AS the government seeks to end the siege of Marawi City today, Sunday, the remaining members of the Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute group and their wives, along with some holdover foreign terrorists, are taking a final stand against surging government troops.
The rescue of all remaining 20 hostages from their Maute captors cleared the way for the military to launch an all-out assault against about 30 extremists who are holed up in one building in the main battle area, said Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of the Joint Task Force Ranao.
Brawner said the villages, which were cleared were Matampay, Tampilong, East Basak, Basak Malutlut, Moriatao, Loksadato, Marawi Poblacion, Datu Saber, Green and Panggao Saduc.
Brawner said some Maute wives have chosen to stay and fight alongside their husbands, some of them even serving as snipers.
“It looks like that the female [with the Maute terrorists]have become fighters already. We don’t know how many but it looks like they have chosen to fight it out together with their husbands,” Brawner said in a news conference in Marawi City.
“If you recall during the first few days [of the fighting]we saw a lot of female snipers,” he added.
Brawner said the wives were believed to be hostages who married the Maute members as they were held captives during the early months of the fighting.
Brawner said the wives would also be held liable together with their husbands but added that both the military and police would have to follow procedures.
Brawner said: “We gave them all the chances to surrender, we gave them all the chances to come out together with the hostages and in fact, some of them did [as]there were some Maute wives who went out along with the hostages.”
Government forces also rescued the 20 remaining hostages in the battle zone, with Brawner pointing out that there were no hostages held by the Maute in the area and that troops have “exhausted all means” to rescue them.
Brawner said the military could not determine yet as to who was currently leading the remaining terrorists, saying that the Maute group suffered a “leadership vacuum” following the deaths of Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Omar Maute, one of the founders of the group with his family name, and Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, a known Malaysian terrorist.
“At this point, we don’t know who is really the leader [now]because after the deaths of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, it seems like they had a leadership vacuum,” he said, adding that there was an estimated five foreign terrorists left in the main battle area.
He said government forces were conducting “loudspeaker” operations wherein troops would call out the remaining fighters to surrender before authorities or die.
“Until [Sunday], our loudspeaker operations were ongoing. We are trying to talk to them (Maute) to surrender, we are trying to convince them to at least release the female [fighters]and if there are still child warriors inside because they will be treated humanely as promised by the Armed Forces,” Brawner said.
Brawner said government forces would “try to do anything to finish the firefight today. It means troops will be able to slay all the Maute-ISIS remaining because they have committed to themselves to die inside the main battle area.”
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., spokesman, said military forces in Marawi City would focus on the remaining foreign terrorists.
“They will be the subject of our operations because we need to identify what was reported to us by one of the hostages that there were foreign fighters left,” Padilla said in a radio interview, referring to the report of the recently rescued hostage.
He also backed the statement of Brawner, saying that the remaining fighters refused to surrender despite the call by ground forces for them to give up peacefully.
“We gave them all the chances to the left armed men to surrender but until now, they are not doing it that is why our military actions has been continuous,” Padilla emphasized.
Based on the military count, about 919 Maute terrorists were killed in the clearing operations, which included Hapilon; Maute group founder Omar Maute; and Malaysian terrorist Ahmad.
Hapilon and Maute were killed last Monday during pre-dawn assault operations, which lasted for four hours while Ahmad was killed during an overnight firefight on Wednesday.
As posting time, about 1,780 hostages were rescued since the fighting erupted on May 23 .
The ground forces operating in Marawi City were from the Joint Task Force Marawi, led by Maj. Gen. Danilo Pamonag, Padilla added.