November 18, 2017, 1:29 am
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Maute-controlled areas getting smaller: AFP chief

ARMED Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año yesterday said the area controlled by the Maute Group in Marawi City is now down to about a square kilometer.

In an ambush interview in Camp Aguinaldo, Año would not say when the military will be able to rid the city of the terrorists but said the continuing military operation is progressing well.

On July 2, Año said the battle area in Marawi City, which started on May 23, was confined to one to two square kilometers within four barangays. Officials on Sunday said about 60 to 70 Maute men are still occupying structures in portions of the four barangays.

Año said government forces on Sunday cleared 50 buildings previously occupied by the Maute although this was at the expense of two soldiers who died. Eight Maute members were also killed in the Sunday operation.

“Slowly, the number of buildings they occupy is getting smaller,” said Año, adding that one of the buildings cleared on Sunday was a “tall building.” He described the clearing of the buildings as a “big factor.”

Año said the military is looking forward to a “final push to really break their line and finally clear the whole area of Marawi.”

“The battleground is now down to less than a square kilometer area. But we cannot neglect or bypass buildings (in clearing). It’s fatal and dangerous to our soldiers and to the trapped civilians,” said Año.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP public affairs office, said the conflict remains confined in portions of four barangays.

Año, asked if the military can accomplish the mission before President Duterte’s state of the nation address on July 24, said: “We do not see the SONA as the deadline or timeline. As we have said, we will do it the military way, in accordance to our doctrines.”

Año said the military cannot set a deadline because the enemy is taking advantage of this. Incidentally, President Duterte said last July 11 that he needed 10 to 15 days to end the conflict.

Año said setting a timeline will also put additional pressure on the operating troops. “Unnecessarily, this leads to more casualties,” he said.

Arevalo said the military is satisfied with the progress of the operations despite the growing number of government battle casualties.

“This fight is more than just statistics,” he said.

Arevalo said 97 soldiers and policemen have been already killed, 852 others were wounded and one remains missing since the fighting broke out in May. The number of civilians killed remained at 45 and rescued civilians stayed at 1,723.

Arevalo also disclosed that the number of slain Maute members rose to 411 and the recovered Maute firearms is now at 511.  

Asked to rate the military’s performance in Marawi City given the number of government casualties, Arevalo said, “It’s not just passing grade, it’s more than passing grade.”

“What you are seeing are the numbers, statistics. But this is not just about numbers. We also have to see the nature of the fighting, the circumstances of (the fighting) and the peculiarity of the battle area,” he added.

Arevalo noted that the conflict is in an urban area and that the enemy has mastery of the terrain. 

He stressed government forces are winning the fight and enemy resistance is waning.

“The (enemy) resistance is not that strong compared to the earlier weeks and we are confident that this is going to end very soon. We just couldn’t give an exact date or deadline when this will be over,” said Arevalo

As to the 852 soldiers and policemen wounded in the conflict, Arevalo said more than half have returned to the frontline, fighting the Maute members, after receiving treatment.
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