MANILA - The military is preparing to conduct "one big battle" to finally take back Marawi from Maute terrorists who have occupied the city since May, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff.
AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año said the ISIS-linked terrorists are only occupying a small portion of the lakeside city due to the relentless offensives of the military.
Proof of this, said Año, is the recapturing of the Grand Mosque, which is described by the AFP as the “biggest [mosque there] and is symbolic of the Islamic nature of the city."
"Nakita naman natin ang progreso at abanse ng ating mga sundalo. 'Yung Grand Mosque, nakuha na natin. Maliit na lang ang lugar na naiwan para sa kanila," Año said Monday.
Troops gained control of the Grand Mosque last week. It was used as one of the main hideouts of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, according to AFP Spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr.
He said state forces adopted an “envelopmental approach” in carrying out the mission to retake the mosque, wherein soldiers take control of facilities and structures around the mosque as they inch their way towards their enemies.
Now that the ISIS-linked extremists are operating in a small area with small manpower, the military said the terrorists are mounting a last stand with the help of "child warriors."
"Ayon po kasi sa mga nakausap na ng ating mga sundalo, iyung mga sibilyan na nakatakas po sa pagiging hostage, talaga pong merong mga bata, mga menor de edad na andoon sa hanay ng mga Maute," said Col. Edgar Arevalo, AFP public affairs chief.
The military in 2016 declassified and shared videos showing Maute fighters conducting drills with children wearing ISIS headbands in an unknown location.
Last July, a child warrior nabbed by authorities told ABS-CBN News that the Maute started recruiting underage fighters as early as 2009, around the same time that they planned the siege of Marawi.
Some 700 people, mostly terror suspects, have reportedly died in clashes between the military and terrorists aiming to establish an Islamic State province in Mindanao. The entire region remains under martial rule.--report from Henry Atuelan, ABS-CBN News