Philippines says it learned of city siege plans in advance


Philippine security forces continued "to gain important foothold" in retaking the besieged southern Philippine city of Marawi from Islamic State-backed militants, a presidential spokesperson said on Wednesday.

"There are some U.S. personnel who are operating equipment to provide information on situation awareness to our troops", Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla told a news conference.

"I do not know the exact number and the specific mission".

On June 5, Padilla said the military is studying the possibility of bombing mosques, as provisions in global laws allow them to do so.

"On the operations launched by the Philippine government on their territory, in principle we welcome the constructive support of the global community on the basis of the respect of the Philippine government's own will, and of the Philippines' sovereignty and territorial integrity", Lu said.

Supreme Court Justice Mariano Del Castillo said on June 14 that the military preparedness of the separatists that attacked Marawi City shows that the military was caught by surprise. Gen. Emmanuel B. Salamat said would be sent to troops in Marawi City. "So kaunting pasensya lang po pero nandiyan na po tayo (We ask for a little more patience but we're getting there)", he added. "We have to be very careful with our actions since the Maute still have civilians with them and they were all taken as hostages", he said. The operations, however, have been hampered by the extremists' use of civilians as human shields as well as madrasahs and mosques as staging areas of attacks.

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Padilla said the US' assistance to the Philippine troops is incumbent, given its capability on security defense.

The US's support for the Philippine military is coming despite strained ties between Washington and Manila and former calls by Duterte that he wanted US troops out of his country.

A security official also in Washington who is familiar with the region said the battle in Marawi appeared to be locked in a stalemate.

He declined to say how many USA troops were in Marawi, saying only that they were "very few".

"Islamic State demonstrated significant determination and success in capturing and holding Mosul in Iraq and their effort in Marawi is of a similar notable quality".

"We are issuing this statement on account of the news report that says that the mosques in Marawi have become target of opportunities".

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While Philippine officials have identified some ISIS terrorists in Marawi as foreign nationals recruited to bring the fight to the country, the local Maute group has complicated the battle by recruiting child soldiers for years from the indigenous Muslim minority.

"As we were running, the ISIS fired at us", said Marawi police officer Lumna Lidasan, speaking to reporters in between sobs and using an acronym for an alternate IS name.

But the military said there are still an estimated 300-600 civilians trapped in the city.

Galvez's comment was a refutation of an earlier claim made by Amaq, the IS news organization, that jihadists still hold "more than two-thirds" of the town after 23 days of fighting.

National Security Adviser and former Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon said the provision of assistance should not be a surprise because the United States has always helped the Philippines in its counter-terrorism programs.

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