U.S. special forces have joined the Philippines military in a battle to push out Islamic terrorists who’ve seized a town in the south of the country. Three weeks ago two local extremist groups backed by ISIS, Maute and Abu Sayyaf, took Marawi City. Since then nearly 140 militants and 60 government troops have been killed the fighting, with the battle escalating in the past few days as government troops fight house-to-house. It’s illegal in the Philippines for foreign militaries to aid in actual combat, and on Saturday, military spokesman Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said U.S. special forces were “just providing technical support.”
The U.S. embassy in Manila confirmed to Reuters that it was offering support, but it released no further information. Reporters near the fighting said they saw a U.S. Navy P3 Orion surveillance plane flying above the city. The aircraft is likely providing intelligence on militant targets, and it soared above Philippine helicopters as they fired rockets into the city. “We don’t have adequate surveillance equipment,” a separate military spokesman told the Associated Press, “so we asked the U.S. military for assistance.”
The Philippine’s government believes 200 militants are fighting in the city, although they’ve been forced into a few positions in one corner of town. While the Philippines is mostly Christian, the Mindanao region has a large Muslim population, Marawi especially. Here and in similar areas in the south militants have has established a stronghold, and the Philippine government fears that as ISIS loses ground in Syria and Iraq, they could send fighters here. About 40 of the militants fighting in Marawi are believed to be foreign, according to Reuters, with most coming from Indonesia or Malaysia. The government has fought sporadic battles against extremists in the region for years. Abu Sayyaf, which is more established, has often kidnapped tourists and held them for ransom.