Philippine defense chief calls retaking Marawi challenge

MANILA, July 13 (Xinhua) -- Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Thursday that retaking the remaining part of the southern Philippine city of Marawi still under the control of militants is "proving to be a challenge" to government security forces.

"Admittedly, retaking the very last positions of the Maute-ISIS who are still in Marawi is proving to be a challenge," Lorenzana said in a statement, referring to the Maute group extremists.

"We have to operate with due consideration for the safety of the civilians who are still trapped in the area against enemies who know rules, who use hostages as human shields and children as frontline fighters," he added.

However, Lorenzana stressed that the government's resolve to end the 52-day conflict has not wavered.

"In fact, we are now more determined than ever to finally eliminate these terrorists, and we will not stop until evil is vanquished, not only in Marawi City, but also in the whole of Mindanao," he said.

The ongoing conflict, which broke out when militants attacked the city on May 23, has so far claimed the lives of 529 people, including 92 soldiers and policemen, 392 extremists and 45 civilians.

Lorenzana said he was saddened by the deaths of two soldiers who were accidentally killed in a military airstrike in Marawi on Wednesday. Ten soldiers were also killed in an airstrike on May 31. At least 18 soldiers were also wounded in the two bombing accidents.

"What happened yesterday and last month, when several of our marines inadvertently perished because of a wayward ordnance dropped from an aircraft, reflect the harsh nature of urban warfare where soldiers operate in tight spaces and in close proximity to the enemy," Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana said the Armed Forces of the Philippines is now "reviewing and re-calibrating its existing doctrines in order for the troops to adapt and respond to this evolving type of war."

Meantime, Lorenzana appealed to the country to continue to trust the military and the police. "As a country let us be united in fighting the evil of forces," he said.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has voiced hope that the conflict will end in 10 or 15 days, but many doubt if this prediction can be met given Lorenzana's assessment.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported that troops have recovered the remains of six people believed to be civilians executed by the militants in Marawi.

AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said that troops have so far cleared 107 buildings occupied by the terrorists. About 600 more buildings are still subject to the ongoing clearing operations, he said.

"At the rate we're going, we will need about 12 days or less to clear the rest of the buildings," Padilla said.

He said the Philippine military and police authorities were finalizing whether or not to recommend an extension or lifting of the 60-day martial law that Duterte imposed on the entire Mindanao on May 23, hours after the Maute group militants laid siege to Marawi.

[ Editor: meng ]


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