Duterte orders new army chief to form 10 new battalions

President wants to destroy any remnant of pro-ISIS militants defeated in Marawi

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday ordered the country's new armed forces chief to recruit and organise 10 new infantry battalions to crush remnants of pro-ISIS militants who were defeated just days earlier in the southern city of Mindanao.

The military on Monday declared victory over the Maute group after killing the last 40 remaining militants, including a few foreign fighters. The militants seized control of Marawi city on May 23.

More than 1,100 people, including 165 soldiers, died in the five-month conflict.

The new military chief, Lieutenant-General Rey Leonardo Guerrero, speaking to reporters yesterday, said: "We were instructed to organise 10 additional battalions."

One battalion comprises about 500 soldiers.

"We really intend to put pressure and sustain the effort so that we are able to finish all of them and complete the resolution of armed conflict in the country," he added.

Lt-Gen Guerrero will lead an armed forces that is made up of about 130,000 soldiers.

The Philippines has been waging protracted guerilla warfare for nearly 50 years against Maoist rebels and Muslim separatists that has left more than 160,000 people dead, displaced two million people, and stunted growth in resource-rich rural areas.

Lt-Gen Guerrero - who was the army commander in Mr Duterte's home region in the southern island of Mindanao before he was promoted - said the army has also been ordered to try and defeat the 4,000-strong communist New People's Army.

FINAL PUSH

We were instructed to organise 10 additional battalions. We really intend to put pressure and sustain the effort so that we are able to finish all of them and complete the resolution of armed conflict in the country.

'NEW MILITARY CHIEF REY LEONARDO GUERRERO

Mr Duterte broke off negotiations with the Maoist rebels early this year after their continued attacks on mines, plantations, construction and other companies, as well as attacks on isolated army and police outposts.

The government is engaged in peace talks with Muslim separatists who want to carve out an autonomous region in the south, and has enlisted the help of the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front to fight a small group of rebels who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.

"We already have timetables and targets and I intend to meet that," said Lt-Gen Guerrero, who only has two months to serve before he retires. "The military has a multi-year programme. It's not dependent on personalities but its tasks are lined up regardless of who assumes the leadership."

Analysts have said ISIS training camps in the jungles of Mindanao are still intact.

Stragglers from Marawi are fleeing south to areas in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces controlled by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which has pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Fighters from Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are also converging at these enclaves, said a report by the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, published on online news site Rappler.

The military struggled for five months to retake Marawi, and counter-terrorism officials expect ISIS-linked groups in Mindanao to focus again on fighting a guerilla war as they try to rebuild their networks in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2017, with the headline 'Duterte orders new army chief to form 10 new battalions'. Print Edition | Subscribe