MANILA - The military has launched surgical air strikes in three barangays in Marawi City to flush out some 30 to 40 remaining members of the terrorist Maute group as operations reached the third day, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate.
Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 1st Infantry Division, said “very deliberate, very precise” bomb runs were launched Thursday in Barangays Gadongan, Basak Malutlut and Bangon to quell remnants of the Maute group in the area.
“We are conducting clearing operations in three barangays… we have sightings of the remnants of the local terrorist group,” Herrera told reporters in Marawi City.
“They are still here but we are flushing them out. We are flushing them out,” he said, adding that residents were told to leave before bomb drops were made.
Herrera also confirmed that Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf terror group known as head of the Islamic State in the Philippines, remained in Marawi City. Clashes had begun Tuesday after as the military moved to arrest the terror leader.
“[Based on information from] communities, it was sighted that he is still here, that’s why his group is still here,” he said.
So far, he said, 13 enemies have been killed, of which two bodies were recovered. On the government side, he said, 31 have been wounded over the last two days.
Five soldiers and two police officers were earlier confirmed killed in the operations.
Herrera did not, however, release figures on civilian casualties, saying authorities were still verifying the report that the group had killed nine people at a checkpoint.
He said there has been no collateral damage on military operations.
“Nag-iingat po tayo. Ang mga sundalo, ingat din na ‘wag magkaron ng collateral damage. We’re very thankful na sa record namin, wala pang collateral damage,” he said.
He asserted that the group, which attacked a hospital, a school and a church on Tuesday, has not seized control of any part of the city.
“Wala po. Wala po silang kontrolado na area,” Herrera said.
“These are desperate moves that they are doing. That’s why they are undertaking terroristic activities. The Armed Forces are focused on neutralizing this terror group,” he said.
He said the terrorists were still moving around: “Very fluid, very dynamic ang movement ng local terrorist group, hindi po fixed. So ganun din tayo. Ang Armed Forces natin kailangan din mag-reposition, mag-move para totally ma-out maneuver natin [ang Maute group].”
“Our tempo is tuloy-tuloy. The challenge here is the cooperation of the community, the LGUs (local government units), so they could at least help us pinpoint (them) and totally neutralize them,” Herrera said.
Tuesday's clashes prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law.