Army says battle for Philippine city to end soon, 1,000 dead

Philippine troops have missed previous deadlines to flush out the militants whom authorities said intended to establish a local Daesh caliphate. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2017
0

Army says battle for Philippine city to end soon, 1,000 dead

MARAWI: Philippine troops Sunday bombed militants loyal to the Daesh group who have held out for over four months in a southern city and the military said the conflict would be over “very soon.”
The army previously set a target of Sunday to end the fighting in Marawi, which it said has killed more than 1,000 people. Troops have missed previous deadlines to flush out the militants whom authorities said intended to establish a local Daesh caliphate.
On Sunday FA-50 fighter jets flew over Marawi as soldiers fought the militants house-to-house in an area which has now shrunk to about five acres (two hectares), a military spokesman said.
“We are hoping that we will end this Marawi siege very soon,” Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the task force battling the militants, told reporters.
Pro-Daesh gunmen occupied parts of Marawi, the Islamic capital of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23.
Since then 822 militants, 162 government forces and 47 civilians have been killed, Brawner said.
The insurgents have withstood a relentless US-backed bombing campaign and intense ground battles with troops that have left large parts of Marawi resembling devastated cities in war-torn Syria and Iraq.
Military commanders last week set a target of October 15 to end the fighting and President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said the battle was “almost over.”
Twenty soldiers were wounded on Saturday in a sign troops were pushing hard to end the battle, Brawner said.
He said 40 militants remained in the conflict area including leaders Isnilon Hapilon, who is on America’s list of most wanted terrorists with a $5 million bounty, and Omarkhayam Maute, whose group had pledged allegiance to Daesh.
There were also 100 civilians in the zone including hostages and families of the militants, he added.
“Women and children are now forced to fight together with the Maute-ISIS fighters. These are desperate measures the Maute-ISIS are doing. This is their last defensive stand,” Brawner said.
Duterte on Thursday warned against celebrating the eventual liberation of Marawi, citing the deaths and devastation there.
“When we leave Marawi, we go quietly. We do not want to show any kind of celebration or happiness,” he said.


Over 50,000 Afghan troops deployed to secure election

Updated 28 min 25 sec ago
0

Over 50,000 Afghan troops deployed to secure election

  • The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the poll, which has been delayed by more than three years and is viewed as crucial for the country’s stability
  • More than 2,000 polling centers will remain shut on election day due to security threats, the government said

KABUL: The Afghan government has deployed more than 50,000 troops to secure parliamentary elections that will be held on Saturday, officials said on Monday. 

The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the poll, which has been delayed by more than three years and is viewed as crucial for the country’s stability. Afghanistan’s last elections were marred by allegations of widespread rigging. 

“All security arrangements have been made,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh.

“We have enough troops to deal with any security threat, and more than 50,000 security personnel — including police, army and intelligence — have been deployed and put on high alert.”

US-led troops will have no direct role in providing security during the voting, but will advise and assist Afghan forces if necessary, officials said.

A wave of attacks have hit election rallies and claimed scores of lives, including at least nine candidates.

More than 2,000 polling centers will remain shut on election day due to security threats, the government said.

Watchdogs and candidates say with the expansion of Taliban control and the spread of Daesh activities, even regions in the north and northeast that were safe during previous polls are now under threat.

“Almost two-thirds of voters in (the northern province of) Faryab will not be able to vote… after insecurity prevented them from registering,” the Afghan Analyst Network (AAN), a foreign-funded think thank, said in a recent report. “In 2014, Faryab province had one of the highest audited turnouts in the country.” 

Voting cannot take place in the central province of Ghazni due to political and tribal tensions, and turnout will be very low in at least four provinces in the southwest that have seen a rise in deadly Taliban attacks in recent days, tribal elders said.

“This year’s parliamentary elections were never going to be easy,” AAN said. “Nationwide, disenchantment with elections themselves, after the disastrous 2014 poll, has been coupled with a resurgent Taliban, who by controlling more districts than four years ago have been able to prevent millions of Afghans from even registering to vote.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said all sensitive and non-sensitive materials have been dispatched to more than 5,000 polling stations, and the transportation of biometric devices will be completed in the coming days.

But some observers and candidates say the biometric devices are not connected to a data center, allowing people to vote multiple times.

Under pressure from political parties, the government bought the devices from abroad in order to hinder election fraud.

They “will make fraud a little harder, but it is still possible,” said civil rights activist Ahmad Shuja.

IEC spokesman Sayed Hafizullah Hashimi said watchdogs, observers and the media will monitor election day.

The Taliban last week urged its fighters to “halt this American-led process throughout the country… while taking… care of civilian Afghan lives and their properties.”

The new US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, held his first direct talks with the Taliban in Doha on Friday.