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First two US soldiers killed in Philippines since 2002

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Two United States soldiers have been killed in a landmine attack in the southern Philippines, marking the first deaths of US troops since 2002. They are believed to have been targeted in a roadside bombing by Abu Sayyaf, the Al Qaeda-linked militant group fighting to carve out an Islamic state.

The incident suggests the continued strength of militants in and around the island of Jolo, despite a sustained military operation to oust them.

It also adds to recent controversy that US counterterrorism troops assisting the Philippines military as advisers are breaking their rules of engagement and entering into combat with Abu Sayyaf militants.

One Philippine marine was also killed in the attack, and two wounded, reports the Associated Press.

The battle for control of Sulu, a southern province comprised of several islands, is small by military standards. Abu Sayyaf is believed to have only 400 militants left in the area, and the US military presence on the ground is only 600, according to the AP.

But the conflict has led to dozens of deaths, several large terrorist attacks, and kidnappings. Militant leaders have eluded capture for years, thanks to the rugged terrain and their jungle hideouts.

The deaths come as the Philippines military launched an operation last month against Abu Sayyaf in the area that has left 53 people dead, including eight Philippine Marines killed last week, according to Reuters.

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