After the news came out that the United States (US) has started giving technical assistance to Philippine armed forces in the fight against the ISIS-linked Maute Group in Marawi City, President Duterte was quick to say he did not invite them. But he is grateful for their help, he added.
Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana said it was he who asked the Americans for help under the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two nations. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said the AFP Commander-in-Chief – President Duterte – had given the Department of Defense and the AFP a “free hand” on the matter of seeking US help.
The Americans are now providing “technical assistance” with “no boots on the ground.” The assistance thus far includes aerial surveillance, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance, and training. A US P-3 Orion surveillance plane was seen over Marawi City last Friday.
The US help is evidently needed. As of Sunday, 58 soldiers had already been killed by Maute gunmen, with their Abu Sayyaf allies and ISIS-linked foreign combatants who raided and occupied Marawi City. Thirteen Marines led by 1st Lt. John Frederick Savellano were killed in one gunbattle. The military said 138 of the enemy and 20 civilians have been killed in the fighting since it began May 23.
President Duterte said he has been informed by his security officials that the attack in the Philippines had been ordered by the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, just before he was reported killed in an air strike in Syria last Saturday. Gen. Eduardo Año, chief-of-staff of the AFP, added that based on captured materials and testimonies of arrested Maute members, the grand plan of the Maute-ISIS was to attack and hold Marawi and declare it as the first Islamic State caliphate territory in the Philippines.
The fighting in Marawi is far from over. Last June 12, Independence Day, barangay leaders sought to hoist the Philippine flag over barangays earlier taken over by the Maute, but they said some of the remote villages are still in the hands of the rebel groups. Philippine troops will have to clear all enemy forces out of Marawi and elsewhere in Mindanao, and the assistance of the US, especially in surveillance, is important. The US is known to have drones in combat zones all over the world.
Assistance from other foreign governments is also welcome, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said, as the fight against terrorism is a concern of many nations around the world.
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