Philippines fight against ISIS grinds on, victory still 'weeks' away

Dozens of Philippine police missing after clashes
The US Joins The Fight Against Islamist Terrorists In The Philippines

12 June, 2017

Meanwhile the status of two leaders of an ISIS-affiliated militant group, Omar and Abdullah Maute, was unknown on Monday morning, amid reports they'd been killed.

The military said fighting in Marawi City entered its 21st day on Monday, with 191 Daesh-linked militants, 29 civilians and nearly 60 government troops killed.

Many were teary-eyed during the flag-raising ceremony Monday at the heavily guarded city hall in southern Marawi, the heartland of Islamic faith in the country's south, where hundreds of gunmen went on a deadly rampage on May 23.

While the flag-raising was mainly to mark Independence Day, it also symbolized the reclaiming of city hall and other areas of Marawi by government forces.

Tens of thousands have fled Marawi, which is the Catholic country's most important Muslim city, since troops unexpectedly interrupted plans by the fighters to take over Marawi in a spectacular event to show that IS had arrived in the Philippines.

"We support these antiterrorism operations", he said. "I saw on TV that our village has been destroyed".

"You know the President has been working 24/7, meeting the troops, meeting the commanders, and then late last night, visiting the wounded", said foreign affairs secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

Last Saturday, government troops suffered their largest single loss in the almost month-long offensive when 13 Marines, including two junior officers, died, and dozens others were wounded in a 16-hour gun battle. Some of the marines perished in a fire ignited by the militants at the height of the fighting, military officials said.

Fighting in the city has left 58 soldiers and police and more than 20 civilians dead, the military said, estimating that nearly 200 militants have been killed in the clashes.

The U.S. military has deployed a spy plane at Manila's request to help provide surveillance to troops battling militants still holed up in a few buildings in Malawi with an unspecified number of civilian hostages.

At the same time, he noted that President Duterte has not taken action to cut Philippines-U.S. defense relations entirely.

Militant leader Isnilon Hapilon - designated in 2016 as the ISIS emir for Southeast Asia and thought to be at the center of the Marawi siege - was still at large, three weeks after the initial operation targeting him was launched.

The US embassy in Manila said in a statement Saturday that US Special Operations Forces are providing support to the Philippine military in Marawi, but wouldn't discuss specifics.

President Rodrigo Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law after local terrorist groups Maute and Abu Sayyaf, aided by local and foreign cohorts, laid siege to Marawi in an apparent bid to create an Islamic State province in the country.

"I did not realize that it was that bad because now it appears that Baghdadi himself, the leader of the ISIS, has specifically ordered terroristic activities here in the Philippines", Duterte said, without elaborating.

Fifty-eight members of the police and military have been killed in the fight to retake Marawi City from the Maute group-terrorists who have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State.

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