THE military on Wednesday said the use of “human shields” by the Maute terrorists has hampered the offensive against the Islamic State-linked group, as authorities bared that at least 1,545 civilians have been rescued by troops in Marawi City.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), also said 134 members of the Maute group have been killed by government troops as fighting in the Islamic city entered its third week.
Government troops killed in action reached 39.
The military remains focused on the rescue of trapped residents in Marawi, recovery of civilian casualties and victims, and capture of militants hiding in the city.
Military troops are now clearing only the southeastern side of Marawi, particularly Bangolo, of remaining Maute terrorist members.
But Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, commander of the AFP Western Mindanao Command, said the area is still large, spanning three kilometers.
The military however is still looking at clearing Marawi City within the week or before the end of the week.
“We cannot jump into any conclusions yet because the situation there sometimes changes. But at the rate that we are going, we are slightly fine and the case here is that there were strongholds [of the Maute]that will be hard to be reclaimed,” he told reporters.
Bangolo, the financial district, will be the main battleground as it contains the bulk of the terrorists’ supplies, Galvez said.
“We are very cautious of course…I mean that is a build area. So if you will enter [Bangolo] unprepared, you will be attacked immediately for sure,” he said.
Padilla said the Maute set up strategic vantage points at high places.
“They assigned snipers so [the military]cannot just move freely,” Padilla told reporters.
The Maute attacked the Islamic City of Marawi on May 22 after a military operation that attempted to capture terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the whole island of Mindanao.
“We are actually making headway, their world is getting smaller because they are backing out slowly,” Padilla said.
President Duterte on Wednesday meanwhile said he was not inclined to accept the offer of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to send 2,000 men to help the government fight members of the Maute terror group in Marawi.
In remarks before troops of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade in Tacurong City, Duterte said that it was not yet time for MNLF fighters to join government troops in fighting the Maute.
“It’s not good to be fighting [if they don’t understand it yet]. A Moro against the Moro. Let us make them understand first what is this all about,” he said.
Duterte expressed confidence the government would crush the rebellion in Marawi City as the military intensified its operations.
“As reinforcement of our operations in Marawi, we have already dispatched the infantry company of the 1st Mechanized Brigade composed of officers – three officers, 62 enlisted men, personnel and armored vehicles. I am certain that these efforts will play a crucial role as we wrap our operations in the next few days,” he said.
“The experience of the 1st Mechanized Brigade in facing various threats, groups in Mindanao and Sultan Kudarat will greatly contribute to our efforts to completely crush the rebels hiding throughout the city,” the President added.
Duterte then called on the troops “to remain steadfast in performing their sworn duty to protect our people” as “we retake the beautiful city of Marawi from the clutches of the enemy.”
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE