Marawi Fighting Seen Over in a Week: Philippine Military

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
2017.09.25
Marawi, Philippines
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170925-marawi-620.jpg Philippine troops are seen during a clearing operation in Marawi, Sept. 14, 2017.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

The Philippine military voiced optimism Monday that it would soon clear the southern city of Marawi of Islamic State-backed militants, as its forces recovered a third bridge vital to the rebels’ defensive positions and rescued four more hostages.

In Marawi on Sunday, regional military chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez presented to the press ex-hostages Abdul Naser Ergas Mangondaya, Kiram Datu Dakula Ampatua, Abdullah Nixon Rakiin and Lordvin Acopio.

All of them were rescued last week by soldiers on the frontline here, with Acopio freed along with Father Teresito Soganub, the vicar general of the city’s small Catholic Church.

“We cannot provide exact details of how they were rescued because there are still 46 of them and it might compromise our operations,” Galvez said when asked to provide circumstances surrounding the rescue.

It was also not clear how they came about the number of the hostages, considering that President Rodrigo Duterte and Soganub had earlier said that as many as 200 to 300 hostages, including children, were being held by the gunmen.

Neither did he divulge the fate of the IS leader in Marawi, Isnilon Hapilon, who, according to military intelligence data, was fighting with as many as 80 other fighters here, including militants from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

However, he predicted that the fighting would be finished soon.

“Ten days or two weeks. That’s our timeline,” Galvez said, declining to give specifics even as he voiced optimism that Marawi, the only Islamic city in the mostly Catholic Philippines, would soon be fully liberated.

Since May 23, at least 670 militants, 149 soldiers and 47 civilians have been killed in the fighting, the biggest security challenge to President Rodrigo Duterte’s year-old government. Some 1,182 people who had been caught in the crossfire have also been rescued.

“Anything can happen when the (gunmen) become desperate. The focus of the operation is still to rescue the remaining hostages,” he said, describing the situation on the ground as “very volatile.”

In the coming days, he said more forces were expected to augment the troops in Marawi and tighten the noose around the battle area.

“So the instruction is, no way in and out. And we have a very small risk that our enemies can get out from the battle zone,” he said.

While the military made significant progress over the past two weeks, the gunmen still controlled about 10 hectares of the city.

Apology to evacuees

Earlier on Monday, Galvez apologized to people displaced by the fighting and who were staying in evacuation camps in the town of Saguiran, not far from Marawi.

“We wanted to finish it early. We know the evacuees have been suffering. But I really apologize for the delay. Hopefully within a few days it’s over,” he said.

He promised them that the rehabilitation phase would begin by October.

The clashes flared up when soldiers and policemen moved to arrest Hapilon, the acknowledged head of the Islamic State in Mindanao who is on the list of terrorists wanted by the United States.

Last week, during his fifth visit to troops here, President Duterte said “the end of the combat operation is just around the corner.”

Richel V. Umel contributed to this report.

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