By Francis Wakefield
As many as 49 members of the Maute group are now killed in the offensive to retake parts of Butig, Lanao del Sur that the radical group has occupied since Thursday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said.
Marine Col. Edgard A. Arevalo, AFP public affairs chief, made an update on the casualty count based on the latest information they have received from the ground as of 4:00 p.m.
He added that soldiers have already entered the area where the militants are occupying abandoned buildings such the old municipal hall, mosque and school building.
The number of soldiers injured as the result of heavy fighting in the area has also risen to 20, Arevalo said in an earlier ambush interview after the 77th anniversary of the Department of National Defense in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
Arevalo said as of Tuesday, troops are continuously but cautiously advancing to purge the Maute group members from the abandoned municipal building and other facilities the group occupied in Butig.
“Our soldiers are entering the area with caution because there are snipers, there are possibilities of improvised explosive devices (IED) along the way so they need to be very cautious,” he said.
“They are continuing with their resistance but we will continue and we will press on to ensure that we will frustrate their intention to get mileage and to convince other people to join them,” he added.
Link with ISIS
Meanwhile, defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana is also not discounting the possibility that the Maute Group has links with the Islamic State.
“Yeah, it seems that there is a link between the two because the Maute Group sometimes show the ISIS flag,” Lorenzana told reporters during a press briefing, saying the information about the possible links came from the intelligence community on which President Rodrigo Duterte also has access.
Read more: Duterte bares Maute–IS links
But Lorenzana admitted they have yet to establish if both groups have formal links or if the Maute group receives logistical support.