Operations against Islamists in Marawi ‘all-Filipino’ – military insists
DAVAO CITY – Defense officials on Sunday reiterated no US troops were directly involved in fighting Islamic State-inspired gunmen in Marawi City, saying American participation was limited to technical aspects, such as intelligence and training.
In a press briefing in Cagayan de Oro on Sunday, Lorenzana said the deployment of P3 Orion surveillance plane by US military advisors stationed in Zamboanga City has been going on even before fighting in Marawi erupted last May 23.
Lorenzana said military advisors based in the military’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) in Zamboanga City have been providing training to Filipino soldiers, and for the past weeks gave some pieces of equipment to the Philippine Marines involved in the operation to flush out Islamist Maute and Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Marawi.
The fighting, which has entered its 20th day, has left over 200 people dead, including 191 terrorists, 29 civilians and close to 60 security forces, the military said.
On Saturday, the military suffered its largest single loss in the nearly month-long offensive when 13 Marines, including two junior officers, died, and 40 others wounded in a 16-hour firefight, with terrorists firing shoulder-fired rockets and mortars on a company of Marines in one of Marawi’s terrorist-held villages.
Lorenzana said the US unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which has infrared, advanced optics and thermal imaging capabilities, among others, could be remotely controlled anywhere in the country, but US personnel manning the surveillance aircraft could move their bases in cities near Marawi like Cagayan de Oro and Iligan to “bring them closer to action for them to advise better.”
“It does not alter the fact that they have been providing us with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) information to the troops,” Lorenzana said.
Lt. General Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command chief, said operations in Marawi were “basically all-Filipino.”
“The Americans assist us on the technical aspect. For example, if we want maps that are highly-elaborate, we can ask from them. But in operational matters, we’re the ones doing these, no Americans involved,” Galvez said.
He said US troops have assisted in training one recon company of the Philippine military. The Americans have also supported their Filipino counterparts in capability enhancement, counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance civic actions, the regional military commander said.
At Malacañang, Presidential Spokesperson Ernie Abella on Sunday admitted that the United States is assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines in its operations in Marawi but this is limited to technical assistance.
“We have standing protocols which are already in place under the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board with the US under the purview of the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951,” Abella said in a statement.
“It does not involve any boots on the ground nor is there any direct participation in combat operations, a matter prohibited by law,” he said.
He said the fight against terrorism is not only the concern of the Philippines or the United States but also of many nations around the world.
“The Philippines is open to assistance from other countries if they offer it,” he added. /ac
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