THE Armed Forces is bracing for sympathy or retaliatory attacks that may be waged by supporters, sympathizers, and relatives of Maute Group members who attacked Marawi City.
The Maute has so far incurred 513 deaths since the armed conflict started on May 23. Latest military estimates show there are just around 50 to 70 Maute men remaining in portions of three barangays in the city. Officials have said the conflict is in its final stage.
“We’re focusing our attention on the concluding phase of the operation in Marawi and as we can see, there are more than 500 already killed from the side of the terrorists, Maute-ISIS group,” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP public affairs office.
“So it’s not far-fetched that their relatives, supporters and sympathizers want to retaliate for the operations, which they (Maute members) themselves caused in Marawi. This is what we are looking at as a possible source of threat in other parts of Mindanao,” said Arevalo.
On Wednesday, Sen. Vicente Sotto III said he and other senators were informed by President Duterte during a meeting in Malacañang last Tuesday that there are “new” terrorist plans outside Marawi. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dismissed the revelation as “nothing new,” saying terror threats in Mindanao, and even in Metro Manila, “have been with us for a long time.”
In a July 18 letter to Congress seeking an extension of martial law in Mindanao up, Duterte said terrorist groups were planning attacks in Cagayan de Oro, General Santos and Zamboanga cities and Basilan province.
Arevalo did not specify the areas where the sympathy attacks may be launched but said “there is possibility of this happening in any part of Mindanao, particularly in the area where we know they (Maute) have supporters and sympathizers.”
Arevalo also declined to say what areas host Maute supporters, sympathizers, and relatives “because naming them is like already saying the possible areas (where the attacks may be conducted).”
The Maute Group is known to operate mainly in Lanao del Norte. It has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, along with other terrorist groups like Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Arevalo said the extension of martial law up to December 31 this year in entire Mindanao will be “a big help in preventing the possible occurrence of sympathy attacks that might be launched by relatives, supporters and sympathizers of this group.”
Arevalo stressed the military’s assessment that the conflict is nearing its end “but we just cannot give a specific date because it unduly pressures our soldiers and policemen into pushing to the point that they’re going to be imprudent.”
“But it very clear to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and policemen there that we want to accomplish the mission the soonest time possible, without having to cause undue or unnecessary loss of lives and limbs,” added Arevalo.
The conflict has claimed the lives of 116 soldiers and policemen, and 45 civilians.
FIGHTER JETS BACK
Arevalo announced that the military has authorized FA-50 fighter jets to resume air strikes on Maute positions in the city, nearly a month after figuring in a July 12 accident that killed two soldiers and wounded 11 others.
“We’re again using the FA-50s in air strikes because based on the initial investigation, we have not seen any fault on the part of the aircraft and the pilots. Given this, we can again use the FA-50s in the operations we are conducting,” said Arevalo.
The aircraft were grounded on July 12, shortly after a bomb released by an FA-50 fighter plane overshot its Maute target. The bomb landed near a building where soldiers were positioned.
Arevalo could not immediately say the exact cause of the accident but stressed “this is not about the aircraft and this is not about the pilots.”
Nevertheless, he said that the fact-finding panel recommended adjustments in techniques, tactics, and procedures in the conduct of air strikes and in requesting such missions.
“But I’m not a position yet to tell you what those adjustments are. But suffice it to say, it’s safe for us to use (the FA-50s). It’s high time for us to put to use once more these FA-50s after having gone through the initial investigation. As I’ve said, we have not seen any fault on the part of the aircraft and pilots,” he said.
Pressed if the incident was caused by those who directed the strike, Arevalo said “not necessarily.” He said the incident was caused by “factors” or “variables” which he said the Air Force has the competency to explain.
On whether the bomb released by the plane was defective, Arevalo said: “I don’t know exactly the details but I’m sure it will be reported in due time. What is important is yes, they were once again allowed to fly and help by way of air strike.”
The Air Force has 12 FA-50s, all acquired from the Korea Aerospace Industries for P18.9 billion under the AFP modernization program. The firm completed the delivery of the aircraft last May.