By Francis Wakefield
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año assured that there would be no letup in military operations in hopes of ending terrorist cells and groups operating in Mindanao.
In a press briefing in Marawi City Tuesday Año said once the Marawi crisis is over, the military would shift its attention to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Bangsamoro Islamic Fredom Fighters (BIFF) and other terror groups operating in Mindanao and finish them before the end of this year.
“Yes, after this Marawi crisis is over we will run after the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan and also the BIFF in Maguindanao… So our (focus) is to finish all these Maute Isis,” Año said.
“So this will continue and there will be no letup. It’s about time to end these terrorists here in Miindanao,” he added.
Año said that based on their estimates, there are around 18 to 22 hostages still left at the main battle area inside Marawi City. He added that at least 39 relatives or families of members of the Daesh-inspired Maute Group are also there.
With regard to the remaining number of Maute terrorists, there are more or less 30 of them, whom the military is now considering as “stragglers”.
“For the Maute Isis, we’re counting about 30 or less. Straggler na nga ang itatawag natin sa kanila diyan (we are now calling them as stragglers) because they don’t have leaders anymore. They are on their own so they are stragglers,” Año said.
Año, at the same time, said it would be just a matter of days before it could finally be declared that Marawi has been liberated from the clothes of the terrorists especially with the death of terror leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.
Both Hapilon and Maute were killed Monday by members of the military’s special forces units during a four-hour gun battle in one of the buildings being occupied by the terrorists.
“I’m certain that the neutralization of Hapilon and Omar is the last straw that has broken the camel’s back. The Marawi crisis will be over sooner than later. The resistance or what is left of it, the terrorists will crumble, it is a dead end, there is nowhere else to go for them,” Año said.
“Needless to say, the remaining terrorists should as well free their hostages and if their dignity is intact by letting the noncombatants go,” he added.
Año said that prior to the killing of Hapilon, Maute and seven other terrorists, they were transferring from building to the next building in an attempt to escape bringing with them their hostages.
“Early on their intention is to escape from inside main battle area together with the hostages,” he said.
Año also said that with regard to the number of foreign terrorists left, they counted about eight of them, including that of Malaysian national Mahmud bin Ahmad, said to be the group’s financier.
He expressed belief that some of them may have assumed the role as “leader” with the death of Hapilon and Maute.
“Sa foreign terrorists na lang, we counted maybe less than eight of them based on the information which we gathered. One of the prominent terrorists is Dr. Mahmud from Malaysia who is still in the main battle area and some other Indonesians and Malaysians,” Año said.
“But we also learned that their attitude is not like before, they are no longer that aggressive and we are very optimistic that we will get all of them,” Año said.