Islamists kill 13 Philippine marines in wartorn Marawi city

US puts troops into fight for Philippines city besieged by ISIS

As the fighting intensifies, the United States said on Saturday that its special forces were providing technical support to the Philippine military in Marawi City. In 2002, the USA helped Philippine authorities track down Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya, who was killed in that operation.

There were "strong indications" the two brothers who formed one of the factions have been killed, a military spokesman said.

"There was an intense, house-to-house firefight between the marines and the local terrorist group", army brigade Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera told a televised press conference in Marawi City.

"As long as we sustain the fight, as long as we are able to destroy the elements of the local terrorist group we can reach that", he said of the June 12 target.

The seizure of Marawi City on May 23 has alarmed Southeast Asian nations which fear that Islamic State - facing setbacks in Syria and Iraq - is establishing a stronghold on the Philippine island of Mindanao that could threaten the whole region.

Over 20 civilians have been confirmed killed due to the fighting, according to the government, but the true number is likely to be higher with authorities yet to fully assess the roughly 10 percent of Marawi still being held by the militants.

"They are not fighting".

Reporters on the ground spotted a US P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft flying over Marawi City on Friday.

About 40 foreigners have fought alongside the Philippine militants in Marawi City, majority from Indonesia and Malaysia, though some came from the Middle East. "There are just providing technical support", Herrera said.

But he had what the White House described as a "very friendly" phone call with President Donald Trump in April, and has since said his differences with the U.S. were with President Barack Obama's administration. It's unclear how many people remain trapped in Marawi as government troops battle Muslim militants led by the so-called "Maute" group but army officers have put the figure this week at anywhere from 150 to 1,000.

"At the request of the government of the Philippines, US special operations forces are assisting the armed forces of the Philippines with ongoing operations in Marawi through support that helps military commanders on the ground", it said in a statement.

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.

The US Embassy said Washington would "continue to work with the Philippines to address shared threats to the peace and security of our countries, including on counterterrorism issues" in its statement Saturday.

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