(CNN) – US Special Operations Forces are assisting the Philippine military in its battle against ISIS-affiliated fighters, the US Embassy in Manila said yesterday (June 10).
The forces have been deployed at the request of the Philippine government, the embassy said.
The Philippine armed forces have been fighting the ISIS-linked Maute militants for control of the city of Marawi in the southern Mindanao region.
Dozens of Philippine troops and militants have been reported killed in fighting, including more than a dozen marines on Friday.
Both the US Embassy and the Pentagon said they couldn’t give specifics on the nature of the American support for “security reasons.”
The Pentagon noted that US Special Operations Forces “have been providing support and assistance in the southern Philippines for many years, at the request of several different Filipino administrations.”
The number of troops there ranges between 50 to 100 at any given time, the Pentagon said.
“As we have in the past, we routinely consult with our Filipino partners at senior levels to support the Duterte administration’s counterterrorism efforts,” the embassy said, referring to President Rodrigo Duterte.
“The United States is a proud ally of the Philippines, and we will continue to work with the Philippines to address shared threats to the peace and security of our countries, including on counterterrorism issues.”
A ‘temporary setback’
At least 13 Philippine marines were killed and 40 others wounded on Friday during fighting with Maute militants in Marawi, the Philippine military said on Saturday.
The fatalities occurred during a clearing operation over a 14-hour period.
” The deaths bring the toll in the three-week Marawi campaign to 58 Philippine troops and at least 140 extremist militants, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.
“This temporary setback has not diminished our resolve a bit,” said Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, a military spokesman.
“It instead primed up our determination to continue our prudent advances to neutralize the enemy, save the innocent lives trapped in the fight, and set the conditions for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi.”
Fighting the militants’ message online
The fight against the Maute militants is proceeding on social media as well as the ground.
The Philippine military has called on Facebook to close 63 accounts linked to Maute militants engaged in the fighting.
At a press conference on Friday in Marawi, Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said the military had uncovered accounts used by militants that focus on “spreading propaganda messaging and misinformation.”
Without confirming the request from the Philippines, a Facebook spokesman said the company has “well-established law enforcement channels for governments to contact us about emergencies.”
He said that Facebook removes any account tied to “groups or people that engage in terrorist activity, or posts that express support for terrorism.”
The request to Facebook comes just before the military’s goal of liberating Marawi by June 12 – the country’s Independence Day.
The government is also using TV to counter the militants’ message.
The state-run People’s Television Network aired a program on Friday called “Countering Violent Extremism.”
It explored the root cause of such extremism and offered suggestions on how to confront radicalization.
The government said it is preparing infrastructure repairs in Marawi once the region is cleared.
“We assure you that the President is deeply concerned for the city, the region and the island’s well-being and is very hands-on to ensure that normalcy will be restored at the soonest possible time and serve people’s aspirations for a comfortable life for all,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said, speaking on a radio program.
Top: Government forces are conducting regular air strikes on ISIS positions in Marawi. Photo: CNN
Inset: Philippines government armored vehicles enter Marawi on May 31. Photo: CNN
SOURCE: CNN written by Elizabeth Joseph, Joe Sterling and Spencer Feingold with Kevin Bohn contributing to this report.