- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2017

A botched airstrike targeting Islamic State militants in the southern Philippine city of Marawi ended with 11 Philippine soldiers dead and several wounded, prompting Manila to launch an investigation into the friendly fire incident.

Philippine air forces had been conducting airstrikes in and around the besieged city in Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur province over the last several days, in an attempt to flush out affiliates of the terror group known as ISIS or ISIL who raised their black flags over the city a week ago.

Since then, Philippine military and police have been engaged in pitched, street-to-street fighting with ISIS gunmen, whose ranks have reportedly included fighters from the Mideast and eastern Europe, as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the Mindanao region.

Senior military officials in Manila have convened an official board of inquiry, to investigate the incident and determine what caused the mistaken airstrike, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

“We are still investigating, conducting an investigation headed by the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] chief of staff what really happened,” he said during a press conference Thursday. Specifically, the board will determine whether the incident was the result of bad intelligence or the ground or pilot error.

The strike that killed the Philippine soldiers was one of two launched during that particular operation. The initial strike launched by a single-prop SF-260 attack aircraft hit its mark, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), told the Philippine Star.

“However, it was unfortunate that the last ordnance round it delivered went wayward for an unknown reason and accidentally hit and caused the lives of our ground forces,” Gen. Padilla said.

Roughly 100 U.S. Marines and special operations forces based in Zamboanga, which lies over 250 miles east of Marawi, have been intelligence and logistics support to Philippine forces in Mindanao.

The small team of American troops had been part of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, one of the earliest U.S. counterterrorism operations launched in the wake of 9/11. As the height of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, over 400 task force members provided combat support to Manila’s efforts to quash groups like the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf.

The group’s leader, Isnilon Hapilon, declared allegiance with ISIS in 2014 and was subsequently named the group’s emir in Southeast Asia. The assault on Mawari was triggered by a failed raid by Philippine military and police on Mr. Hapilon’s base near the city, local reports say.

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