Propaganda war clouds reality as militants claim Philippine troops have failed to regain control of besieged Marawi
Islamic State’s news agency, Amaq, said that the Philippine military had ‘completely failed’ in a first effort to regain Marawi
Islamist militants control about 20 per cent of Marawi City in the Philippines, a top general said on Tuesday, refuting a claim by Islamic State (IS) that its fighters were still “spread in more than two-thirds” of the town after three weeks of fighting.
Last week a military spokesman said the militants, who tried to seize and seal off Marawi on May 23, had been beaten back into less than 10 per cent of the Muslim-majority town on the island of Mindanao.
IS’s news agency, Amaq, said that the Philippines military had “completely failed” in a first effort to regain the city, at least 200 of its troops had died and many had fled their positions amid fierce fighting.
“Islamic State fighters are spread in more than two-thirds of Marawi and tighten the chokehold on the Philippine army that is incapable of maintaining control of the situation,” it said.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla branded the Amaq report “pure propaganda”.
“Should we take their word that they control two-thirds of Marawi? With 202 confirmed terrorists killed why should we even give them the chance of airing their lies?” he said.
Asked to comment on how much of the lakeside town was still occupied, Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, head of military command in Western Mindanao, said it was 20 per cent.
“Out of 96 barangays [neighbourhoods], they are holding portions in Marinaut, Lulut, Mapandi and Bongolo Commercial District, which only comprise 20 per cent of the whole Marawi City ... and its getting smaller everyday,” he said.
Almost the entire population of about 200,000 fled from Marawi after the militants stormed it, but the military believes that beyond the checkpoints now fencing off its main roads there are still some 500-600 civilians trapped or being held hostage.
Padilla said that, as of Tuesday, the number of security forces and civilians who had died in the battle for Marawi stood at 58 and 26, respectively.
The seizure of Marawi by fighters allied to Islamic State, including some from the Middle East, has alarmed Southeast Asian nations which fear the ultra-radical group – on a back foot in Iraq and Syria – is trying to set up a stronghold on Mindanao that could threaten their region.
Indonesia says it was looking to set up joint patrols with the Philippines and Malaysia to prevent Islamic militants who have laid siege to Marawi.
Indonesia’s military chief, General Gatot Nurmantyo, said late Monday that he and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu would meet next week with their counterparts from Malaysia and the Philippines on Indonesia’s Tarakan island in northern Borneo, just across the border from Sabah, Malaysia. He said they would discuss increasing security and signing an agreement to step up joint patrols.
Nurmantyo said Indonesia needed to be aware of the movement of IS-aligned militants in the Philippines who assaulted Marawi because Indonesia already had sleeper sleeping cells that most likely have been long embedded in the country. He said IS-affiliated cells exist in all of Indonesia’s provinces except Papua.
Authorities in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, have carried out a sustained crackdown on militants since the 2002 bombings by al-Qaida-affiliated radicals that killed 202 people in Bali. In recent years, it has faced a new threat as the rise of the Islamic State group in the Middle East has breathed new life into local militant networks and raised concerns about the risk of Indonesian fighters returning home.
Watch: Philippine militants plot Marawi assault
Marawi is located about 500 kilometres north of Sangihe island in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province.
Major General Ganip Warsito, the regional military chief overseeing the closest areas to neighbouring Philippines said Indonesia army, navy and air force have deployed extra troops to boost security in the region.
“So far, we have not found any indication of Islamic militants infiltrating from the Philippines to our territory,” Warsito said.
“We have conducted intelligence, territorial and combat operations to anticipate it.”
Additional reporting by Associated Press