ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — The Islamic State-inspired Maute militants have been isolated into pockets as government forces took control of a majority of areas previously occupied by the terrorists in Marawi City.
Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay said ground forces have determined the number of the Maute militants and their locations.
Petinglay said that, according to ground assessment, fewer than 50 Maute militants infiltrated Marawi but managed to project strength through social media.
“This time, we have clearer picture of what happened compared to the first day [na] hindi natin totally grasp or plot the locations of the other militants… Where they did atrocities in a group of three or five and you thought they are too many. They burned and hid and fired and hid,” Petinglay said.
“They tried to paint the scenario that they have seized major areas in Marawi utilizing videos and photos spread on the social media,” she added.
Many of the initial reports from Marawi City on Tuesday were from residents posting photos and videos on social media. However, by Tuesday night, media was able to reach Mayor Majul Gadamra as well as provincial and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao officials for updates.
Petinglay claimed the Maute group initially succeeded in its propaganda propaganda campaign, with many social media users unwittingly reposted the visual materials showing the militants on the streets brandishing their guns and black flags.
“Because of that those who repost the unverified source of videos and photos unknowingly helped fan out the propaganda of the Maute terrorists,” Petinglay said.
But the military said they now have a clearer picture what is happening and where on the third day of operations.
Petinglay said troops are now concentrating on particular areas where the militants are holed up. She said residents who decided to stay behind have been reporting on the positions of the terrorists.
Aside from regular troops, elite operators from the Special Operations Command have been deployed to deal with the Maute militants in close-quarter combat.
She added operations are now easier since residents have evacuated areas where the militants are.
“During the first day, one of the challenges to us was the troops could not just penetrate the place where you believe they are there because there were civilians and the possible collateral damage,” Petinglay said.
The military also assured the public that the Maute militants are isolated and will not be able to slip out with residents who have been streaming out of the city.
She said all routes going out from Marawi have been secured and evacuees are being carefully checked for militants pretending to be civilians.
Casualties on the government side are five soldiers killed and 32 others wounded. Security forces have said they have killed 13 Maute militants and an undetermined number of wounded.
Petinglay said ground forces believe the Maute group has not managed to smuggle Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon out of the city.
Hapilon, said to be the recognized Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s leader in Philippines, was the main target of police and military operations on Tuesday that has triggered the fighting in the capital of Lanao del Sur.
President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in Mindanao in response to the clashes.