Philippine marines killed in fighting with militants

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In 2002, the U.S. helped Philippine authorities track down Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya, who was killed in that operation.

The BBC's Jonathan Head says there are several reports that the Maute brothers, who lead the Maute group, are among the dead, with intercepted communications from jihadist groups suggesting this.

The Philippines is majority Christian, but Mindanao has a significant population of Muslims and Marawi City is overwhelmingly Muslim.

"There was an intense, house-to-house fire fight between the marines and the local terrorist group", Jo-Ar Herrera, army spokesman, told a televised press conference.

For the past 18 days, boys such as these and their adult commanders have occupied the centre of Marawi, a city of 221,000 people in the southern Philippines.

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Over 20 civilians have been confirmed killed due to the fighting, according to the government, but the true number is likely to be higher with authorities yet to fully assess the roughly 10 percent of Marawi still being held by the militants.

They initially estimated there were about 100 gunmen but later said there were as many as 500, supplemented by foreign fighters from Chechnya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. An AP journalist reportedly saw a US Navy P3 Orion plane hovering in the skies above Marawi on Friday.

The presence of the U.S., he said, provides only intelligence exchanges, training and technical support.

The assistance comes after months of strain between the two long-time allies that was stoked by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's hostility towards Washington and his pledges to throw United States troops out of the country. He added that the #United States will provide technical support to Philippine troops.

Philippine troops have been battling the Maute group, which claims allegiance with Islamic State, in Marawi for more than two weeks.

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It is the biggest loss for government forces in a single day, the military said.

The US has had a small logistical military presence in the Philippines, although a programme to advise the Philippine army on fighting the Abu Sayyaf militant group was discontinued in 2015.

The United States and the Philippines have been allies for decades.

But Duterte has openly scorned the alliance, seeing it as an obstacle to a rapprochement with China, and has repeatedly lambasted Washington for treating his country as a lackey.

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