From Malaya Business Insight (Jun 15): Soldiers capture Maute sniper, machinegun nests
GOVERNMENT forces have gained control of eight high-rise buildings in Marawi City, where the Maute Group had set up machinegun and sniper nests.
Operations to clear the city of the terrorist group are in the “final stages,” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP public affairs office.
Arevalo said the recovery of the eight buildings is significant as the presence of enemy snipers is one of factors delaying the clearing operations.
He said the eight buildings, “their former strongholds,” were recovered by the military in operations yesterday and Tuesday.
One of the buildings is the “tallest in the area, overlooking the city where they’ve established a machinegun nest and sniper nest,” he said.
Arevalo said the Maute members are still occupying “many” buildings in the city but could not give exact figures.
The fighting broke out last May 23 when Maute members fought it out with government forces out to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria like the Maute. Hapilon has reportedly been anointed by the ISIS as its head in Southeast Asia.
The fighting has so far killed 206 Maute members, 58 soldiers and policemen, and 26 civilians. About 200 soldiers and policemen were also wounded in the conflict.
“We are nearing its ending, meaning we are nearing the conclusion (of the operations). We are in the final stage of our operations in Marawi... We’re getting close to it, we’re getting nearer (in accomplishing the job),” said Arevalo.
Arevalo also said enemy resistance continues to dwindle “but we are not going to take this lightly.”
“We cannot be imprudent. We have to very careful with our actions because there are still civilians in the area, they have hostages, trapped civilians... We’re very careful, we are inching our way forward in order to ensure the attainment of our three-fold objective,” he said.
The three objectives are to clear the city of Maute members and degrade their capability to launch more attacks, rescue civilians who are trapped and being held captive by the group, and set the condition for reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi.
“We are now looking at the third option because we see that we are nearing the conclusion of this conflict,” said Arevalo.
Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said military will no longer set any deadline for clearing Marawi City, and will instead focus on liberating the city at the soonest time possible.
Padilla urged the public to be patient, explaining there are challenges that confront the troops on the ground.
“So it will entail a bit of time before we clear every house of any armed element,” he said.
The AFP has set target dates or several deadlines, the last of which was on Independence Day, June 12.
“We will not set deadlines. We will ensure that we are able to clear it of any armed element that still exists and it may take some time,” Padilla said.
Padilla also said that the military is now monitoring close to 80 social media accounts that are allegedly being used by the Maute-Abu Sayyaf group and efforts are being taken to take down these accounts. He declined to provide more details but said it is possible that only one person or group is handling all the media accounts.
The Department of Information Communication and Technology (DICT) on Tuesday said government forces were set to arrest at least one person for “cyber sedition” in connection with the attack in Marawi.
The military last week said that it has asked Facebook Philippines to take down 63 accounts being used by the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf and their sympathizers to spread propaganda.
Padilla appealed to the public to unite against terrorism and to condemn what has been happening in Marawi City which he said is no longer a simple matter but a “fight between good and evil.”
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella echoed Padilla’s call, saying Filipinos must set aside differences and make a united stand against terrorism.
“This is no longer intramurals within ourselves, but we need to be united against a common enemy. And in the words of the general (Padilla), it’s a fight between good and evil… Our sovereignty is being confronted and I believe it’s time to set aside petty politics and the things that separate us. It’s really high time and I believe it’s a call to the Filipino nation to be able to stand together as one. It’s high time we do that,” he said.