Hapilon still in thick of fight in Marawi–AFP
MARAWI CITY—Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged leader of the Islamic State (IS) in Mindanao, remained in the main battle area here, contrary to earlier suspicions that he had fled the fighting, a ranking military official said.
Asked during an interview with reporters on Wednesday on the possible whereabouts of Hapilon, Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said the notorious Abu Sayyaf leader with a
$5-million bounty from Washington was still fighting alongside members of the Maute group here.
“He is still in the area,” Galvez said, citing latest information the military has gathered.
In June, Galvez said there were indications Hapilon might have escaped the battle, adding that there was no sighting of him anymore.
“We have some reports that he was already able to slip somewhere but as of now, we are still confirming the reports,” Galvez said then.
There were also reports that Omarkhayyam Maute, one of the Maute siblings who led militants here, had been killed but these had not been validated so far.
Earlier this week, Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, the spokesperson of Task Force Marawi, said they also received another report that a ranking leader of the militants had been killed.
But Petinglay said they could not say if it was Abdullah Maute, Omarkhayyam’s brother.
The fighting, which, Galvez said, had so far killed 114 soldiers, was expected to be bloodier as the militants moved inside a shrinking territory.
But he said the military was determined to finish the job.
Gen. Eduardo Año, Armed Forces chief of staff, during a visit to soldiers at the battlefront on Wednesday said the government was winning the battle against IS-inspired militants here.
“Just like in the game of basketball, we are already winning, but we should not rest on our laurels. We must be more motivated and more persistent. Many among our soldiers want to be here to help, but not everyone is given this rare chance to be here, to fight,” Año said during a visit to troops at the Kilala detachment inside the war zone.
Año’s projection came after ground commanders presented him a brief of the situation, more than two months since the fighting began.
Speaking to soldiers, Año also lauded the commanders for “a job well done.”
He also spoke of President Duterte’s full confidence in the Armed Forces, adding that the Chief Executive intends to visit the city anew.
“It is very rare that the head of our organization would risk his life and come to the battlefield in order to meet and motivate personally his officers and soldiers,” Galvez said of Año’s venture into the battle zone.
On Tuesday, Año also told soldiers during a visit to Tago, Surigao del Sur, that the day of reckoning for the New People’s Army (NPA) was nearing because the Marawi crisis was heading to an end.
He said an all-out military operation against the NPA would be launched in the province right after the Marawi crisis and that battalions of Army troopers would be transferred to Surigao del Sur.
On Wednesday night, the military inserted more tanks, ammunition and brand new weapons here in support of ground troops fighting to flush out the remaining militants.
Around 18 tanks and 2,000 brand new M4 rifles arrived at the Port of Iligan City through BRP Pampanga.
The military also redeployed the FA-50 fighter jets, which it had suspended after a friendly fire killed soldiers during a sortie.
The South Korean-made aircraft was seen here anew starting Tuesday, dropping more bombs on suspected lairs of the extremists.
Aside from the FA-50s, the military also regularly pounded enemy positions using mortars and howitzers, Augusta attack helicopters, MG-520 helicopters and SF-260 bomber planes. —JEOFFREY MAITEM AND RICHEL UMEL, WITH A REPORT FROM CHRIS PANGANIBAN
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