MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES - MAY 25: Soldiers run for cover to evade sniper fire while trying to clear the city of armed militants, one street at a time, on May 25, 2017 in Marawi city, southern Philippines. Gun battles between ISIS-linked militants and Filipino troops erupted in Marawi city on Tuesday when gunmen from the local terrorist groups Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf rampaged through the southern city, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare 60 days of martial law in Mindanao. Thousands of residents were reported to have fled from Malawi city while at least 21 people were killed, including a police chief who had been beheaded and buildings were torched by the terror groups. President Duterte said the influence of Islamic State is one of the nation's top security concerns, and martial law on Mindanao island could be extended across the Philippines to enforce order, allowing the detention of people without charge. (Photo by Jes Aznar/Getty Images)
Philippines: The next ISIS stronghold?
01:03 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Philippines is now "open to assistance," government spokesman says

Violence is surging from ISIS-backed militants

CNN  — 

As the fight against ISIS-linked Maute militants continues in Marawi City, the Philippines this week appeared to reverse its position on international military cooperation.

“The Philippines is open to assistance from other countries if they offer it,” presidential spokesman Ernie Abella said Sunday.

The statement comes less than a year after President Rodrigo Duterte stated he did not want to “see any military man of any nation” in the Philippines, “except the Filipino soldier.”

Smoke billows after air strikes by Philippine forces in Marawi City on Sunday.

With a surge of violence from ISIS-affiliated militants in the southern island of Mindanao, it appears the government has reconsidered its tough stance.

Duterte on Sunday distanced himself from US military cooperation, saying the decision was made by the Defense Department. “I never approached any American to say ‘please help us’,” he said. Nonetheless, allowing the assistance to continue counters the nationalist posture Duterte maintains.

The US Embassy in Manila announced Saturday that US Special Operations Forces are assisting the Philippines in military operations. The forces have been deployed at the request of the Philippine government, the embassy said.

During President Barack Obama’s administration, Duterte fiercely criticized the United States for what he characterized as military overreach in the Philippines. Duterte also took exception with Obama’s criticisms of human rights abuses in the country.

In September 2016, Duterte caused a diplomatic row when he called President Obama a “son of a bitch.”

Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016 as a strongman who stood up to Western powers. He threatened to revise or abrogate international agreements and free the Philippines “from the presence of foreign military troops.”

The Philippine National Police hang flags in war-torn Marawi City  to boost troop morale.

But with US military assistance under way in Marawi, the harsh rhetoric has stopped.

While there are no US troops fighting on the ground, US Special Forces are providing technical assistance to the armed forces of the Philippines.

Military operations in Marawi City have resulted in a brutal campaign to eliminate extremist militants. So far, 58 Philippine troops and at least 191 Maute militants have been killed, according to the state-run Philippines News Agency. The latest violent clash resulted in a 14-hour fire fight that killed 13 Philippine marines.

“The United States will continue to provide support and assistance to Philippine counter-terrorism efforts. The United States is a proud ally of the Philippines, and we will continue to work with the Philippines to address shared threats to the peace and security of our countries,” the US Embassy said in a statement in May.

‘No American puppet’

The United States and the Philippines have a long and intertwined history.

The island nation was ceded to the US in 1898 after the Spanish-American War and became a self-governing republic in 1935. After World War II, the US military facilitated close cooperation with the Philippines armed forces.

In 1951, the two countries singed a Mutual Defense Treaty, which sought to maintain security and stability in the region. For six decades, the Philippines was a key ally in the fight against terrorism and helped the US counter China’s growing military presence in the South China Sea.

In 2014, Duterte’s predecessor, President Noynoy Aquino, strengthened the alliance with an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allowed a limited and temporary US military presence in the Philippines.

In stark contrast, Duterte rose to power with a nationalist message and sought to limit the Philippines’ dependence on the US.

“I am no American puppet,” Duterte said in September 2016.

As president, Duterte threated to disregard the EDCA and end joint military drills. “I want them out,” Duterte declared.

In allowing the Defense Department to continue it cooperation with the US military in Marawi, Duterte has made a complete turnaround. With a new US administration and an uprising of extremist militants, the Philippines seems ready, once again, to work with international partners.

“The fight against terrorism is not only the concern of the Philippines or the United States but it is a concern of many nations around the world,” Abella, the presidential spokesman, said.