Philippines launches offensive in hope of
recapturing Marawi by weekend festival
Send a link to a friend
[June 20, 2017]
By Manuel Mogato and Simon Lewis
MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) -
Philippine aircraft and troops launched a renewed push against Islamist
militants in a southern city on Tuesday and a military spokesman said
the aim was to clear the area by the weekend Eid festival, although
there was no deadline.
The offensive came amid worry that rebel reinforcements could arrive in
the city after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month
Fighting in Marawi City has entered a fifth week, and nearly 350 people
have been killed, according to an official count. Fleeing residents have
said they have seen scores of bodies in the debris of homes destroyed in
bombing and cross-fire.
"We are aiming to clear Marawi by the end of Ramadan," said military
spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, as army and police
commanders met in nearby Cagayan de Oro city to reassess strategy and
operations against the militants, who claim allegiance to Islamic State.
But he added: "We are not setting any deadlines knowing the complexity
of the battle. We are doing our best to expedite the liberation of
Marawi at the soonest time possible."
The seizure of Marawi and the dogged fight to regain control of it has
alarmed Southeast Asian nations which fear Islamic State - on a backfoot
in Iraq and Syria - is trying to set up a stronghold in the Muslim south
of the mainly Roman Catholic Philippines that could threaten the whole
President Rodrigo Duterte visited a school where people who fled from
Marawi are being housed and apologized for their plight, especially
since it was Ramadan.
"I will help you, I will rehabilitate Marawi, it will be a beautiful
city again," he said at the school in Iligan City, about 40 km (25
miles) from the battle zone.
Padilla said the military aimed to prevent the conflict from escalating
after Ramadan ends.
"We are closely watching certain groups and we hope they will not join
the fight," Padilla said.
Some Muslim residents of Marawi said other groups could join the
fighting after Ramadan.
"As devout Muslims, we are forbidden to fight during Ramadan so
afterwards, there may be new groups coming in," said Faisal Amir, who
has stayed on in the city despite the battle.
[to top of second column]
An OV-10 Bronco aircraft releases a bomb during an airstrike, as
government forces continue their assault against insurgents from the
Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi City,
Philippines June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Fighting was intense early on Tuesday as security forces made a push
to drive the militants, entrenched in Marawi's commercial district,
south toward a lake on the edge of the city.
Planes flew overhead dropping bombs while on the ground, automatic
gunfire was sustained with occasional blasts from artillery. Armored
vehicles fired volleys of shells while the militants responded with
gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.
Fighting later died down as heavy rain fell but had resumed by
Military sources said troops were attacking the militants from three
sides and trying to box them toward the lake.
"We’re gaining ground and we’re expanding our vantage positions,"
said Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera, another military spokesman,
although he declined to comment on specifics.
"We are moving toward the center of gravity," he added, referring to
the militants' command and communications center.
An army corporal near the front line told Reuters soldiers were
tagging houses and buildings that had been cleared.
"We still have to clear more than 1,000 structures," he said, adding
infantry units were left behind at "cleared" areas to prevent
militants from recapturing lost ground.
As of Tuesday, the military said 258 militants, 65 security
personnel and 26 civilians had been killed. Hundreds of people are
unaccounted for, with many believed to be hiding in the basements of
(For a graphic on battle for Marawi, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2sqmHDf)
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)
[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.