Militants Use Tactics from Iraq, Syria Wars: Philippine General

Mark Navales and Jeoffrey Maitem
Marawi, Philippines
170831-PH-IS-marawi-620.jpg Philippine marines patrol in front of a mosque in Marawi, Aug. 30, 2017.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Islamic State-inspired Filipino militants who still hold a portion of the battle-ravaged southern city of Marawi have adapted tactics they learned from the Middle East, including in the Iraq and Syria wars, a senior Marine official said Thursday.

Specifically, Maj. Gen. Danilo Pamonag said, sniper attacks had intensified to deter advancing Philippine government troops from retaking militant-held positions.

“They used previous war tactics in the Middle East. What they are employing here are the same as in Iraq and Syria,” said Pamonag, commander of the Joint Task Force Trident spearheading the assault to retake Marawi, a once bustling city of 200,000 reduced to a virtual wasteland of pockmarked buildings.

Additionally, a 2013 urban assault by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga city, served as a model for the militants, the general said.

The MNLF was a rebel group the signed a peace deal with Manila in 1996, leading to the creation of a Muslim self-rule area in the south. Many MNLF rebels became politicians, but the area remained poor despite the millions of pesos poured into the region for economic development projects.

The MNLF staged the 2013 uprising to protest the peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a breakaway faction that has since signed its own pact with government.

More than 200 rebels and troops were killed in the urban warfare that lasted three weeks before the government finally reestablished control. An estimated 100,000 people were left homeless.

“They learned a lot too from the war in Zamboanga because there they strengthened their sniper and bomb-making squad,” Pamonag said.

Much of the Philippine city of Marawi is in ruins after more than three months of fighting with militants linked to the Islamic State, Aug. 31, 2017. (Mark Navales/BenarNews)

Scenes of devastation

On Wednesday, troops escorted a group of journalists into the battle zone, specifically to the recently retaken Mapandi bridge, the gateway to Marawi’s central commercial district where the gunmen and dozens of hostages were believed to be holding out.

A Philippine flag fluttered on a makeshift pole erected by troops, as tanks rolled and troops marched through the devastated community.

Artillery fire and airstrikes continued to pummel militant positions on Thursday as gunfire from the main battle area raged for hours.

Dozens of troops were wounded in the heavy fighting, a source who asked to not be identified told BenarNews while military officials have not responded to inquiries about injuries. Reporters saw several military ambulance vehicles rush from the scene of the fighting.

Previously, military officials said the fighting could be over in days. While the pronouncement was welcome, officers conceded battles could drag on for an extended period.

President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted to underestimating the rebel firepower and has sought the help of the United States and Australia for intelligence assistance. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have offered to assist in anti-terror joint operations, fearing the spread of IS militants to their countries.


During a speech Wednesday in Manila, Duterte said it was up to military leaders to determine if they wanted to bomb mosques, a turnaround from an earlier statement that no places of worship would be attacked even if the gunmen were hiding there.

“The option is already yours, because we cannot have a stalemate for over one year,” Duterte said.

The military rejected Duterte’s comment.

“We will not bomb a mosque where enemies are hiding along with their hostages. As much as possible we wanted to save the lives of hostages,” local army spokeswoman Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay said. “If we do that, extremism will increase and we will gain more enemies.”

Since May 23, at least 133 troops had been reported killed along with 617 Abu Sayyaf and Maute gunmen along with 45 civilians. At least 1,728 people have been rescued and 667 firearms recovered from the battle zone, according to the military.


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