The military launched a fresh round on airstrikes on besieged Marawi City today (Friday June 9), vowing to liberate it from Islamic State-affiliated terrorists by Independence Day on Monday.
Government troops and militants linked to the Islamic State terrorist network have been engaged in a fierce stand-off for more than two weeks.
But as FA50 fighter jets circled the war-torn city, army officials said the military was determined to wipe out the last remaining fighters ahead of Monday’s celebrations.
“We can freely wave our flags in every corner of Marawi,” army spokesman Restituto Padilla said. “We’re working feverishly to do that,” adding that confidence was high as enemy activity had “dwindled” and “sniper fire has been very selective”.
However, their plans were disrupted when their headquarters were raided by the armed forces three days earlier on May 23.
The operation was an attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon, IS’s regional representative, or ‘emir’. Hapilon, who is also a commander of Abu Sayyaf, has a $5 FBI bounty on his head.
It is believed he was in the city to unite the various islamist groups of the Philippines under the black flag of IS.
The level of chaos that followed the raid, and the presence of numerous foreign jihadis, suggests that he had made progress in this aim.
It remains unclear how many civilians are still trapped or held hostage in Marawi, but the army estimates the current figure at anywhere between 150 and 1,000.
More than 200,000 residents have reportedly fled the city, while at least 202 have died during the clashes, including 134 terrorists, 38 troops and 30 civilians.
At least three soldiers were killed today and more than a dozen wounded. A 15-year-old boy became the latest civilian casualty after being shot by a sniper inside a mosque while saying midday prayers.
Relief workers in the area have warned of a “food crisis” and urged the government to step up humanitarian aid efforts.