MANILA, Philippines – The military will no longer set a deadline to clear Marawi City of extremist gunmen who have been battling government forces for more than three weeks already.
While stressing that they had succeeded in raising the national colors in the embattled Lanao del Sur capital on Monday, Independence Day – the latest of several failed deadlines to clear out gunmen from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups and a number of foreign extremists fighting alongside them – Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla admitted it is difficult to fulfill the mission because the gunmen are using civilian hostages as human shields.
“We have to be very careful. We have to be very judicious. We have to be very deliberate so as to avoid hitting innocent lives. And this is where the slow process of liberating Marawi is currently happening,” he said.
Thus far, the government has acknowledged losing 58 personnel, including 13 Marines who died in fierce fighting late last week and 10 soldiers accidentally killed by an Air Force bombing run. More than 130 extremists, including a number of foreigners, and a number of civilians have also died.
Padilla also apologized to a public growing impatient to see the siege of Marawi end.
The AFP spokesman also said the extremists still control four of Marawi’s 96 barangays, one more than he announced last week, explaining that he had meant “three areas” not villages.
At the same time, Padilla refused to say how much of the city the four barangays represented, noting that such figures would only add to the confusion, citing earlier government pronouncements that the Maute group controlled 10 percent of the city only for other officials to place the figure at 20 percent.