Military not prolonging war just being careful – Brawner
MARAWI CITY – The military remained uncertain when the Maute group would finally be defeated even as the Islamic State-inspired militants holed here for more than four months now were already running out of food, water and ammunition.
Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., the deputy command of the Joint Task Force Ranao, quickly denied talks that the military was deliberately prolonging the war for the benefit of senior officials or for funding purposes.
He explained that even if the Maute group “are very desperate now because they are running out of water, food, medicine and ammunition”, the military could not just stage an aggressive assault because of hostages still being held by the militants and their allies.
“The explanation of our ground commanders is that we have to be very careful in our operation because of our desire to rescue and save the remaining hostages,” Brawner said.
According to the military, there were about 46 hostages remaining – some of them children – based on what escaped captives had narrated.
While he could not give a definite answer on when the war would actually end, Brawner said the military was expecting something big to happen this week.
“What our ground commanders told us was that this week is very critical,” he said.
“Any day is a turning point that can come,” he added, citing the military’s experience during the Zamboanga siege.
In Zamboanga, the fighting ended when followers of Moro leader Nur Misuari yielded to government troops after nearly three weeks of battle.
“What are these? First, once the enemies will all surrender. Another turning point would be the rescue of the hostages,” Brawner said.
Brawner also lamented social media posts accusing the military of deliberately prolonging the war so that officers can be promoted or they can continue to make money.
“This is a very sad comment. We are not prolonging the war (for the benefit of promotions). We even wanted to make it shorter because more and more soldiers are getting killed or wounded as the fighting dragged on,” he said.
A total of 155 casualties on the government side have been recorded since the fighting in the city started in May. The number of injured soldiers, meanwhile, was more than 1,600, although more than half of them had already returned to the battlefield.
Brawner said soldiers have been longing to go home but they have to continue the fight to liberate Marawi, “not for themselves but for the Meranao people.”
“I personally witnessed how dedicated our soldiers are even if they face all sort of risks, from bullets to illnesses, dengue, leptospirosis and typhoid,” he said.
Looters caught, charged
As to suspicions that soldiers took valuable items from houses they had cleared, Brawner admitted that some soldiers – and also policemen – were caught stealing in the past.
“Nonetheless, we managed to catch some soldiers and policemen, who looted houses, especially during the first days of the war. They had been restricted to camps, charges had been filed against them and very soon, the decision will come out,” he said.
Brawner said if proven guilty, those accused of looting would be discharged from the service.
“But their discharge will not prevent us from filing criminal charges against them,” he said.
Brawner said the officers, who had supervision over the arrested soldiers and policemen, were also being investigated “because they were responsible for the actions of their men.”
As to other incidents of looting, Brawner said some civilians had been arrested and charged already.
Brawner said military and local officials also devised a system to help displaced residents retrieve valuables left in their homes located in cleared or danger-free zones.
“Civilians going into cleared areas are being provided soldiers- and policemen-escorts. This is also to make sure that they are retrieving things they really owned,” Brawner said.
Another thing, he said, was the padlocking of cleared houses by teams of soldiers, policemen and local government workers.
But he admitted that some looters still managed to sneak in because “it’s impossible for us to guard all the houses.”
“Marawi is quite large and we are really focused on ending the war,” he added.
But Brawner said those manning the checkpoints were making sure looters could not freely pass.
“In fact we have arrested civilians at checkpoints for possession of items that do not belong to them, such as refrigerators and TVs. We caught them because they could not say for sure where they got these items,” he said.
In the case of soldiers, Brawner said the military continued to remind them of the serious problem they would be facing if they were caught looting houses here.
“We always tell them that our job is to preserve the properties,” he added. /kga