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Foreigners fight alongside rebels in Marawi

Militants of at least five nationalities are among eight foreigners killed in besieged Philippine city

MANILA: Militants of at least five nationalities were among eight foreigners killed while fighting alongside rebels against government troops in the southern Philippines, Manila's defence minister said yesterday.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a news conference that fighters who were Saudi, Malaysian, Indonesian, Yemeni and Chechen were among the dead found in Marawi over the past week .

There were eight foreigners killed who were known to be fighting with the rebels, he said.

In a separate development, an air strike during military operations has killed 10 government troops, Mr Lorenzana said yesterday, a major blow to efforts to defeat fighters linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

Seven other soldiers were wounded on Wednesday when two air force SF-260 close air support planes dropped bombs on a target in the heart of Marawi, he told a news conference.

The first plane hit the target but the second missed.

"It's very sad to be hitting our own troops," Mr Lorenzana said. "There must be a mistake somewhere, either someone directing from the ground, or the pilot."

The armed forces have used a combination of ground troops and rocket strikes from helicopters to try to flush rebels of the Maute group out of buildings.

Wednesday was the first day the SF-260 planes were deployed.

The pro-ISIS Maute has proven to be a fierce enemy, clinging on to the heart of Marawi through days of air strikes the military has said are "surgical" and on known rebel targets.

The Maute's ability to fight off a military with greater numbers and superior firepower for so long will add to fears that it could win the recognition of the ISIS leadership in the Middle East and become its South-east Asian affiliate.

The deaths of the soldiers takes the number of security forces killed to 38, with 19 civilians and 120 rebel fighters killed in the battles in Marawi over the past nine days.

In an earlier text message to reporters, Mr Lorenzana said of the "friendly fire" incident: "Sometimes that happens. Sometimes the fog of war...

"The coordination was not properly done so we hit our own people."

The unrest started on May 23, when Maute rebels ran amok, torching and seizing buildings, stealing weapons and police vehicles, taking hostages, and freeing prisoners to join their fight.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is concerned radical ideology is spreading in the southern Philippines, and it could become a haven for militants from South-east Asia and beyond.

Mr Lorenzana said the military might suspend air strikes, describing the rebels as a small force that "cannot hold that long".

The military was carrying out air strikes on locations where it believes Isnilon Hapilon, the so-called "emir" and point man for ISIS operations in the Philippines, is hiding. - REUTERS

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