© AP Photo/ Bullit Marquez
The Philippines military said on Friday that some of the Islamist militants, who attacked Marawi city in the south of the country last month, may have slipped away during the battle that has raged for nearly four weeks.
The Maute group had sworn allegiance to Daesh and seized the city last month. More recently, a new twist was added to this story when information suggested that US Special Forces are present in the city.
These servicemen were allegedly aiding the government forces in the fight against the militants.
Sputnik spoke with an expert from the Center for Strategic Research, Anton Tsvetov, about how the US interference in the region is affecting the fight against terrorism in the Philippines.
“The US military’s Special Forces came to the south of the Philippines precisely because the local armed forces could not cope with the terrorist threat. The Philippine side hastened to clarify that US assistance is limited to technical support and information transfer only and that the US servicemen are not involved in combat clashes; however, a reconnaissance aircraft P-3 Orion was seen over Marawi,” Tsvetov said.
He further said that today, however, the US Special Forces are represented in the region by a very small contingent of several dozen people.
Nevertheless, the rising threat of militant groups such as Abu Sayyaf and Maute in the south of the Philippines is not only a Filipino problem. Indonesian and Malaysian citizens are fighting these militants too.
“If eradicating Daesh does not happen in Mindanao, the island will turn into a shelter for the terrorist organization in the Southeast Asia. If that happens then the militants will move through the borders of the Philippines into neighboring countries,” Tsvetov said.
Talking about the presence of US servicemen on the ground in Mindanao island, the analyst said that Filipino officials are trying to “muffle the rhetoric about American assistance in the battles for Marawi.”
“This case underscores the old dilemma of Duterte’s pivot. It is the American human rights activists and congressmen [and not Chinese or Russian] who sharply criticize the anti-drug campaign in the Philippines, but it is only the US armed forces that are in a position to provide Duterte with the necessary support to fight terrorists in Mindanao at this moment,” the analyst said.
He added that a decisive victory over Abu Sayyaf was one of the pre-election promises of the Philippines leader.
According to Tsvetov, when Trump came to power in the United States, it seemed that Duterte would easily find a solution to his dilemma.
“Judging by the April telephone conversation, the two presidents found a common language but just as Duterte cannot speak on behalf of all of the Philippines, Trump does not fully determine the entire US foreign policy either, as Congress retains a huge influence over the channels of assistance to the Philippines,” the analyst concluded.
More than 300 people have been killed in the battle for Marawi, according to official estimates, including 225 militants, 59 soldiers and 26 civilians.
Reports suggested that residents fleeing Marawi had seen at least 100 dead bodies in an area where the fighting had been fierce. The military however could not confirm that number.