AFP assures Marawi stragglers won’t be able to escape main battle area
THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday gave assurance to the public that Maute group stragglers inside Marawi City’s main battle area would not be able to sneak out.
AFP spokesperson Major General Restituto Padilla Jr. said the military continues to conduct “deliberate and careful” clearing operations in at least three facilities, where remaining extremists were believed to be hiding.
Padilla, citing information from nabbed Indonesian militant Muhammad Ilham Syaputra, said around 36 terrorists were still holed up in the strife-torn city.
“The main battle area, where most of the very heavy fighting occurred in the last few weeks, prior to the liberation and the cessation of combat operations, still harbors a number of stragglers,” the military spokesman told Palace reporters.
“The risks are still there. We don’t have the exact numbers [of stragglers] but based on the revelation of this last foreign national [who] was captured, he mentioned about 36. But we are still validating that number because there are about three buildings here that seemed to house them. That’s on the process of being checked,” he added.
The Marawi siege erupted on May 23 when security forces tried to serve arrest warrants against Isnilon Hapilon, Abu Sayyaf leader and purported emir of Islamic State (IS) in Southeast Asia.
Hapilon, however, forged alliance with the IS-backed Maute group led by Omar and Abdullah Maute and occupied the city the same day the operation against him was carried out by state forces.
On October 17, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi City following the deaths of Hapilon and Omar Maute.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, on October 23, announced the end of war in Marawi, which claimed the lives of over 1,000 people.
On Friday, Padilla allayed public's concerns over the reported presence of some Islamist fighters in the besieged city despite the end of fighting, saying the Marawi stragglers were “leaderless” who were merely “fighting for their survival.”
He also assured that the military imposed stiffer security measures to ensure that no extremist could escape.
“The declaration of liberation [was made when the enemies’ threat] already has no bearing. The remaining stragglers, they are leaderless, they have no direction, they are merely fighting for survival. So they have no impact on the over-all security of the place,” Padilla said.
“The reason why we are trying to restrict that area is to ensure that not one of these terrorists may be able to escape because one terrorist who is able to escape has the potential of inflicting harm on many of our nationals,” he added.
Amid threats posed by less than 50 extremists in Marawi City, Padilla said only around 16 of 96 villages in the city could not be occupied yet by displaced residents to ensure their safety.
Padilla appealed to the remaining local and foreign fighters in the city to surrender to authorities as he warned them that the government troops would not stop their clearing operations until the city is free from “every single terrorist.”
“Our forces remain on the alert, remain vigilant, and will continue to perform the clearing operations until such time that we can guarantee that this place, the last parts where the battle has raged in the last few weeks, is already free of every single terrorist,” he said.
( Ruth Abbey Gita/SunStar Philippines)