Sunday, July 16, 2017

AFP: Maute strength down to 70 men

From Malaya Business Insight (Jul 17): AFP: Maute strength down to 70 men

THE Armed Forces yesterday said the strength of the Maute Group, which continues to occupy parts of Marawi City, has dwindled to about 60 to 70 men as it reiterated that the liberation of the city is eminent.

Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division and Joint Task Force Marawi, also said the number of buildings subject to clearing operations is also down to about 500 to 550.

“Their capability continues to decline, their presence continues to decline...Their strength is now between 60 to 70,” Herrera said, citing military estimates of the remaining Maute Group members in Marawi City.

The group laid a siege of Marawi City last May 23, after fighting it out with government forces who were out to arrest senior Abu Sayyaf leader and purported Islamic State emir Isnilon Hapilon.

Herrera said government forces have cleared 60 buildings of Maute members and improvised bombs on Friday and Saturday.

“We continue to achieve good gains for now. We’re covering more areas....We are gaining more grounds and we are committed and focused to finish the job as soon as possible,” said Herrera.

On Tuesday last week, President Duterte said he needs 10 to 15 more days to end the hostilities in Marawi City.

Asked if the military can liberate Marawi City within the time frame mentioned by the President, Herrera said: “We are very much focused on the mission. We are using all our capabilities. We have the fightingest units on the ground. We have the best tactical commanders.”

“It’s a matter of time when we can end this fight,” he said.

Herrera said the Maute Group continues to put up resistance against the operating troops. He said the Maute members still have machine guns, anti-tank weapons, and sniper nests.

He said efforts are underway to clear about 500 to 550 buildings in the “main battle area.”

Herrera said the time needed to clear the buildings will depend on the number of improvised bombs and molotov bombs rigged on the structures.

“These (presence of bombs) are delaying the movement of our troops towards the center of gravity, that’s their technique. Also, it depends on the presence of trapped civilians whom we are giving priority...Hopefully we can save them as soon as possible,” said Herrera.

Asked how many of the 500 to 550 buildings are actually occupied by Maute members, Herrera said: “I couldn’t say. That’s already an operational (information).”

AFP public affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said the number of Maute Group members slain in the continuing conflict has increased to 405. He said the number of Maute firearms recovered also climbed to 503.

Arevalo said 95 soldiers and policemen have been killed in the fighting, up by two compared to the previous day.

He said the number of civilians slain by the Maute members remained at 45 while the number of rescued civilians is still pegged at 1,723.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella warned Marawi City residents not to return to their homes yet because the dangers and risks are still high. He said clearing operations are ongoing.

“There is no assurance that areas outside the main battle zone are already safe to reside and live in, as incidents of cases of stray bullet victims have been reported,” he said.

Abella said local terrorists may have left behind some improvised explosive devices and planted some boobytraps in parts of the city which the authorities are still trying to find and clear.

A group called “Occupy Marawi” including several women had expressed intentions to return to the city on July 24, or the day President Duterte delivers his second State of the Nation Address.

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