Philippines Celebrates Independence Day By Bombing ISIS

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Filipino forces repeatedly bombed Islamic militant positions Monday as the national flag of the Philippines was raised to mark Independence Day, a celebration of the end of Spanish colonial rule.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines have been struggling to liberate the southern city of Marawi for weeks. The city is crawling with militants affiliated with Maute and Abu Sayyaf, two groups which have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State and carry the same black flag into battle. The fighters have torched schools and churches, as well as killed and kidnapped Christians.

As soldiers and other servicemen sang the national anthem, three OV-10 attack aircraft dropped bombs on the ISIS-linked militants holed up around town, reports Reuters.

Over the past few weeks, the military has killed over 200 Muslim militants. Around 60 Filipino troops, as well as at least 20 civilians, perished in the fight. The fighting has been intense, and progress has been slow, as the jihadis are hiding in tunnels, stocked with food and stolen weapons, and using civilians as human shields.

President Rodrigo Duterte believes that Marawi is part of a broader ISIS plot to secure an unshakable foothold in Southeast Asia. Duterte declared martial law to stop the movement from spreading to other cities, and thousands of troops have been deployed to the area.

A captured militant reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi personally “incited” the attack in the Philippines.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines also honored its fallen troops Monday.

“This is dedicated to soldiers who offered their lives to implement our mission in Marawi,” Colonel Jose Maria Cuerpo, the leader of a combat brigade fighting in Marawi, said as gunshots rang out and bombs fell on the city.

Lieutenant-General Carlito Galvez, a regional military chief, told reporters that the situation in Marawi is “most difficult, deadly, bloody, and it will take days and months to clear up.”

The U.S. is providing assistance in the fight, although U.S. involvement is limited to non-combat operations. The U.S. has praised the Philippines for its resilience in the face of ISIS.

“The United States proudly stands with the Philippines as a long-standing ally, especially as the country confronts challenges associated with terrorism and extremism, including recent attacks in Marawi and elsewhere,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday in a statement, “We admire the resilience and strength of the Filipino people in battling adversity and building a more prosperous and secure future.”

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