Security forces had killed at least 11 foreign militants along with over 600 members of the Maute group in fierce clashes in Marawi City, officials said Monday.
Rear Admiral Rene Medina, commander of the Naval Forces in Western Mindanao, said some 150 soldiers have been killed since the fighting started on May 23 when the Maute terrorists occupied Marawi in their bid to declare the city a province of the Islamic State (IS).
“Despite its losses, the government will never concede to lawless elements and will even further its efforts to put an end to these groups who threaten our freedom and democracy,” said Medina, who inspected troops at the battle zone over the weekend.
He did not say whether the enemy casualties were based on body counts or intelligence reports. The identities of the foreigners remain unknown, although previous military statements claimed some of them were from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
While in Marawi, Medina was briefed by the 1st Marine Brigade and Naval Special Operations Group on the progress of the military operations against the IS-linked militants, who are still holding dozens of civilian hostages, including a Catholic priest and church workers.
Medina also visited wounded soldiers in hospitals in the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro and had meals with soldiers.
Last week, the military deployed 102 female soldiers and policewomen to help local efforts in addressing the needs of families displaced by the crisis. The contingent is composed of 40 policewomen and 62 army members – mostly Muslims – who will be assigned to different evacuation centers in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte and in Iligan City.
They underwent special training on gender and development and studied modules on cultural sensitivity prior to their deployment. They will also assist in the many aspects of recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of Marawi.
No proof of Abdullah’s death
Meanwhile, the military said it has yet to receive evidence that Abdullah Maute, one of the leaders of the Maute group, has been killed.
Col. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces public affairs chief, said the military has no proof that Abdullah was among those killed by soldiers.
“Until we have a physical evidence in our hands that would allow us to confirm 100 percent that it was his (Abdullah) body or if we won’t be able to recognize such, we can conduct DNA testing that would show that it is indeed him, we are not saying 100 percent that Abdullah was indeed neutralized,” Arevalo said.
He added that the military will wait for the confirmation of reports that Abdullah has been killed.
On Sunday, Malacañang said Maute leader and Islamic State Southeast Asian “emir” Isnilon Hapilon has escaped Marawi and was seen in Basilan.
But Arevalo said Hapilon is still inside the battle zone, citing “independent sources.”
On Monday, Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año gave assurances that the crisis in Marawi will be over before he retires on October 26.
“It will be finished before I retire,” Año told reporters at the sidelines of the leadership turnover at the Northern Luzon Command in Camp Servillano Aquino in Tarlac City.
“We are already in our final phase of operations, we are finishing touches already that is why the fighting there has been intense for the past days,” he added.
“Either they surrender or die, so that we can start our reconstruction,” the military chief warned.
with DEMPSEY REYES