At least 191 terrorists have been killed since the battle for control of Marawi City erupted between government troops and the Maute Group nearly 3 weeks ago, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said.
The Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division said on Sunday that government security forces are still validating several other casualties from the rebel side as the entered its 20th day.
“The AFP has greatly diminished the number of the terrorists. So far 191 were confirmed dead while undetermined number of them killed were being validated,” AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said.
The military said that 58 government troops have been killed. So far, 154 firearms were recovered, including .50 caliber machine guns, M60 machine guns, assault rifles and thousands of ammunition.
The army said the militants “holed in fortified buildings and structures” are employing hostile sniper fires, mortar attacks, anti- tank rounds and improvised explosive devices “to kill anyone,” including relief and rescue workers and civilians.
It said the Maute Group has a “fanatical desire to dismember Marawi from the Philippines” and establish the city into a “wilayat” or a province to be occupied by members of the Islamic State (IS).
Marawi-based military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera said there are “strong indications” that Omarkhayam and Madie Maute were among those killed in separate operations but officials have yet to confirm the report.
Military officials initially estimated there were about 100 gunmen but later said there were as many as 500, supplemented by foreign fighters from Chechnya, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
At the same time, the Philippine National Police (PNP) Joint Task Force Group under Task Force Marawi reported that four suspected Maute members were killed in an ambush Saturday night.
The four were identified as Zulkifi Risales Maute, Aliasgar Hadji Suluman, Salah Gasim Abbas and Allan Capal Sulaiman.
Three police officers were injured during the ambush that occurred near Iligan City.
Arevalo vowed that the military and the police “will continue to break the heavy resistance of and clear Marawi from the Maute-ISIS group, restore normalcy in the city, and make way for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi.”
He stressed the need for government troops to use armor, artillery and air assets to breach the terrorists stronghold and their underground fortresses.
“This has since become a fight not only of your security forces, but also of every peace-loving Filipino deserving of a peaceful and progressive nation,” Arevalo pointed out.
“This war is between good and evil. Everyone needs everybody to stand up, unite, fight against, and repulse the onslaught of the forces of evil attempting to establish foothold in our land. We would not and should not surrender even an inch of our soil to the harbingers of doom and perfidy,” he added.
Tribute to the fallen
The AFP said it shall observe a “Day of Silence and Prayer” to honor soldiers and civilians killed in Marawi City.
In a statement on Sunday, AFP Spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. also said the military will not be providing any updates for the rest of that until this early morning, in line with the observance of the “Day of Silence and Prayer.”
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines will observe a Day of Silence and Prayer in tribute to the fallen heroes of Marawi and also in remembrance of the innocent lives lost to rebel atrocities,” AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said.
The military will also unfurl the Philippine flag at the provincial capitol on Monday to mark Independence Day at the provincial capitol of Marawi City.
The attack by the Maute Group in Marawi prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao.
The Palace expressed its condolences to the families of the 13 Marines who died on Saturday while battling the Maute group.
“The Palace is deeply saddened by the news on the 13 Marines killed in action during a firefight in Marawi City. They fought gallantly for the liberation of our Maranao brothers and sisters,” Abella said.
“This incident, albeit unfortunate, gives us greater impetus to clear Marawi of lawless elements, save the trapped civilians, and restore order, security and normalcy to the city and its residents. Let us continue showing our strong support to our courageous and heroic men and women in uniform fighting for Marawi and defending the Republic,” he added.
The military has vowed over the weekend that Marawi will be free of militants by June 12.
WITH LLANESCA PANTI