Sunday, July 16, 2017

Troops gain more ground, but Palace warns residents vs returning to Marawi

From the Daily Tribune (Jul 17): Troops gain more ground, but Palace warns residents vs returning to Marawi

The military yesterday cited “good gains” in the ongoing clearing operations in Marawi City after President Rodrigo Duterte announced he only needs 15 days to finish the almost two-month-old siege laid by Islamic State (IS)-inspired terrorists.

Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman for the military’s Joint Task Force Marawi, said government securityforces continued to regain positions previously occupied by the terrorists.

He added during the last 48 hours, troops have regained control of 60 buildings taken earlier by the Maute-IS group.

Also, more firearms were recovered, the military official stressed.

“We have very good gains, we have covered bigger areas…our integration capabilities are continuing…the support from the community is good,” Herrera said.

“We are gaining more grounds and we are committed and focused to finish the job as soon as possible,” he added.

But Herrera admitted that the terrorists continued to put up pockets of resistance.

“It’s still continuing, they still have machine gun, anti-tank weapon, snipers are still there…but their capabilities are weakening, their presence is getting smaller,” he said.

Herrera estimated the strength of the terrorists at 60 to 70.

Asked if the military can meet the Commander-in-Chief’s 15-day time frame, Herrera replied “we are very much focused on the mission.”

According to him, the military has deployed the “best and the bravest” in its ranks to finish the Marawi City siege which started last May 23.

“We are using all our capabilities. We have the fightingest units on the ground. We have the best tactical commanders. As I said it’s just a matter of time,” Herrera said.

But the military is still facing a huge challenge as an estimated 500 to 550 more buildings in downtown Marawi City are yet to be cleared.

Herrera cited the planting of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), fuel bombs and molotov by the terrorists inside the structures.

“That is one way of delaying the movement of troops toward the center of gravity, and the presence of trapped civilians,” he said.

‘Risky, dangerous’

MalacaƱang, for its part, is discouraging displaced residents of Marawi from returning to their home as firefights continue in the city.

In a statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella yesterday reminded groups that are planning to launch an “Occupy Marawi” movement on July 24 that their plan is relatively dangerous.

“We understand the sentiments of the residents of Marawi wanting to return home after being forced to flee from the city,” he said.

“For the safety of everyone, it is better to just wait for the end of hostilities and the completion of clearing operations,” the Palace official added.

Some women’s groups are planning to lead the July 24 occupy movement as a demonstration to coincide with Mr. Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (Sona).

Moreover, Abella said government forces cannot assure the so-called occupants’ safety if they persist in their attempt.

“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,” the Palace official said.

“In addition, the clearing of the entire city of Marawi of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and boobytraps left by terrorists, unexploded ordnance and other explosives is still ongoing,” he added.

“The government is concerned with the safety and welfare of all civilians, especially women and children... The danger and risks these pose still remain high.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Women in Theology and nuns from the Religious of the Good Shepherd appealed to Mr. Duterte for an end to aerial bombings in Marawi and as well as ending martial law in Mindanao.

“The government’s priority now should be the fast and adequate assistance to families affected by the crisis and help re-build Marawi,” the group said.

“A war gone awry, whose consequences are bound to fall heavily on women’s shoulders as they struggle to rebuild what is left of their previous homes and communities,” it added.

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