We are in the closing days of the fighting in Marawi City, with Gen. Eduardo Año, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, hoping it will be over before he retires from the military service on October 26.
The latest instruction to the military commanders, he said, is to finish the Marawi crisis within this month. “We will finish it because that is the time to finish it,” he said. “And that is calculated based on projection of being able to rescue the remaining hostages, neutralizing the last terrorist, and minimizing the casualties of troops and civilians.”
He said there are about 40 rebels still fighting the encircling government troops. Eight or nine are foreigners – these are the Islamic State combatants from the Middle East who thought they could set up an IS regional center in Mindanao. “These are the ones who are suicidal,” General Año said. They are the ones who are commanding the local terrorists.”
In the last few days, the AFP suffered three more soldiers killed in the fighting, bringing the total loss on the government side to 158, against 774 rebels.
The desire to keep these battlefield statistics down has held back the government from going all-out against the rebels who are believed to have 33 family members with them, along with 28 hostages. The rebels are fighting a guerrilla war from buildings they have booby-trapped with improvised explosive devices.
Last Monday, the AFP sent a helicopter to drop surrender feelers to the Maute holdouts, along with instructions to civilian family members and hostages who may be allowed to leave the battle area. This may be the final peace gesture of the AFP before its final drive.
The fighting in Marawi has now been going on for 143 days since it began on May 23. It will be 161 days, over five months, at the end of October, the date General Año instructed the field commanders to finish the job. The AFP is confident – and the nation shares its confidence – it will meet this deadline it has set for itself.