President Duterte said today (Wednesday, August 30) that the three-month battle to free Marawi City was in its “final stages”.
It is now 100 days since Islamic State-affiliated terrorists went on the rampage in the city. Fighting has leaving almost 800 dead and up to half a million displaced.
The president gave his assessment after government troops secured a vital bridge in the city. This will allow them easier access into the last strongholds being held by militants.
The fighting, which has included a US-backed air campaign against the militants, has destroyed large parts of Marawi, the largest Muslim-majority city in the Philippines.
It is believed the militants launched the assault in an effort to establish a Southeast Asian base for IS. Recent propaganda videos have proclaimed the Southern Philippines as a new stronghold, as the terror group loses ground in the Middle East.
The president warned today that, even with the battle over, the militants could still launch attacks elsewhere in the Philippines.
Manila could be a target
He said other southern cities with large Muslim populations, including his hometown of Davao, were vulnerable and that Manila could be a target.
Hours before he spoke, soldiers in Marawi secured the Mapandi bridge, a vital supply route which had once been covered by snipers and militants with rocket-propelled grenades.
Soldiers marched across the bridge in large numbers today, although gunfire could still be heard nearby.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said there were only about 40 militants left in Marawi. These have been hemmed in to a single neighbourhood.
However, he warned there were many buildings in that space where they could be hiding.
“Every inch of the buildings that we take, they resist,” Brigadier General Melquiades Ordiales said.
The militants have been able to withstand the military assault by hiding in tunnels and bunkers. Army spokesmen have admitted to being surprised by the skill in urban warfare shown by the militants.
They are also believed still to be holding dozens of hostages, including a Catholic priest.