Troops push forward vs Marawi terrorists
MARAWI CITY — Under cover of unrelenting howitzer and mortar fire, soldiers braved heavy rains here on Wednesday to inch forward in areas still under the control of the remaining Maute terrorists and their allies.
The military said less than 20 hectares of the city, with about 200 buildings, were yet to be cleared as of Wednesday.
Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista, the Task Force Marawi commander, had said in a statement in August that the remaining battle area had been reduced to about 500 square meters. The military later said the correct figure was 25 hectares.
Asked to make a more detailed description of the remaining battle area, Col. Romeo Brawner, the Joint Task Force Marawi deputy commander, said at least 200 structures had not been cleared by troops.
“We have expected to experience more firefights as we try to regain more ground,” Brawner said.
Since the fighting broke out in the Muslim-majority city on May 23, 151 soldiers and policemen, as well as 47 civilians have been killed. The number includes government troops killed in “friendly fire” incidents.
The Maute group, the Abu Sayyaf faction of Isnilon Hapilon and their allies have lost 680 fighters, according to the military.
Brawner said the military would press its attack to dislodge the Islamic State-inspired gunmen from the city.
“We are ready for that [assault]. The AFP will press on relentlessly until [this battle’s] conclusion,” he said.
However, Brawner said the presence of the hostages held by the Maute, numbering between 40 and 45, had slowed the troops’ advance.
On Saturday, soldiers captured two terrorist strongholds and rescued Marawi parish priest, Fr. Teresito Soganub, and another hostage during a major offensive.
Brawner said the terrorists had used the Bato Ali Mosque and the Jamiatu Marawi Al-Islamia Foundation as their command center.
The Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Eduardo Año, said the retaking of the two structures was “an enormous gain,” but it was not easy as soldiers had to fight the gunmen for about five hours. —Richel Umel and Jeoffrey Maitem