MARAWI CITY, Philippines, June 1, (Agencies): Philippine airstrikes aimed at Islamist militants who are holding hostages as human shields killed 11 soldiers, authorities said Thursday, as they conceded hundreds of gunmen may have escaped a blockade.
The friendly fire deaths bring to 171 the number of people reported killed since militants waving the black flags of the Islamic State (IS) group began rampaging through the Muslim city of Marawi last week. Shortly after the violence erupted President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the southern region of Mindanao, home to 20 million people, to quell what he said was an IS bid to establish a base in the mainly Catholic Philippines. But the government’s narrative of being in “full control” of Marawi took a hit Thursday when defence chiefs said 11 soldiers were killed in a misguided bombing mission. “It’s very painful. It’s very sad to be hitting our own troops,”
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters in Manila. “It’s sad but sometimes it happens in the fog of war.” Lorenzana also warned that many militants may have escaped, despite checkpoints throughout the city and surrounding it. “We have reports they are going to some of the towns around Marawi city,” Lorenzana said. He said there were about 500 militants at the start of the unrest and only between 50 and 100 were believed to still be in Marawi.
According to the military, 120 gunmen have been killed, meaning as many as 330 remain unaccounted for and could have slipped out of the city. The military has relentlessly dropped bombs and fired rockets at the militants, who have been hiding in residential areas of Marawi where local authorities believe about 2,000 people are trapped.
The gunmen are also holding hostages, some of whom have been forced to speak on propaganda videos calling for troops to withdraw.
Meanwhile, President Duterte on Thursday said a rebellion on the southern Mindanao island was not the work of rebels from the Maute group but was “purely ISIS”, and he had long warned of Islamic State’s imminent arrival in his country. Duterte said Islamist militants being driven out of Iraq and Syria were looking for a new base and the siege of Marawi City was planned a long time ago.