Philippine Army launches new anti-ISIS offensive in Marawi
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The country’s military spokesman said the aim of the operation was to wrap up the fighting before the weekend Eid festival, Al Waght reported.
The offensive came amid worry that ISIL reinforcements could arrive after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
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 ISIS terrorist group.
“We cannot definitely say when we could end this because we are fighting door to door and there are booby traps which pose danger to our troops.”
The seizure of Marawi has alarmed Southeast Asian nations which fear ISIL terrorist group, facing defeat in Iraq and Syria, is trying to set up a stronghold in the southern Philippines that could threaten the whole region.
Fighting was intense early on Tuesday as security forces made a push to drive the militants, entrenched in Marawi’s commercial district, south towards 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 bombs and artillery. Armoured vehicles fired volleys of shells while the militants responded with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades.
On Monday, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines began joint naval patrols in their region amind increasing threats from militant groups.
The “trilateral coordinated maritime patrol” was launched as authorities tried to stop any fighters from Marawi escaping to Indonesia while posing as refugees, Indonesia’s military chief Gatot Nurmantyo said.
Fighting in the predominantly Muslims city of Marawi, 830 kilometers South of Manila started as a response to a botched military operation to capture wanted ISIL ringleader Isnilon Hapilon.
Fighters from the ISIL-affiliated Maute group continue to engage security forces in fierce battles while controlling parts of the city.