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Philippine marines killed in fighting with militants

10 June 2017

US special forces have joined the battle to crush Islamist militants holed up in a southern Philippines town, officials said on Saturday, as government forces struggled to make headway and 13 marines were killed in intense urban fighting.

Thirteen Philippine marines have been killed in a gun battle with Islamist militants as troops step up an offensive to regain control of a southern city besieged by the terrorists for nearly three weeks.

In Marawi, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera confirmed the US assistance, telling a news conference: "They are not fighting. There are just providing technical support", Herrera said.

The official gave no details of the USA involvement, but a U.S. surveillance plan was see flying over Marawi on Friday.

The assistance comes after months of strain between the two long-time allies that was stoked by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's hostility towards Washington and his pledges to throw USA troops out of the country.

Philippine Army Scout Rangers take positions during a mission to flush out Islamist militant snipers in Marawi on June 6, 2017.

Marawi-based military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera confirmed the U.S. help, adding that the special forces were not fighting, but "providing technical support".

The military said on Friday its aim was to end the siege in Marawi City by Monday, the Philippines' independence day. Some 40 marines were wounded in the gunbattles that lasted 14 hours, according to military spokesman Colonel Edgardo Arevalo.

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Herrera, however, did not say when the terrorists were killed and in which specific operation.

The Interior Ministry says at least three civilians have been shot and killed by gunmen inside a mosque in eastern Afghanistan.

He said Friday's deaths brought the number of government troops killed in the conflict to 58.

Battle for the city of Marawi now in its third week as thousands flee.

It's unclear how many people remain trapped in the city.

He said the marines, who were taking part in an operation to rescue about 100 people who are being held hostage by Maute, were targeted by improvised explosive devices set off by the group's fighters.

"We are still awaiting confirmation", he said.

Clashes between government troops and the terrorists broke out on May 23, as state forces attempted to arrest terror leader Isnilon Hapilon, known to be the anointed ISIS chief in Southeast Asia.