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Pentagon May Boost Support to Philippine Counter-ISIS Ops

A Philippine Marine in July 2017 observed Islamic militant positions on the frontline in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao. (TED ALJIBE/AFP/)
A Philippine Marine in July 2017 observed Islamic militant positions on the frontline in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao. (TED ALJIBE/AFP/)

The United States is weighing additional support to the Philippine military as it fights an Islamist insurgency in the south, a US defense official said Tuesday.

Discussions are "pretty advanced" and would see the US provide increased surveillance drone capabilities and training for local forces, the official told AFP on condition on anonymity.

The drones could hypothetically be used to conduct strikes, the official added, though that would only be done for self-defense of US or partner forces and does not signal yet another front in America's drone wars.

"It's not necessarily what those (drones) are there for. Those are there for ISR and support," the official said, using an abbreviation for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked lawmakers to approve the recruiting of 20,000 more soldiers to tackle increased security threats following a bloody urban siege in the south.

Almost 700 people have been killed, according to the official count, in over two months of fighting in the southern city of Marawi against Islamist militants who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

The militants, waving the black IS flag, have occupied parts of Marawi since May 23, prompting Duterte to declare martial law in the entire southern region of Mindanao.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday called the crisis Marawi as a "tragic situation" and said US forces were providing surveillance aircraft and important advice for the Philippines forces in the battle there.

The US has for years provided intel to the Philippines and has between 300 and 500 special operations and regular forces stationed in the country.

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