Troops advance into ISIS-held areas in Marawi City

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ZAMBOANGA CITY: Security forces fighting local Islamic State (IS) militants in war-ravaged Marawi City continue to advance to the main battle area and troops go on house-to-house searches scouring for booby traps and improvised explosives that have already killed scores of soldiers.

Security officials said militants have planted explosives in houses and buildings and structures they occupied making it extremely difficult for troops to accomplish their mission – to kill the enemy, rescue civilian hostages and liberate Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur.

Troops have occupied dozens of buildings and mosques previously under the control of IS fighters who dug up tunnels and rat holes that served as their escape routes and protection from military air strikes.

The military claimed it has killed at least 650 bandits since May, but it did not give evidence to back up its claims, except the figures were all based on raw intelligence reports and unnamed civilians and other sources. But the fighting had so far killed over a hundred soldiers and left more than or nearly 2,000 troops wounded.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been frequently visiting troops on the front line and inspected mosques damaged or destroyed by the fighting, pinned medals to wounded soldiers and visited the funeral of fallen soldiers.

Australia, worried over the fighting in Marawi, has pledged to send soldiers to help train local forces battling militants and this is on top of spy planes it deployed in the troubled region. Japan also sent food aid to war refugees.

The United States also deployed the Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to Mindanao for additional surveillance in support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) counter terrorism efforts. Compared to current surveillance platforms used in the region, the Gray Eagle has a longer flight duration which allows it to cover a larger area of reconnaissance and surveillance.

Over the past three years, the US has provided the Philippines with assistance valued at over P15-billion, to establish better command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities for the AFP. Recent deliveries include a Raven tactical UAS and two Cessna-208B surveillance aircraft, as well as various munitions and weapons to support urgent defense and counter-terrorism needs.

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