MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he hopes the crisis in Marawi would be resolved in one week, as the military makes its final push to liberate the strife-torn Islamic city.
“We hope that it would be finished in about one week. We have suffered casualties, the biggest so far in my... in present years. And I am sad that terrorism has arrived in my land,” Duterte said before Australian sailors aboard the HMAS Adelaide, which is on a 5-day goodwill visit in the Philippines.
It was not clear whether the President had given a new deadline for the military to end the crisis, but Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, commanding general of the Western Mindanao Command, targets Oct. 15 to resolve the conflict that has dragged on for more than four months.
Duterte, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and military leaders had set several deadlines to liberate the city from the Maute group, but the sheer tenacity of the Islamic State-inspired terrorists and the presence of trapped civilians in the main battle area have resulted in a protracted battle.
Galvez said he was optimistic that the war in Marawi would be over within the week, after the military cleared 2 out of 3 remaining battle areas and with gains towards capturing the Maute group's last stronghold.
"We can achieve that not later than October 15," Galvez said. "Sa ngayon maganda ang latag, we have all forces we need."
Galvez said the terrorists are still holding some 28 hostages, including 12 children and 16 women. Around 33 dependents of the Maute members are also with them in the battle area, he said.
Some 777 suspected terrorists have been killed in the firefights, which erupted on May 23. At least 159 government troops and 47 civilians have also lost their lives.
Galvez said around 6 to 9 more foreign terrorists are left fighting alongside local rebels, including Maute leader Omar Maute and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, known to be the Islamic State's anointed emir in Southeast Asia.
"Omar was wounded during the assault in Bato mosque. More than 15 killed Maute in that area and we believe Omar was the leader in Bato mosque," he said.
The conflict has displaced more than 200,000 in the city and thousands more from nearby towns, and has left the once bustling urban center in ruins.
Government has set a rehabilitation plan for Marawi, while foreign governments have either sent or pledged aid.