Hostages, IEDs slow down push to end war in Marawi
MARAWI CITY, Philippines (UPDATED)– It's mortar rounds that troops served the Maute Group for breakfast on Sunday morning, October 1. The war rages on, after the military missed its self-imposed deadline to finish the Marawi crisis by end-September. (READ: Lorenzana 'confident' Marawi siege done by end-September)
“We’re asking for leeway,” Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr told reporters here Sunday afternoon.
The military said it has taken most of the Maute strongholds in the battle area. But two factors are slowing down the push to end the war in Marawi – securing the safety of the hostages and enemy's strategic use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Clashes could take two more weeks if the terrorists fight it out until the end, based on estimates on the ground. It could be sooner if more enemy fighters follow the 3 who have surrendered. (READ: Possible surrender of Maute fighters could end war sooner)
Galvez said they will not rush the troops.
"We will try to let our ground forces do the clearing operations without undue pressure at 'yung tinatawag nating (and what we call) unnecessary cost of lives, to include hostages at saka sa mga sundalo natin (and our soldires)," said Galvez.
Hostages and IEDs
Hostages are the priority. “Our main concern is the safety of 43-46 hostages. We are very very much concerned on the safe rescue of the hostages,” Galvez said.
At least 5 hostages have been rescued from Bato Mosque, including Catholic priest Father Teresito "Chito" Soganub. But the remaining hostages have since been moved to another location in the battle area. (READ: Life of a Maute hostage in Marawi)
"We are having a hard time really [because of the] conditions of the hostages, particulary right now that the hostages have been separated," said Galvez.
"Now we are looking at possibility that they are located in 5 different areas," he said.
IEDs also slow down clearing operations because troops need to make sure they do not trip on these, said Colonel Romeo Brawner, Task Group Ranao deputy commander.
IEDs are among the main killers of troops in Marawi.
In Bato Mosque alone, Brawner said troops retrieved 20 IEDs along with high powered firearms and unexploded ordnance.
They also retrieved materials for IEDs such as coins and nails in the mosque, confirming earlier reports that it was where they manufactured the explosives. It took troops at least two weeks to clear the block of Bato Mosque.
2-3 football fields
The fall of Bato Mosque into government hands this week is a "significant gain" for the military, said Galvez.
Galvez said the military operation against suspected Maute Group reinforcement on Balt Island in Lake Lanao, resulting in the confiscation of boats, also showed that the enemies are already “desperate.”
"We would like to tell you that for the past two weeks, we've had a major breakthrough in terms of enemy killed and recovery of firearms and also substantially getting all the significant and strategic areas that the protagonists are holding before," Galvez said.
The battle area has been narrowed to the size of 2-3 football fields, said Galvez. Troops are also now able to retrieve more bodies from cleared areas in the battlefield.
But the terrain remains difficult, especially becasue the buildings towards Lake Lanao are not as predictable as the the tall buidlings that previously served as Maute strongholds.
"Hindi pare-parehas ang building (The buildings are uneven), which is very very difficult also. But I believe that we’re now having the high ground going to the lake. Maganda disposition ng forces (The forces have a good disposition)," said Galvez. – Rappler.com