THE death toll in ongoing clashes between government troops and the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City has reached 529, the military said, as ground commanders weighed whether or not to extend the 60-day martial law imposed over Mindanao.
As of 7 p.m. on July 12, 92 government troops have been killed, including two soldiers hit by “friendly fire” on
Wednesday when an FA50 aircraft dropped bombs on terrorist lairs in the war-torn city.
On the side of the terrorists, 392 have been killed. Fighting has also claimed the lives of 45 civilians. A total of 1,723 civilians have been rescued from the city.
The military has also seized 497 firearms from the Islamic State-linked Maute fighters.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman, said on Thursday the aircraft used during the friendly-fire incident that resulted in the deaths of two soldiers in the battle area of Marawi City would be grounded until the completion of an investigation.
All FA50 aircraft will not be used in clearing operations in Marawi City, he said.
At 12 noon on Wednesday, an FA50 plane dropped bombs and missed its target 250 meters away. It hit a building and led to its collapse, causing large debris to fall on the soldiers who were inside the structure.
Eleven soldiers were injured, aside from the two fatalities.
Padilla said the aircraft had a “very high success rate” in almost 70 missions.
A similar incident occurred on May 31, but the plane that was used was a SF260. The incident claimed the lives of 10 soldiers and left seven wounded. Following an internal inquiry, the SF260 cleared for employment.
Padilla said the difference between the two incidents was that the first one hit the troops directly, while the recent one hit structures.
“This [recent]incident that happened, the bomb did not hit our men, it hit an area proximate to where they were, which caused the collapse of the building,” Padilla said.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the incident only reflected the “harsh nature of urban warfare” in Marawi City.
“What happened yesterday and last month, when several of our marines inadvertently perished because a wayward ordnance dropped from an aircraft, reflect the harsh nature of urban warfare where soldiers operate in tight spaces and in close proximity to the enemy,” Lorenzana said on Thursday, referring to the two friendly-fire incidents.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of lives resulting from this most unfortunate incident. We reach out to the families and loved ones of the soldiers who lost their lives, and pray for the speedy recovery of those who were injured,” he added.
The Defense chief described the urban warfare in Marawi City as similar to the Middle East offensives in Mosul, Fallujah and Raqqa.
“Admittedly, retaking the very last positions of the [Maute] who are still in Marawi is proving to be a challenge. We have to operate with due consideration for the safety of the civilians who are still trapped in the area against enemies who know no rules, who use hostages as human shields and children as frontline fighters,” he said.
Assessment at final stages
Less than a week before the 60-day martial law expires, the assessment of ground commanders on whether martial law should be extended is at its finishing stages and will soon be forwarded to the military chief, the AFP said.
Padilla, the AFP spokesman, said in a news conference the assessment of whether martial law would be extended or lifted would be based on “operational parameters” set since the President declared military rule on May 23 when the Maute men attacked Marawi.
“As I have continuously been mentioning the basis of the recommendation or the assessment, I would say will be the operational objectives that were given to us so we have to accomplish those objectives,” Padilla told reporters.
Part of the assessment is whether all persons included in two arrest orders issued by Lorenzana have been arrested.
Lorenzana released arrest orders bearing the names of at least 279 individuals involved in the rebellion in Mindanao but so far, the government has captured about 60.
“We did not even reach the half [of the list]yet. So, we are still going after these individuals because they are still in hiding,” the military spokesman said.
The assessment conducted by military ground commanders in Mindanao might reach AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Ano today and transmitted to the Defense secretary, who is also the administrator of martial law.
“[The assessment] is now being finished. The first one who will see this is the AFP chief of staff so he can include his inputs and he will be the one to approve this before submitting to the secretary of National Defense,” Padilla explained.
It is possible for the President to announce whether martial law in Mindanao will be extended or not during his second State of the Nation Address on July 24, he added.
Aside from going after the Maute terrorists, the military is still clearing more or less 600 buildings in Marawi City. As of the latest count, 54 buildings have been cleared.
The military needs at least 12 days to retake the remaining 600 buildings in the city.
“We are working to liberate Marawi City at the soonest time possible, however, we heard the President mention that we may need 10 to 12 days, 10 to 15 days and we will try to meet that,” Padilla noted, referring to the 15-day deadline set by President Duterte earlier.