Their numbers have been decimated but well-armed remnants of the Islamic State-linked Maute Group continue to battle government troops in Marawi City, making it difficult for soldiers to clear hundreds of buildings.
Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman for the military’s Joint Task Force Marawi, said there are only about 60 to 70 Maute members left in the city. Government troops have cleared 60 buildings previously occupied by Maute terrorists in 48 hours.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said there are about 600 buildings left that should be cleared. He placed the number of terrorists at 80.
“We covered in the last 48 hours around 60 buildings previously occupied by the Maute. Their areas are getting smaller and areas covered by us is getting larger,” he told reporters on Sunday.
“Our integration of capacities is continuous. The support coming from communities is still there, so we are gaining more ground and we are committed and focused to finish the job as soon as possible,” he added.
Herrera said soldiers need to clear 500 to 550 buildings of booby traps.
“[The clearing operations] will depend on the presence of IEDs (improvised explosive device), fuel bomb that are still planted in several houses within the area. Because, that [is]one way of delaying the movement of troops towards the center of the gravity,” he explained.
But even if there are fewer enemies now, Herrera said the resistance continues as the Maute members still use machine guns, anti-tank weapons and snipers.
Soldiers have neutralized 405 terrorists and recovered 503 firearms.
“This is a big significance for us because their capabilities are also getting smaller, as well as their presence,” Herrera said.
In a statement also on Sunday, Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP public affairs, said portions of four villages in Marawi City remain to be the strongholds of the terrorists.
Padilla however could not say when displaced residents can go back to their homes.
He said the battle areas are possibly full of unexploded ordnance and other IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
“These are things that are potentially very dangerous for a returning resident and, hence, the only time that we can seriously say that everyone can return is when we are very sure that all of these things have been taken out,” Padilla explained.
He added that Abdullah, one of the Maute brothers, is still leading the Islamic State-linked terrorists.
Meanwhile, the Marawi Provincial Crisis Management Committee said that 33 internally displaced residents have already died in evacuation centers since the conflict began on May 23 and 93 government troops, 45 civilians, and 399 enemies have been killed.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Sunday that the military’s recommendation on whether martial law should be extended was submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday.
He refused to give details.
“Let us wait for the decision of the President,” he told reporters in a text message.
Padilla earlier said that Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año received the assessment of ground commanders in Mindanao middle of last week.
Lorenzana is the administrator of martial law in Mindanao while Año serves as its implementor.
The President declared martial law in Mindanao on May 22. It will lapse on July 22, two days before he delivers his second State of the Nation Address (SONA).
WITH JING VILLAMENTE