Date
26 September 2017
Bullet-riddled houses are seen in Marawi on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines as fighting continues between government troops and Islamist militants. Photo: AFP
Bullet-riddled houses are seen in Marawi on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines as fighting continues between government troops and Islamist militants. Photo: AFP

Philippines prepares ‘big battle’ to retake Marawi

Nearly 100 days since Islamic State-linked militants occupied the southern Philippine city of Marawi, the army says it is planning a final assault to end a battle that took Manila and allied countries by surprise for its stubbornness and violence, the Wall Street Journal reports.

If successful, the operation will allow the tens of thousands of residents who fled to return home. But counterterrorism experts and humanitarian workers say the government faces a mammoth task of rebuilding a devastated city and risks further attacks elsewhere by newly energized terrorists.

Military Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Ano told reporters Monday that the army is preparing “one big battle” to retake Marawi after clearing the city’s Grand Mosque and municipal police station last week. He did not give details.

On Tuesday, reflecting international concern about the spread of violence throughout the region, Australia offered to deploy special forces to the southern Philippines to provide training and tactical advice. The US already maintains a similar detachment as part of its global counterterrorism operations.

Reclaiming the city of 200,000 has been an uphill battle for the ill-equipped Philippine military, which is unused to urban warfare. Its failure to end the conflict swiftly and the use of destructive airstrikes have alienated the population, many of whom as Muslims feel marginalized in the Roman Catholic-majority country.

Samira Gutoc —a former negotiator for peace talks between the government and more-traditional rebel groups, who now serves as a humanitarian worker—said the extent of the damage, with as much as 90 percent of the city destroyed, has led some youngsters to call the militants heroes. “We are creating another generation of angry, young, restless, jobless, alienated kids,” Gutoc said.

A coalition of extremist Islamist groups, who for years existed as rival religious or criminal gangs, joined forces to occupy Marawi on May 23, riding on trucks and waving the black Islamic State flag. The military estimates about 40 remain in Marawi and that 600 have been killed. About 130 soldiers and 45 civilians, some of whom were beheaded, have also died.

The Philippine government said the coalition, under the leadership of  brothers Abdullah and Omar Maute, sought to declare its intent to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state. The occupation shocked the government and martial law has been declared in the area until year-end.

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