Philippines: 3 More Soldiers Die, 52 Injured as Marawi Battle Intensifies

Jeoffrey Maitem, Mark Navales and Froilan Gallardo
Marawi, Philippines
170901-PH-marawi-620.jpg Soldiers scan for fighters in a section of Marawi city still under control of Islamic State-backed militants in the southern Philippines, Sept. 1, 2017.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Three more soldiers were killed while 52 others were wounded Friday in fierce fighting between troops moving in to dislodge Islamic State-inspired militants from the southern Philippine city of Marawi, the military said.

As they moved in to recapture the Banggolo Bridge, troops engaged militants in gun battles. The bridge is the second crossing the military wants to control.

On Wednesday, troops opened the first one – Mapandi Bridge – to news photographers and reporters. It was described as a vital gateway to the heart of the ruined city and as key supply corridor to the militants.

Only a third critical crossing, the Raya Madaya Bridge, remains under control of the militants, and once that is retaken, fighting would enter its final phase to free Marawi, the military said.

Is the end near?

Regional military chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez told reporters that Banggolo Bridge was already under military control, although troops were receiving return fire as of Thursday afternoon.

“Upon retaking the bridge, we incurred the casualties,” Galvez said, adding that improvised bombs left behind led to the government casualties, including three fatalities.

“The same with Mapandi Bridge, Banggolo is the gateway to the heart of the city. It’s also their supply route that’s why we need to get it,” Galvez said.

A Philippine flag flutters from a ruined structure inside Marawi city, Sept. 1, 2017. (Mark Navales/BenarNews)

Banggolo, he said, is the closest to the front line and retaking it “signifies that we are now in major control of the area.

“It means, the clearing is already nearing an end.”

In Manila, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the offensive on the eve of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha (“Sacrifice Feast”) has been among the toughest so far, but said troops were working to clear the remaining areas of enemies.

He said most injuries were not life threatening.

“Following a short pause early today to give due respect to the solemnity and significance of this day, the operations will continue without any let up,” Padilla said, referring to Friday morning prayers.

The latest casualties brought to 136 the number of troops killed since fighting broke out on May 23. Officials said 620 militants and 45 civilians had also died.

Unknown number of hostages

But more than three months after fighting broke out on May 23, none of the key leaders of the militants have been killed, including Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the regional leader of the Islamic State. He is believed backed by at least 40 Abu Sayyaf members, local Maute group, and foreign fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

“We don’t want to underestimate the enemy. They are still capable of inflicting casualties,” Galvez said, adding that all the militant leaders “are still there” in the battle zone.

Asked how many hostages were still being held and what their condition were, Galvez said troops have not “zeroed in” on the actual intelligence information.

“Hopefully, we can get them alive,” he said.

Displaced residents pray to mark Eid al-Adha inside a university campus under military control in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, Sept. 1, 2017. (Mark Navales/BenarNews)


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