The Philippine military says US armed forces are on the ground in the Philippines near the town of Marawi, providing support to local forces without directly taking part in an ongoing battle against Daesh militants in the town.
“There are some US personnel, who are operating equipment to provide information on situation awareness to our troops,” said a Philippine military spokesman General Restituto Padilla.
US forces “are allowed to carry rifles for self-defense. But they are not allowed to fight, they only provide support,” he explained.
Over the weekend, the US Embassy said that Washington offered the military support at the request of the Philippines’ government to help operations against Daesh in Marawi, which are now in their third week.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, however, rejected the claim on Monday, saying he “never approached America…I haven’t made an appeal.”
Philippine troops are fighting to dislodge at least 200 militants holed up in Marawi since last month. An estimated 500 to 1,000 civilians are trapped in the town, some of them are being used as human shields.
The US’s support for the Philippine military is coming despite strained ties between Washington and Manila and former calls by Duterte that he wanted US troops out of his country.
Duterte repeatedly clashed with the US’s former administration over his anti-drug campaign, which was criticized by former president Barack Obama and rights groups.
US President Donald Trump, however, has described the campaign as a “great job” and invited his Philippine counterpart to the White House in April saying, “The Philippines is very important to me strategically and militarily.”
The US, which has had a logistical military presence in the Philippines, has so far refused to withdraw its forces and has pledged to remain committed to its “pursuit of shared objectives” in keeping with the “seven-decade alliance between our two countries.”