The Armed Forces of the Philippines have been fighting to liberate a city overrun by Islamic militants for four months.
Radical Muslim militants with ties to the Islamic State seized control of Marawi, a city in the southern Philippines, in late May. The jihadis planned their assault in advance, preparing for a long fight against Filipino troops.
At least 502 local terrorists, 114 government forces, and 45 civilians had been killed as of the start of August. Filipino forces have been battling Islamic militants in the southern Philippines for decades, but the situation in Marawi is unlike anything seen previously.
When the militants stormed the city, they set fire to churches, took hostages, murdered civilians, and raised the black ISIS standard above government buildings.
What was expected to be a short liberation effort has turned into a brutal, bloody campaign. The defense ministry initially predicted it could wrap up the conflict in a week. Over the past four months, much of the city has been destroyed by frequent air strikes, and hundreds of thousands of people have fled Marawi.
“It took us one week from this point to that point, to cross that street,” Brigadier General Melquiades Ordiales of the Philippines 1st Marine Brigade told Reuters, referring to a two-lane road in the war-torn city.
“It was really very, very tough,” he added.
The militants the Filipino forces are fighting are not poorly-armed, poorly-trained rebels in the jungles. The ISIS fighters are equipped with high-powered combat weapons, night vision goggles, sniper rifles, and even surveillance drones, Captain Arnel Carandang, of the Philippines Army First Scout Ranger Battalion, introduced.
The jihadis have also put their hostages, many of which are Christian, to work for the caliphate, forcing them onto the battlefield to search for supplies, build bombs, and scavenge for food, guns, and ammunition. The radical Muslim militants have also made female captives serve as sex slaves for the army.
The terrorists have numerous snipers and are armed with anti-tank weapons. They hide in bomb-proof tunnels and use human shields, operating out of mosques around the city.
The militants, many of which come from other countries, have demonstrated tactics used by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, where thousands of lives have been lost.
“By the way they move and their tactics, you can see they’ve been trained,” Col. Jose Maria Cuerpo, deputy commander of the 103rd Brigade fighting in Marawi, explained to Reuters.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines believes it is close to liberating the city, but they are concerned about violent extremism in the last days of the fighting. Suicide bombings and other fanatical extremist behavior are particularly worrisome.
The ISIS fighters in Marawi are reportedly considering striking other targets across the Philippines. As the Islamic extremists lose ground in the Middle East, they are increasingly turning their focus to alternative battlefields. Marawi may be the beginning of a largest ISIS effort to secure a foothold for expansion in Southeast Asia.
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