MANILA — The United States on Monday handed over to the Philippine Marines new weapons and equipment, including rifles, pistols and combat boats in support of the military's counter-terrorism campaign.
The weapons transfer was held at the Marines' headquarters in Taguig City just as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continued operations against Islamist militants in Marawi City, where the fighting has entered its second week.
The US announced the deliveries just days after President Duterte vowed to procure only new hardware for the military as he again blasted the Americans for selling or giving secondhand defense equipment to the Philippines.
In a statement, the US Embassy in Manila said the new gear would enhance the military's counterterrorism capabilities and "help protect Philippine Marines actively engaged in counterterrorism operations in the southern Philippines."
Among weapons handed over to the Marines were 300 M4 carbines, 200 Glock 21 pistols, four M134D Gatling-style machine guns, and 100 M203 grenade launchers.
The deliveries arrived last month at the Clark Air Base in Pampanga and were formally turned over to the Philippine military on Monday.
On May 30, the US also delivered 25 new Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) with outboard motors for the Marine's Inshore Boat Battalion and Marine Special Operations Group.
The Embassy said the Philippine Marine units "have already employed previous U.S. Counterterrorism Train and Equip gear in ongoing combat operations in the southern Philippines," an apparent reference to ongoing operations in Marawi City.
The AFP is undertaking operations to flush out remaining members of the ISIS-linked Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in the southern city. Firefights began on May 23 as government troops moved to arrest Abu Sayyaf's Isnilon Hapilon, known to be the anointed leader of ISIS in Southeast Asia.
The conflict has displaced thousands and has left at least 175 dead, including 120 terrorists, 36 state forces, and 19 civilians.
The Joint United States Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) has provided P7.3-billion in military equipment to the AFP since 2007 to enhance counterterrorism capabilities, the Embassy said.
The US government has also allocated P15-billion in grant funding for equipment provisions to the Philippine military over the last five years, the Embassy said.
The AFP has meanwhile procured small-arms weapons, water craft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and personal protective equipment from the US government.
"The equipment transfers and continued bilateral training and exercises demonstrate the commitment of the United States to work with the Philippines towards building safer communities and eradicating global terror networks," said the US, a Philippine treaty ally.
The weapons handover came despite recent hitches in Philippine-US relations, with President Duterte pursuing an "independent foreign policy" that deviated from the country's long-standing alliance with America, shifting instead to non-traditional allies such as China and Russia.
Last month, the Philippines signed a defense pact with Russia. It has also expressed interest in acquiring military equipment from China even as Beijing stepped up militarization and island-building activities in the disputed South China Sea, undermining the Philippines' claims.
In November last year, meanwhile, the US State Department stopped its sale of rifles to the Philippine National Police after US Senator Ben Cardin opposed the move, citing concern over alleged human rights violations in Duterte's war on drugs.
Cardin and his fellow Senator Marco Rubio also filed a bill last month seeking to block arms exports to the Philippines citing their opposition to the war on drugs.