Gen. Eduardo Año, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), told Arab News that the AFP believes that the two Maute leaders are the only ones left in the besieged city of Marawi.
He added that while government forces have retaken Marawi’s Bato Mosque from Maute, they have yet to clear the intricate tunnels and secret chambers underneath. The militants might still be holding around 12 hostages there, Año said.
When the military staged the assault to retake the mosque, an improvised explosive device (IED) killed one soldier and wounded four, he added.
Fighting continues between government troops and Maute militants, Joint Task Force Marawi spokesperson Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. told Arab News.
“The assault by government forces is more difficult because of IEDs and defensive trenches that the enemy made,” he said.
Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described the retaking of Bato Mosque and the Jamaitul Islamiya Marawi Foundation (JIMF) building as a “very significant gain.”
The mosque, Lorenzana said, was used by militants as a machinegun nest, a snipers’ lair, an IED assembly point and storage for combat supplies.
IEDs, cell phones and other gadgets believed to be used to trigger the devices were recovered from the mosque. The JIMF building was reportedly used by militants as a hospital and burial site.
“We’re slowly constricting their areas,” Lorenzana said, adding that operations are underway to rescue around 12 more hostages.
Año said the operation needs “just a little more push,” but it is being complicated by the presence of hostages.
The military says 673 Maute fighters, 149 government troops and 47 civilians have been killed since the crisis began out on May 23.