A junior military officer was killed by a sniper linked to militants supporting the Islamic State (IS) in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, officials said Tuesday while underscoring the difficulty of advancing into enemy territory.
Special Forces 1st Lt. Howard Juan became the 159th government casualty in the war to retake Marawi, a lakeshore city overrun by Abu Sayyaf Group and Maute militants who launched an attack five months ago.
Juan was leading a team advancing toward enemy positions when he was shot Monday. His team’s mission was to rescue 12 children and 16 women hostages from among 40 or so captives held by the gunmen.
Military commander Col. Romeo Brawner said Juan had been in the battle zone since May.
“He was killed by enemy sniper. He was going to marry his fiancée after his deployment here,” Brawner told BenarNews.
The location of the killing was confined to the four or five hectares (10 to 12 acres) controlled by the gunmen, underscoring the difficulty in flushing them out of the area.
“The fighting never stops day and night. But now we are very careful because of the hostages in the area,” Brawner said.
Military helicopters have been hovering above the ruined city, dropping leaflets urging the militants to give up and release their hostages. The messages are contained in empty plastic bottles and includes instructions where they should go if they wanted to give up.
“We are doing this to prevent collateral damage from the non-combatants,” Brawner said.
Juan’s death came while Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, announced fighting could be over by Oct. 15.
Since fighting broke out May 23, 774 enemy fighters and 47 civilians have been killed. Marawi’s estimated 200,000 residents have been sheltering in cramped evacuation sites in areas outside of the city.
Mark Navales in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report.