Three Filipino soldiers were killed and 20 others, including a battalion commander, were injured in clashes with militants backed by the Islamic State (IS) as the government failed to end the Marawi siege as promised, the military said Sunday.
Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of Joint Task Group Ranao, said the military had tried to retake a portion of the city controlled by the gunmen late Saturday but was repulsed by heavy enemy fire.
He said Abu Sayyaf Group and Maute militants were forcing hostages to fight alongside them. Among them was a 16-year-old girl who was rescued amid the pitched battles.
“The officer was hit in the lower extremities of his body. The hostage, meanwhile is OK and was able to provide us with critical information,” Brawner said. Officials did not release details of the soldiers who were killed.
BenarNews reporters on the ground said aerial bombing runs and mortar fire have been continuous as the military pushed to end the siege by the weekend as promised. But the remaining militants have dug in and slowed the government advance.
Brawner said troops were working overtime to dislodge the gunmen hidden in dilapidated buildings and basements of structures.
“Until now we are still assaulting the defensive positions of the (enemy) despite the fact we have set today, this day, as target date for finishing the armed conflict,” Brawner said.
President Rodrigo Duterte and other officials have set at least nine deadlines in the past but the tenacity of the militants has thwarted all attempts to end fighting.
“Our troops are really fighting hard,” Brawner said. “Based on the revelation of rescued female hostage, it is unfortunate the women and the children are now forced to fight together with the militants.”
“These are desperate measures that they are doing because it’s their last defensive stand,” Brawner told reporters here.
“The fighting is not yet over. Our troops are still fighting. This shows how dedicated they are. The enemies have established very strong positions,” he stressed.
Since May 23 when militants launched their attacks, the government reported 163 troops, 822 militants and 47 civilians have died.
“Our soldiers are looking forward to end the fighting. They want to go home. Many of them were already here since day one. They long to be with their families,” Brawner said.
Martial law to stay
Regional military chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said officials were assessing which parts of the south would remain under martial law.
“But I believe a lot of government officials … wanted to maintain the status of military rule here in Marawi and in Lanao del Sur,” he said.
Meanwhile, Suara Bangsamoro National Chairman Jerome Succor said in statement that martial law had heightened instability in the south, adding that the declaration had intensified military operations in the region.
“We fear for the effects of war to the civilian population,” said Aba, who leads the political party representing Muslim interests.
“Our utmost concern is the lives and livelihoods of the civilians, if the Duterte administration should choose to pursue with urban militarization and aerial bombings. War in this context is unnecessary and solves nothing,” Aba said.
Mark Navales and Richel V. Umel in Marawi contributed to this report.