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Palace: US presence in Marawi limited to technical assistance

This file photo shows Western Command deputy commander Brig. Gen. Guillermo Molina Jr. talking to US Navy officer Patrick Ronan on board a P3 Orion plane during a joint US-Philippines naval exercise in Sulu in 2015. A similar plane was spotted over Marawi on Friday. AP, file                           
MANILA, Philippines —  The Philippines is open to assistance from foreign governments who want to fight terrorism, Malacañang said Sunday, as it confirmed the United States’ involvement in the campaign against the Maute militants in Marawi City.
 
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said the US merely provided “technical assistance” and no American soldier was directly involved in combat operations.
 
“The United States is assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines in its operations in Marawi but this is limited to technical assistance,” Abella said in a statement.
 
“The fight against terrorism, however, is not only the concern of the Philippines or the United States but it is a concern of many nations around the world. The Philippines is open to assistance from other countries if they offer it,” he added.
 
Abella reiterated that the US’s role “does not involve any boots on the ground,” noting that the law prohibits foreign troops from participating directly in combat operations.
 
He said there are standing protocols that allow the two countries to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. The protocols are under the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board, which is under the purview of the Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the two countries in 1951.
 
Military officials have said the assistance given by the US include trainings and intelligence information.
 
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command chief, said in a press conference in Cagayan de Oro on Sunday that the no US troops are involved in "operational matters", adding that combat operations to retake Marawi City are "all-Filipino".
 
 
Government troops have been fighting with the Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists in Marawi since May 23, the same day President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao.
 
On Friday, a US P3 Orion surveillance aircraft was seen flying over the strife-torn city as security forces mounted offensives against the remaining militants in the area.
 
US embassy spokesperson Molly Koscina has confirmed to The STAR that the US special operation forces are assisting the military in Marawi “at the request of the government of the Philippines.”  
 
“The US non-combat support helps AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) commanders on the ground in their fight against Maute and ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) militants,” Koscina said.
 
The participation of US forces in the fight against the Maute has been met with criticism by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, an umbrella group for national democratic organizations.

"We oppose US meddling and intervention in the Marawi crisis," Bayan said in a press statement Sunday.

Bayan also asked whether intelligence on Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute Group that security forces used for an operation that led to hostilities in Marawi City on May 23 came from the US.

"Did the US urge the AFP to carry out the arrest of Hapilon at the exact time Duterte was in Russia, with the knowledge that things may get out of hand and affect Duterte's Russia trip?" Bayan also asked.

Gen. Eduardo Año, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff, and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana were in Russia with the president when the clashes started, as was National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon and Philippine National Police Director General Ronald Dela Rosa.

"The Duterte regime has backtracked on its vow to remove foreign troops from PH soil and has now allowed foreign intervention in a domestic issue. There will be serious repercussions," Bayan, which supports a resumption of stalled peace talks between the government and communist rebels, said.

Bayan and other organizations that advocate national democracy view imperialism, especially by the US, as one of the root causes of social injustice in the Philippines.

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