ZAMBOANGA CITY – Security forces fighting local IS militants in the war-ravaged city of Marawi in the southern Philippines continued to advance in the main battle area and troops searched house-to-house, scouring for booby traps and improvised explosives that had 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 enemies, rescue civilian hostages and liberate Marawi, the capital town 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 militants since the start of the battle, but 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, inspecting mosques damaged or destroyed by the fighting, pinning medals to wounded soldiers in hospitals and visiting the funerals 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) counterterrorism efforts.
Compared to current surveillance platforms used in the region, the Gray Eagle has a longer flight duration, which will enable 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 counterterrorism needs.