Philippines' Duterte says didn't seek US support in city siege


One of the main Islamist factions dug in around the heart of the city is the Maute group, a relative newcomer on the insurgency-plagued island of Mindanao that analysts say is more sophisticated and media-savvy than more established groups.

"The retrieval protocols will consider religious and cultural practices", Sinarimbo said, adding "we will first consult with our Ulama here given the requirements of SOCO for identification and the impossibility of doing identification by secondary means" and the tradition observed by Muslims to bury the dead within 24 hours. They also gave the public an idea of the extent of the implementation of that plan which explains the intensity of the fighting.

At least 13 Philippines marines have been killed in a battle against Islamist militants in the besieged southern region of the country.

Some 20 civilians and an estimated 138 extremists have been killed in the ongoing fighting, the Philippines government stated.

But with US military assistance under way in Marawi, the harsh rhetoric has stopped.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier placed the whole of Mindanao under martial law in a bid to contain the attack in Marawi and eliminate the Maute, which has pledged allegiance to ISIS. "They are just providing technical support".

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Journalists covering the siege have reported seeing a US P3 Orion surveillance plane flying over Marawi on Friday.

A USA embassy spokesperson in Manila told Reuters that, at the request of the Philippines government, special operations forces were helping liberate the town, part of which has been occupied by hundreds of militants since May 23.

Thirteen Marines were killed in fresh gun battles with Islamist militants who had overrun parts of southern Marawi City, a military spokesperson said on Saturday, in a dramatic surge in the toll from almost three weeks of fighting.

U.S. Special Forces have joined the Philippine army in attempting to retake Marawi City from fighters loyal to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

Herrera said the battle was a "temporary setback [that] has not diminished our resolve a bit".

But a Philippine military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera, said USA troops are not on the ground "They are not fighting". Among the topics: a fear that places like Marawi could become a new base for the Islamic State group as it loses territory in the Middle East.

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The assistance comes after months of strain between the two longtime allies that was stoked by President Duterte's hostility toward Washington and his pledges to throw USA troops out of the country.

Malacañang also acknowledged that the United States is helping the Philippine military but the assistance is limited to intelligence gathering and technical support.

"We hit the logistical hubs, several command and control and communications and snipers' nest of Maute", Herrera said.

The Marawi siege followed a May 23 army raid that failed to capture a top terror suspect, Isnilon Hapilon, who has been designated by the Islamic State group as its leader in Southeast Asia.

On Saturday, Herrera said there was a "strong indication" that the Maute brothers, Abdullah and Omarkhayam, were killed in the fighting Friday.

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