MANILA – A soldier was killed by sniper fire in strife-torn Marawi City Friday, yet another death on top of 155 state troops slain in the protracted battle against Islamic State-linked terrorists.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said the unnamed soldier was killed in an encounter Friday morning, highlighting risks that government troops face amid closer combat with terrorist forces.
This even while the military believes the enemies have been significantly weakened as troops regained control of more areas in the conflict zone.
“Early this morning, we had an incident when we were operating in an area and incurred another casualty through a sniper fire,” Padilla said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“And it’s a sad development because we were expecting that as we engaged more in these remaining areas and have better control of the peripheral areas in and out of this area, we’d be able to minimize that.”
Padilla said the battle zone has been reduced to about 7 hectares, with an estimated 40 hostages still trapped in the area where as many terrorists are known to remain.
“This will be the subject of our operations in the next few days and this is the reason also why we have not given out,” he said.
As of Thursday, a total of 955 people, mostly suspected terrorists, have been killed since clashes erupted on May 23.
It has also displaced more than 200,000 residents from the city and thousands more from nearby towns, and left the once bustling urban center in ruins.
The battle in Marawi has been raging for four months, and the military has expressed confidence that the crisis would soon be over even as it did not give a definite timeline.
Padilla echoed newly installed Army chief Maj. Gen. Rolando Bautista’s estimate that the Marawi crisis may be over before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit takes place in November, an event set to gather world leaders, including United States President Donald Trump.
“Ine-expect namin na hindi na po ito tatagal at aabot pa doon sa pagdaraos ng ating hosting ng ASEAN,” Padilla said.
“And hindi lang po kami talaga nagbibigay ng eksaktong petsa o ng eksaktong araw kung kailan po natin masasabing ganap nang... na tapos na ang bakbakan diyan sa Marawi,” he added.
Government has kickstarted plans to rehabilitate the war-ravaged city.
The terrorist upheaval prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law until the end of the year, saying local terrorists were aiming to establish an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
He promised to lift martial rule in the region as soon as the area is declared clear of hazards, especially of improvised explosive devices.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State has been considered the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.