Philippine Military: 2 Soldiers killed, 11 Wounded in Friendly Fire in Marawi

Felipe Villamor and Jeoffrey Maitem
Manila and Marawi, Philippines
170712-PH-airstrike-620.jpg Troops scour Marawi city in the southern Philippines as firefights continue between government forces and Islamic State-inspired Filipino militants, July 12, 2017.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

An errant airstrike killed two soldiers and wounded 11 others Wednesday in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, the military said, underscoring the government's challenges of dislodging militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) who had occupied the area and engaged government troops in 51 days of pitched battles.

Initial reports indicated that the bomb “was 250 meters off target,” the armed forces said in a statement, adding that an investigation has been launched to determine what caused the military plane to miss its target.

It is the second incident where so-called precision airstrikes had killed soldiers.

On May 31, 11 soldiers were killed in a similar incident, in what is considered the biggest single-day loss on the government side since the campaign began just a week earlier.

“The impact of the explosion caused the collapse of nearby structures. Large debris from heavily reinforced buildings accidentally hit two of our personnel who succumbed to death in the process,” the statement said.

It added that 11 other soldiers suffered shrapnel wounds, but were out of danger at a nearby hospital.

“We are saddened by this unfortunate incident,” it said, adding it was attending to the needs of the families of the soldiers involved in the incident.

The armed forces has ordered an investigation, but did not say when results would be made available. Investigations surrounding the first incident have not been released to the public.

Fighting’s end in sight?

Fighting began on May 23, when troops and police sent to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon – the acknowledged IS leader in the Philippines – were met by a strong rebel force that included fighters from the local Maute group and foreign militants from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire southern region under martial law, giving the military police powers to crush the rebels. He also has been forced to ask help from longtime allies the United States and Australia, which have been providing intelligence support and flying P3 Orion spy planes over Marawi.

Security forces have yet to regain full control of Marawi, a former Muslim trading hub that has been reduced to patches of rubble and abandoned by its 200,000 residents.

Hundreds of civilians are believed to be trapped in the crossfire or are being kept as hostages by the gunmen, who the military earlier this week estimated to have dwindled to about 80 hardcore fighters.

Wednesday is the 51st day of the Marawi fighting, which the military said has so far left 39 civilians, 90 government forces and 389 rebels dead.

The military on Wednesday did not say what aircraft was involved in the latest mishap.

The first incident involved an Italian-made Marchetti S-211 trainer jet that the Philippine Air Force had upgraded to give it attack capability, even as officials had admitted that it lacked precision-guided missiles or bombs.

Still, the armed forces have maintained the airstrikes have been largely successful in containing the gunmen in a section of the ravaged city.

The military has declined to give a deadline to end the fighting, but Duterte on Tuesday estimated the war could be over in two weeks. “I need about 15 more days,” he told guests at a business gathering in Manila.

Extremist firepower

Duterte acknowledged that the military had faced difficulty in defeating the militants because they had stocked up on arms.

“What we really did not know and we missed (intelligence on this) is that they had plenty of weapons,” Duterte said. “Their firepower seemed unending, especially the grenade launchers.”

He said he planned to go to Marawi to rally the troops possibly within the week.

“But remember, the new scourge is ISIS,” Duterte said, using another name for the Islamic State. “It will continue to haunt us because of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

A soldier searches for militant fighters in Marawi city, July 12, 2017. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]

Mark Navales in Cotabato City contributed to this report.


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