CHILD SOLDIERS: Troops fighting Islamic State-affiliated terrorists in Marawi have found themselves in gun battles with women and children.
The military made the announcement today (Monday, September 4) as soldiers launch a final push to end the conflict that has now raged for more than 100 days.
Ground forces were braced for higher casualties amid fierce fighting in the city. The field of battle is now confined to a small central area of Marawi. However, this is covered by snipers and littered with booby traps.
Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez said: “We are now in the final phase of our operations. We are expecting more intense and bloody fighting.
“We may suffer heavier casualties as the enemy becomes more desperate.”
He said that as the number of fighters had diminished, women and children had been drafted into frontline combat. The ages of the child soldiers has not been verified.
“Our troops in the field are seeing women and children shooting at our troops. That’s why it seems they are not running out of fighters.”
New Islamic State stronghold
More than 800 people, most of them terrorists, have been killed since May 23 when militants took over parts of the largest Muslim-majority town in the Philippines.
The battle is the biggest security challenge in years for the mostly Catholic Philippines, even though it has a long history of Muslim separatist rebellion.
The resilience of the rebels has fanned fears that rebels have received assistance from foreign jihadis and supporters. It’s also bolstered claims that IS is eyeing the southern Philippines as a new power base as it loses ground in the Middle East.
Lt. Gen. Galvez said there were some 56 Christian hostages — most of them women — being held. He also said that about 80 male civilians may have been forced to take up arms against the military.
He added that, at the current rate of advance, the city should be cleared of terrorists within three weeks.
Intelligence had also suggested that rebels commander, Abdullah Maute, may have been killed last month in an air strike.
“There is no 100 percent confirmation until we see his cadaver. But this is enough to presume he died already,” he said.
Abdullah Maute and brother Omarkhayam are the Middle East-educated leaders of a militant Marawi clan known as the Maute group.
Under the name Dawla Islamiya, this group has formed an alliance with Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon. The terrorist leader, who has been named as IS’s ‘emir’ in Southeast Asia, has a $5 million FBI bounty on his head.