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13 Marines killed in Marawi

The Marine junior officer who led the operation that resulted into the confiscation of P52 million in cash and P27 million worth of checks was killed in a firefight along with 12 other commandos Friday in Marawi City, according to the military.

1st Lt. Frederick Savellano and 12 of his men died following a 14-hour gunbattle in Barangay Liot Madaya, said Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief information officer.

The names of the other fatalities were not available.

Forty soldiers were wounded in the encounter.

It was the biggest number of casualties suffered by government troops since 11 soldiers were killed by friendly fire on May 31.

The death toll for soldiers and policemen now stands at 54.

Arevalo said the militants also suffered heavy casualties during the assault that began at 3:30 a.m. and continued until 5 p.m.

“We salute this enormous display of heroism and raw courage of these fallen Marines in the course of the fight to clear Marawi of the remaining members of the Maute-ISIS Group,” said Arevalo.

“This temporary setback has not diminished our resolve to a bit. It instead primed up our determination to continue our prudent advances to neutralize the enemy, save the innocent lives trapped in the fight and set the conditions for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi,” he added.

Savellano, a registered nurse, joined the Marines after finishing the Naval Officers Candidate Course. He was also a graduate of the United States Marine Office Basic Course.

On June 5, Savellano led the company that assaulted a Maute stronghold that yielded stacks of P1,000 bills.

A few days ago, Savellano texted relatives, expressing hopes that the war would end soon.

“Sana makahabol pa sa ‘Wonder Woman’,” Savellano texted.

Meanwhile, US special forces are lending assistance to the military, a US embassy spokesperson in Manila told Reuters yesterday.

The seizure of Marawi by hundreds of fighters who have sworn allegiance to Islamic State, including dozens from neighboring countries and the Middle East, has fueled concern that the ultra-radical group is gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia.

“At the request of the government of the Philippines, US special operations forces are assisting the AFP with ongoing operations in Marawi that help AFP commanders on the ground in their fight against Maute and ASG militants,” the spokesperson said. ASG stands for the Abu Sayyaf militant group.

The spokesperson gave no details of the US involvement. A US P3 Orion surveillance plane was seen flying over the town on Friday, but there has been no evidence that the United States has put troops on the ground there.

The Philippine military confirmed that US special forces were assisting local troops in Marawi but said they were only providing technical support.

“They are not fighting. They are just providing technical support,” military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said. (With Reuters report) (AARON B. RECUENCO • FRANCIS T. WAKEFIELD)

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