Fierce firefight as Philippines’ toughest urban war down to last building

Damaged buildings and houses are seen after government troops cleared the area from pro-Daesh militant groups inside the war-torn area of Marawi City in southern Philippines. (Reuters)
Updated 22 October 2017
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Fierce firefight as Philippines’ toughest urban war down to last building

MARAWI CITY: Philippine troops were locked in an intense urban firefight on Sunday with the last remnants of a pro-Daesh alliance, as the army sought to declare an end to the country’s biggest internal security crisis in years.
An estimated 30 people, including militants and some of their family members, were battling to hold a fortified, two-story building next to Marawi City’s vast Lake Lanao, and appeared ready to fight to the death, according to the deputy commander of the operation.
“There’s just one building and they’re inside,” Col. Romeo Brawner told a news conference.
“We believe these are ones who decided to fight it out, because they believe that if they die there they will go to Heaven.”
Brawner said soldiers were using loudspeakers to urge them to surrender, and anticipated the gunfight could go on until midnight. They did not know how many people in the building were alive or dead, he said.
The siege of Marawi has stunned the Philippines and stoked wider concerns that Daesh loyalists have learned how to thrive in impoverished Muslim areas of the island of Mindanao and use its jungles and mountains as staging posts to launch attacks.
Those fears are compounded by the Marawi rebels’ ability to recruit young fighters, stockpile huge amounts of arms and endure five months of ground offensive and government air strikes that have devastated the city.
The military made a significant gain with last week’s killing of Isnilon Hapilon, Daesh’s “emir” in Southeast Asia and Omarkhayam Maute, a leader of the Maute militant group.
Another leader and possible bankroller of the operation, Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, was likely killed also, the military said.
Brawner said the authorities believed foreign operatives were among those still fighting and it was clear there was now a leadership vacuum.
“At this point we don’t know who is really the leader,” he added.
“Our government forces will try to do everything to finish the firefight today.”
Troops have started a phased withdrawal and the authorities may soon allow some residents to return to homes not damaged by the fighting, which displaced at least 300,000 people.
More than 1,000 have been killed, mostly militants.
The government estimates the rebuilding of Marawi could cost at least 50 billion pesos.


Pakistan PM fires back after criticism from Trump

Updated 1 min 24 sec ago
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Pakistan PM fires back after criticism from Trump

  • Imran Khan tweeted that Pakistan had suffered 75,000 casualties and lost $123 billion in the “US War on Terror”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s prime minister fired back Monday after President Donald Trump accused the country of harboring Osama bin Laden despite getting billions of dollars in American aid.
Imran Khan tweeted that Pakistan had suffered 75,000 casualties and lost $123 billion in the “US War on Terror,” despite the fact that no Pakistanis were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. He said the US has only provided a “minuscule” $20 billion in aid.
US commandos killed bin Laden in a May 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he had been living in seclusion in a house near a well-known military academy. Pakistan denies it knew bin Laden’s whereabouts prior to the raid, which was carried out without its knowledge. It later arrested Dr. Shakil Afridi, who had run a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad to help the CIA confirm bin Laden’s whereabouts.
In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Trump said “everybody in Pakistan” knew bin Laden was there and no one said anything despite the US providing $1.3 billion a year in aid. Trump said he had cut off the aid “because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us.”
The US and Afghanistan have long accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to Islamic extremists and of harboring leaders of the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan denies those allegations, pointing to the heavy toll of its war against the Pakistani Taliban, a separate militant group that carries out attacks inside Pakistan.
Khan said Pakistan’s tribal areas along the border have been devastated by years of war, with millions uprooted from their homes.
He also pointed to the logistical support Pakistan has provided for the US war in Afghanistan. The main overland supply route for American forces fighting in Afghanistan runs through Pakistan.
Khan said the US has made Pakistan a “scapegoat” for its failures in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are stronger than at any point since the 2001 US-led invasion.