MARAWI CITY • The Islamist militants holed up in the southern Philippines town of Marawi have been reduced to a "small resistance" after troops crippled their logistics and some fighters have fled from the battle, military officials said yesterday.
"In a few more days, it could be over," Armed Forces Chief of Staff Eduaro Ano told ANC television on the 17th day of a siege by hundreds of militants who have sworn allegiance to the ultra-radical Islamic State group.
The military said so far 138 militants had been killed, and the death tolls for security personnel and civilians stood at 39 and 20, respectively.
The battle for Marawi City has raised concern that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is building a regional base on the Philippine island of Mindanao that could pose a threat to neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore too.
Officials have said that among the several hundred militants who seized the town on May 23, there were about 40 foreigners from Indonesia and Malaysia, and also fighters from India, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Chechnya.
The seizure of the town suggested to many that pro-ISIS factions wanted to establish it as a South-east Asian "wilayat" - or governorate - for ISIS, a fear reinforced by video footage the military found last week showing the fighters plotting to seal the town off completely.
Major General Carlito Galvez, head of military command in the region, said government troops had entered three neighbourhoods from which the militants had pulled back after two weeks of defence that relied heavily on snipers.
"We saw food, IEDs, mobility assets. Considering we have paralysed logistics capability, we are looking at the possibility that the end will be near," he told a news conference in Marawi, referring to improvised explosive devices, or bombs.
With their ability to fight "degraded", some of the militants have fled, military spokesman Restituto Padilla said in a radio interview, adding that nine had surrendered and were providing "good intelligence".
Meanwhile, one local politician has been arrested and others are wanted for supporting the militants in Marawi, authorities said yesterday.
While much of the focus has been on the hundreds of gunmen reportedly involved in the siege, authorities said yesterday that the men had been receiving support from local politicians and residents.
"It's a combination of names of politicians, private citizens and members of (local Islamist rebels) Maute, the leaders," General Eduardo Ano said on ABS-CBN television as he discussed a list of about 200 people wanted for helping the gunmen.
In what the military said was a significant development, ex-Marawi mayor Fahad Salic was arrested on charges of rebellion on Wednesday in another part of the southern Philippines. "Even before the Marawi crisis, there were reports that he was a staunch supporter, he was providing logistics and finances during the formative years of this Maute-ISIS group," regional military spokesman Gilbert Gapay told reporters.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE