Marawi fighting seen to end Oct. 15
MARAWI CITY — Two more soldiers were killed in a fierce government push into areas being held by Islamic State-inspired fighters as the military on Saturday gave itself at least 15 more days to end the conflict here.
Col. Romeo Brawner, the deputy commander of the Joint Task Force Ranao, said the two soldiers died during heavy clashes on Friday, bringing the government casualty figure to 153 soldiers and policemen.
Elite platoons of Scout Rangers and Marines were at the tip of the assault in the main battle area, which Brawner said had shrunk to nine hectares and forced three fighters of the Maute group to surrender.
Brawner said the latest deaths did not dampen the will of the troops to finish off the Maute gunmen and their allies.
“Government forces will fight harder to accomplish the following the soonest possible time so that the rehabilitation of Marawi can continue unhampered: Rescue the remaining hostages, neutralize the Maute-Isis terrorists and regain control of the whole Marawi City,” he said.
Unaware of the Oct. 1 deadline set by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday, troops continued to recapture more areas and kill a lot more enemy fighters than before, Brawner said.
Lorenzana’s latest estimate of the battle’s end, which he claimed was relayed by troop commanders on the ground, did not match that of the military and sparked confusion among the thousands of evacuees who were looking forward to going home to their devastated city.
On the same day the defense chief told the House committee on Muslim affairs that he expected the fighting to end in three days, Brawner said it might take the military “10 to 15 more days” to finish off the enemy.
On Friday alone, 13 Maute gunmen were killed, raising the number of slain terrorists to 749 since May 23, when the conflict started. Among those slain were five of the plotters of the Marawi siege, according to Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez.
Galvez, the commander of the Western Mindanao Command, confirmed that Maute siblings, Abdullah and Madie, and three of their coplotters—Inspire, Utto and Saptula—had been killed in the fighting.
“What we are trying to locate are the burial sites,” he said.
The retaking on Friday of the White mosque in an area known as Lumber near Lake Lanao was one of the military’s biggest gains so far, he said.
“The White mosque is one of the prominent religious icons of Marawi, where the logistics of Isis and Maute terrorists were brought and stored,” the three-star general said.
Galvez said that for the week alone, soldiers had cleared a total of 271 structures, including those situated in the area where the Bato mosque in Barangay Dansalan was located.
Brawner said on Thursday that soldiers recovered 15 bodies of Maute gunmen, their battered firearms lying near where they fell. A total of 86 homemade bombs and 82 high-powered firearms were also found inside Bato mosque, which the soldiers had retaken recently, he added.
“The assault against the defensive positions of the Maute continues,” Brawner said, adding that the fight was becoming more difficult as the militants were being pushed into smaller areas.
Galvez said the presence of the hostages was a major concern for advancing troops who also had to dodge improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along the way.
Brawner said the gunmen were using coins and other metallic objects as shrapnel for their IEDs.
“At the Bato mosque, where we found the 15 cadavers, we also found sacks of coins. They used the Bato mosque not just as a safe haven but also as an area to manufacture bombs,” he added.
Galvez said the military continued to receive surrender feelers from the Maute terrorists but declined to give details about the three men who gave themselves up on Friday.
“I believe [the surrenderees] could not carry on with the fight anymore,” he added.
Echoing the pledge of President Duterte, Brawner said they had assured militants who wanted to yield that they would “be treated humanely.”
The military missed its first self-imposed deadline to take full control of Marawi by June 2, and in July, Lorenzana said he hoped the conflict would end before Mr. Duterte’s State of the Nation Address on July 24.
As the fighting approached its fifth month, the evacuees had grown frustrated over the slow pace of construction of the shelters meant for them.
“When I saw on TV government officials announcing that the fighting will be over in 10 days, it gave me hope,” 48-year-old Fatima Lumabao said.
Lumabao said the end of the fighting meant that she would be able to leave the evacuation camp and live in a more decent place.
Omaya Bungaros, 37, a mother of eight, said her hopes fell when told that they would not be able to move into a relocation site in Barangay Sagonsongan in Marawi yet.
“We can’t do anything but to follow what they say. We would have preferred our home but even moving into a relocation area is not also possible,” Bungaros added.
Not enough shelters
Maranao leaders working with the evacuees said the 1,000 shelters the government was building would not be enough to house about 200,000 people displaced by the war.
Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, spokesperson for the Ranao Rescue Team, said that as of Aug. 4, some 74,466 families, or 359,680 people were affected by the conflict in Marawi.
Citing reports of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, she said the evacuees came from 96 Marawi barangays, 20 Lanao del Sur towns and two Lanao del Norte towns.
On Thursday, Mohammad Mustafa, the city’s chief building permit officer, said that even if the fighting ended soon, the evacuees still had to spend more time in their respective evacuation camps.
Not a single unit at the temporary relocation area in Barangay Sagonsongan had been completed because ground works for the estimated 7,500 temporary shelters only started on Sept. 8, he added. —RICHEL UMEL, JEOFFREY MAITEM, ALLAN NAWAL AND GERMELINA LACORTE
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