AFTER a month of fighting in Marawi, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday admitted for the first time it would be hard to flush the remaining Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute terrorists out of the city.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., the AFP spokesman, described the armed conflict in Marawi as a “very complicated engagement,” considering that the city has an urban terrain.
Padilla then cited a number of prolonged offensives against terrorists overseas, such as in the Iraqi cities of Mosul, Ramadi and Fallujah.
“So if you will compare [these events]to this current and ongoing engagement, the terrains are very much the same and we are doing this very carefully,” he told reporters.
“We have compounding complex issues: the presence of hostages, residents [staying]in their homes and continued discovery of IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” he added.
Padilla warned that fighting in Marawi City could take longer.
“People are very impatient but they don’t know the sacrifices of their soldiers. It’s easy to say, ‘Why are we not finished yet, why are we not done with this yet,’” he said.
The military official dared those criticizing the pace of military operations to go to Marawi “so that you will know the complexity of the battlefield.”
At least 276 suspected terrorists have been killed since clashes between the Maute group and government troops began on May 23. Sixty-seven soldiers and policemen and 26 civilians have also been killed.
The military said some 500 civilians were still trapped in Marawi.
Fighting began after the government’s failed attempt to capture the supposed IS chief in the region, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, in the Muslim-majority city.
The Maute men then went on a rampage, torching schools and business establishments and seizing and killing hostages.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law on May 23, as well as suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus to allow warrantless arrests.
The military had claimed fighting would end in days, but failed to meet its own deadlines to end the conflict, including that on June 12, Independence Day.
Padilla blamed booby traps placed by the Maute bandits in Marawi.
Last weekend, members of the Philippine Marine Corps clearing a building found an improvised explosive, according to the military spokesman.
“So they tried to deal with that by trying to explode it remotely. When they did, it was followed by more than 12 or 10 gunshots from the other house as well,” Padilla narrated.
“It is like a Judas’ belt,” he added, referring to the firecracker.