Troops told to shoot gun-toting hostages
MARAWI CITY — Government troops have been given the go-signal to target hostages forced into carrying firearms by terrorists still holed up in this predominantly Muslim city to defend themselves, according to a ranking officer overseeing the military’s fight to finish the terrorists off.
Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of Joint Task Force Ranao, said hostages who were forced to shoot at soldiers were now considered combatants along with their captors.
“Some of the hostages were given firearms and were forced to fight,” Brawner said.
“They are considered combatants and our government forces are allowed, in self-defense and in carrying out our mandate, they are allowed to neutralize these combatants,” said Brawner, using “neutralize” as a euphemism for kill.
Since the start of the war on May 23, a total of 157 soldiers and police officers had already been killed while over 1,600 others had suffered varying degrees of injuries.
The militants had suffered 770 deaths and more than 800 firearms had been recovered from the war zone, Brawner said.
There are now between 38 to 48 gunmen remaining, according to Brawner.
He said hostages, who were recently rescued, had told the military that male captives were being used as “force multipliers” by the Maute gunmen and their allies.
But Brawner clarified that none of the children, who were being held captive, were forced by the Islamic State (IS) followers to fight government forces.
“The child hostages were not being given firearms, though,” Brawner said.
“But it has been proven that [militants] have child warriors,” he said.
Brawner said the military continued to target the terrorists’ “defensive positions.”
But he said the military continued to make sure that airstrikes spared areas where hostages were being kept.
“We know where the hostages were being kept and we are not targeting them,” Brawner said.
He said the hostages were being kept in separate areas.
Recently, 17 hostages—nine of them males who were forced to fight soldiers—had emerged from the battle zone.
Brawner said based on the stories of the rescued hostages, between 40 to 60 captives still remained inside the main battle area.
No more supplies
He also reiterated his earlier claim that the terrorists were running out of food, bullets and medicine.
“This was also the revelation of the rescued hostages,” Brawner added.
Brawner said the battle zone continued to grow smaller—now just about 7 hectares—which was a sign that total victory against the terrorists was drawing near.
He said that as the area where they operated shrank, the terrorists became frantic in trying to escape.
The military, Brawner said, also closed all routes leading to the city to prevent terrorists from getting reinforcements.
He cited as an example of the cordon being successful the interception of armed men who tried to enter Marawi through Bacolod Kalawi, a town in Lanao del Sur.
The armed men, tagged as reinforcements for terrorists, had been isolated on Balt Island.
The military, Brawner said, was confident the gunmen in Balt would not be able to leave the island.
Mayor Mohaimin Dipatuan, of Bacolod Kalawi, told reporters that fishermen on Sept. 27 hurriedly sailed to the mainland after seeing the gunmen in four boats arriving in Balt.
Dipatuan said the men’s identities were not known but they spoke in Maranao, quoting the fishermen.
Brawner said it was clear the armed men were trying to enter Marawi via Lake Lanao to reinforce members of two homegrown terror groups—Maute and Abu Sayyaf—who were trying to set up an IS province. —ALLAN NAWAL, JEOFFREY MAITEM AND RICHEL UMEL
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