As the Muslim world observes the religious feast of Eid’l Fitr that marks the end of dawn-to-dusk fasting and prayers during the month-long Ramadan today (June 26), the military said it would suspend offensive against Maute jihadists still holed up inside a few establishments in Marawi City.
Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez said the “humanitarian pause” will take effect from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. today.
“To give reverence to the supposed peaceful, joyous and festive spiritual celebration, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, upon the approval of the Chief of Staff, intends to declare a stop in our current operations in the city on June 25 to serve as a gesture of our strong commitment and respect to the Muslim world, particularly to the local Muslims of Marawi City,” Galvez said in a statement.
“The ‘humanitarian pause’ will be lifted immediately if any of the following conditions ensue: (1) our troops’ security is jeopardized; (2) safety of civilians is threatened; and (3) if the enemy starts firing and at which point anyone can exercise their right to self-defense,” Galvez added.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said at least four of the city’s 96 barangays still need to be cleared of Maute members and other terrorist groups.
Government forces and the Maute terrorists have been fighting for more than a month since May 23.
Crisis management committee spokesman Zia Alonto Adiong said the clashes have destroyed at least 30 to 40 percent of the city and displaced some 246,000 people.
At least 69 government troops, 280 Maute members and 26 civilians have been killed in the long-drawn war.
“That (280 Maute killed) is actually a modest estimate because sometimes we cannot recover the body,” Adiong said.
“However, those bodies which have yet be confirmed by way of body count, were actually confirmed by witnesses. We don’t include those for validation, which means the body count could be higher,” he added.
Meanwhile, Padilla said that the military establishment it was mindful of the public clamor to end the fight against the jihadists soon, but said they cannot rush it to prevent more casualties in the long run.
Padilla said fighting in an urban terrain, such as Marawi City, is one of the most difficult situation for troops because they are dealing with enemy snipers, improvised bombs, mines, and use civilians as hostages.
“[Urban fighting] is complex. It is not that easy. People are very impatient but they don’t know he sacrifices of their soldiers,” he said.
Padilla cited the experience of one Marine unit last week as they were clearing a building in Marawi City.
“The Marines found an IED so they tried to deal with it by trying to explode it remotely. When it exploded, there were 10 huge explosions, like a ‘Judas Belt’ firecracker. It turns out that the IED was part of a (booby trap consisting of a series of IEDs laid together), which if triggered, would likely kill or injure troops unwittingly,” he said.
Padilla said neutralizing the remaining terrorists is complicated due to the urban terrain and with the enemy well aware of their positional advantage.
He cited the case of military units in the Middle East, who, despite their firepower and numerical superiority, encountered extreme difficulty in combating ISIS terrorists in an urban setting.
“The Battle of Mosul [in Iraq] is still ongoing. [Having] started in October 2016, it is not yet finished. [It has] been going on for eight months. In Libya (which conducted operations against) ISIS/Daesh (terrorists), the battle started May 12 (last year) and ended only last Nov. 6, so it lasted over six months,” Padilla said.
He also noted that in the Battle of Ramadi where American and Iraqi forces combined to fight the ISIS terrorists, the operation began in April 2006 and ended only in November that year and during the Second Battle of Fallujah where the Iraqi, American and British forces combined against Al-Qaeda terrorists, the operations lasted Nov. 7 to Dec. 23, 2004.
“So if you will compare it to the ongoing engagement (in Marawi), the terrain is very much the same, and we are doing this very carefully. We have complex issues – presence of hostages, residents in their homes refusing to leave, and continued discovery of improvised explosive devices, (necessitating) the door-to-door clearing operations our soldiers must practice,” Padilla said.
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