels, anti-tank weapons and civilians as human shields to fortify their positions.

US special forces are assisting Philippine troops in their operations against Islamic militants in the southern city of Marawi, the USA embassy in Manila said in an emailed statement.

"This temporary setback has not diminished our resolve a bit", said military spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo.

More than 40 other marines were injured, he said.

The government earlier said that the unrest had left 20 civilians, 134 militants and 39 government troops dead. In 2002, the United States helped Philippine authorities track down Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya, who was killed in that operation.

Gen. Restituto Padilla said told AP by phone, citing a Philippine government policy that bars foreign troops from participating in local combat.

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"They are not fighting".

The Philippine military has said the aim was to end the siege by Monday, the Philippines' independence day.

Philippine military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera confirmed the U.S. help, adding that the special forces were not fighting, but "providing technical support". An AP journalist reportedly saw a US Navy P3 Orion plane hovering in the skies above Marawi on Friday.

Philippine military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said U.S. personnel were "just providing technical support". "There are just providing technical support", Herrera said.

Military casualties stemmed from intense, house-to-house fighting and the militant's use of improvised explosive devices, Herrera added.

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.

Speaking at the end of her and Mr Turnbull's visit to Singapore, Defence Minister Marise Payne said the Marawi battle was a reminder of what "could prospectively come to pass" if the region was not careful.

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