MANILA--- Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed hope that the ongoing clearing operations in Marawi City, which was turned into a battleground by Maute Group remnants, will be completed within a month.
He made this statement during the Management Association of the Philippines' security briefing held at the Makati Shangri-la late Tuesday.
"We hope to finish it soon, the reason being our troops are already tired there, (and) we are having a lot (of) casualties," he added.
Fighting in Marawi City erupted after government troops made a botched attempt to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader and ISIS "emir" in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, last May 23.
As of this posting, between 109 to 110 government troops were killed, along with 453 Maute Group terrorists neutralized and 45 civilians killed or executed.
In the more than two months battle, 900 troops were reported wounded.
Lorenzana said he wants government forces to conclusively defeat the lawless band so that rehabilitation of Marawi City can proceed full speed.
"We would like to start the rehabilitation of Marawi City so that's why we want also the conflict to end soon," he added.
The DND chief earlier said what happened in Marawi City was not a failure of intelligence but a failure to appreciate intelligence.
"There are a lot of talks coming around that there was failure of intelligence (when the Marawi City incident) blew up (in May 23) and I was asked by one of the media there (in Moscow) I said, it was a failure to appreciate intelligence because for a long time, for the longest time, we were reading in the website of ISIS in the Middle East that says that if you (militants) want to continue fighting here in the Middle East, you go to the Southern Philippines," he added.
And despite information coming from the President and friendly nations like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore claiming that ISIS sympathizers are infiltrating through the borders going into the Southern Philippines, Lorenzana said the military seemed to be in denial of this fact.
"And when I assumed the position of the Secretary of Defense, I was told there were no ISIS in the Philippines, so we (kept) that stand until (last) November when we had this operation in Butig against the Maute Group (which resulted in the recovery of evidence pertaining to the lawless elements allegiance to the international terror organization), so then we would change our stance and said they are there," he added.
He added that what happened in Marawi City is a lesson for the DND as it failed to appreciate the looming problem despite the fact that a lot of fighters, both local and foreign, along with firearms, were reported streaming in the locality.
"When this Marawi incident blew up in May 23, (initial reports claimed that) there were only about 200 to 250 fighters, it turned out there were more than 700 at the start of the conflict, that is why up to today fighting goes on, we still incur casualties almost everyday, just yesterday (Monday), we had two killed again of our soldiers and about more than dozen wounded, three days before we had nine killed and 45 wounded, that's how intense the fighting there in Marawi," the DND chief said.
Advances in Marawi City will have to be done slowly as for still unknown reasons, the Maranaos living there have built their homes very sturdy and tough with concrete which cannot be breached by cannon shells and grenade launchers.
"(Troops) have to breach these by hand, and even if they have 'maso' (sledge hammers) they cannot just get inside because the house doors are rigged with bombs, windows as well," Lorenzana pointed out.
In face of such resistance, soldiers need to plan their advance very carefully and slow to prevent unnecessary casualties, he added.
And with these methods, troops are able to clear 40 to 50 houses daily and so far there are still 600 homes that need to be clear before Marawi can be declared Maute Group free.
Source: Philippines News Agency