MARAWI CITY (Philippines) • Islamist gunmen led by one of the world's most wanted terrorists still hold about 1,500 buildings in a southern Philippine city after weeks of ferocious fighting that has left hundreds dead, officials said yesterday .
The Philippine military has struggled to expel scores of gunmen who rampaged across Marawi city on May 23 flying the black flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group, despite day-and-night artillery and air strikes that have reduced swathes of the downtown area to rubble.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last month vowed to "crush" the militants, but several deadlines have already been missed to end a conflict that has left scores dead and forced some 400,000 people from their homes. The gunmen are led by Isnilon Hapilon, who is believed to be still alive and holed up in a mosque, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, while conceding that there was no saying when soldiers would be able to retake all 1,500 houses and buildings still held by the militants.
"Since it is urban fighting, a lot of our troops there are not prepared," he said, adding that soldiers are battling street to street retaking up to 100 buildings a day. The military in Marawi suggested a slower rate, with soldiers recapturing 97 buildings last weekend.
"The clearing operation is difficult because of the presence of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), booby traps left behind by the terrorists," said the military spokesman for the campaign, Lieutenant-Colonel Jo-ar Herrera. Eighty-two soldiers and police officers and 44 civilians have died in the conflict.
Around 100 militants are still entrenched in the city and the army has used a water route to bring in ammunition and evacuate wounded fighters. Some 300 gunmen are thought to have been killed so far.