US forces helping Philippines battle ISIS-linked fighters

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Suspected self-styled Islamic State (IS) group members are arrested in a village in Marawi City on the southern island of Mindanao on June 3, 2017. Hundreds of Islamist gunmen rampaged through the city of 200,000, the Islamic capital of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23 after government forces attempted to arrest their leader, Isnilon Hapilon. Up to 50 gunmen continued to control downtown Marawi nearly two weeks later with at least 15 hostages including a Catholic priest, with some being used as human shields, the military said. / AFP PHOTO / Noel CELIS

US Special Operations Forces are assisting the Filipino military in its battle against ISIS-affiliated fighters, the US Embassy in Manila said Saturday.

The forces have been deployed at the request of the government, the embassy said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines have been slugging it out with Maute militants for control of Marawi, in the southern Mindanao region of the Philippines.

The embassy couldn’t give specifics on the specific nature of the US support for “security reasons.”

US Special Operations Forces “have been providing support and assistance in response to Philippine government requests for many years,” the embassy 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.”

Fighting the militant message

The fight against the ISIS-affiliated Maute militants is proceeding on social media as well as the ground.

The Filipino military has called on Facebook to close 63 accounts linked to ISIS-affiliated Maute militants engaged in the fighting.

In a press conference in Marawi on Friday, Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said the military had uncovered 63 specific accounts used by militants that focus on “spreading propaganda messaging and misinformation.”

Without confirming the specific request from the Philippines, a Facebook spokesman said the company has “well-established law enforcement channels for governments to contact us about emergencies.”

He stressed that Facebook does remove any account linked 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.

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